Pencil Stubs

Lesson Launch Blog

By Dr. Paul E. Binford

Past President, Mississippi Council for the Social Studies

We have reached that point in the academic year!

The honeymoon period is over and the novelty of schooling has waned for both teachers and students. Autumn has arrived and, along with it, the meat of the academic year. Inevitably, challenges are surfacing, the school bureaucracy is frustrating, and some students are struggling.

Guiding Principle

It is then, perhaps, timely to remember Dr. Todd Whitaker’s sage advice. In What Great Teachers Do Differently (86), he encouraged teachers to ask this question before making any instructional decision:

What would the best students think?

By “best students,” Whitaker is referring to the students who are well respected by their peers and adults. He elaborated on this point by encouraging teachers to “treat every student with the best students in mind” (86).

Henry Campbell-Bannerman

Henry Campbell-Bannerman

In this regard, I am reminded of a rather obscure British statesman, who rose to prominence over a century ago. Henry Campbell-Bannerman served as Secretary of War during William Gladstone’s third premiership. He was a staunch and unpretentious member of the Liberal Party. He served as the opposition party leader before becoming Prime Minister himself during the first light of the twentieth century.

As historian Robert K. Massie has described him, Campbell-Bannerman (or C.B.) was a “solid, reassuring figure, a conciliator, faithful, humorous, shrewd, kind, good-natured” (549-550). As Prime Minister, he steadfastly devoted seven months to matters of government, but insisted that the remaining five months were for his wife and himself. Three of these months were spent at Belmont—a rambling Victorian mansion in Perthshire.

Image by Jason Eppink at this link:

Image by Jason Eppink at this link:

Heart-felt Leadership

C.B.’s eccentricities at his beloved home opens the door to his character. His first order of business upon returning to Belmont was to greet the trees on his property—sometimes bowing to them and bidding them “Good morning” (552). Each day he would take a walk on the grounds accompanied by a cane he had personally selected from a large collection; he would gently console the ones left behind. A drawer in his desk contained a pile of pencil stubs, he refused to dispose—they were old friends that had served him well and would not be discarded (552-553).

Campbell-Bannerman’s example and heart-felt leadership whispers to us from the past with this gentle admonition:

“Be the teacher tender-hearted enough to keep pencil stubs.”

Be the teacher that students respect as a result of your kindness, competence, and professionalism, so that when your pupils are at a behavioral crossroad a guiding question surfaces in their mind:

“What would Mr. or Mrs. __________ think of this decision?”

A final note about content: Dreadnought, by Robert K. Massie, is an epic historical treatment of the antebellum naval race that contributed to the Great War. The page numbers noted parenthetically above are from this engrossing narrative.

The Lesson Launch welcomes your comments, feedback, and suggestions!

For more information about this Lesson Launch blog post, or if you are interested in arranging professional development or a speaking engagement, please contact the author at:

Paul BinfordComment