A big part of being a SEAL teacher is having the frame of mind where you understand how important you are to your students.  (And you know who your starfish are.)  It’s funny, we don’t always think this as we stand in front of our class or correcting countless papers, but it’s true.  And you just never know how what you do or what you say can affect a student.

Who is YOUR starfish?

A Story:

One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.

Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”.

The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”

The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”

Who is your starfish?We teachers can be like that boy, saving one student at a time.  Taking care of each one we come in contact with and hoping they will do better, grow up, learn more, try something new.  Students are our starfish.  They come to us in droves and patiently we work with them, guide them, teach them and hope that they take those experiences and grow.

Oftentimes, we don’t realize the difference we’ve made in a student’s life.

When we get the chance to hear this, it is very powerful!  I love listening to stories from other teachers who have run into students years later and the student tells them how much they loved their class, or what a difference the teacher made in their life.  I have a couple of those stories myself.

One Starfish

Who is your starfish?

Just last week, I ran into a couple of students I had when I taught middle school.  One in particular I had come across in town a few times over the years.  He had been in my music class.  I had also coached him in basketball.  He even joined my chorus in his last year at the school.  (I think just to bug me!)  Now he is 28 and looked like he had been having a rough time.  After the three of us talked for a bit and got caught up, we talked a little deeper on how things were going.  I could tell that seeing me was a refreshing moment.  He could tell that after all these years, I still care.  That student is one of my starfish.

Another Starfish

Who is your starfish?One day in the grocery store, I ran into a former student.  He was all grown up and on his own.  After some small talk, told me that I was the reason he made it through middle school.  That I had helped him with how one certain teacher portrayed him.  I, according to him, gave him some sort of validation in the hallway when the other teacher was watching.  He distinctly remembered her being more respectful to him in class after that. I didn’t recall the incident at all, but it clearly made a difference to him.  Having him tell me that was very gratifying. That student is one of my starfish.

Sometimes we know when we make a difference and other times, we don’t  –  but we are.  If we care, then we are.  Sometimes the most quiet student is the one who is taking in more of what we have to offer than any other.  Sometimes the most obnoxious student is the one who considers you his or her favorite teacher.  We all have a lot of starfish to save.

YOU have starfish to save.

Don’t ever underestimate the value you bring to students’ lives!

Keep saving those starfish!


Free Online Workshop about SEAL

Unlock the Power of the ARTs and Develop your Students’ Social-Emotional Skills!

Free SEAL Workshop

In just 1 hour, you'll learn:


✔️The “Beach Boys” technique you must use before you go into the school building each day—it will set you up for a day of positivity and peace.

✔️ The 4 embedded SEAL strategies that you can easily make a part of your busy teacher day.

✔️ The #1 mistake some teachers make when they first start integrating the arts with SEL—and how pretending you’re a glue stick can help you avoid it.

✔️ Ideas for jumpstarting arts integration in your classroom right away—you won’t want to wait to implement these.

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The Best Sentence Starter (for getting to know your kids)