Sunday, March 16, 2014


I have always been a very hands on “get your hands dirty” kind of leader.  When I was a school leader getting my hands dirty was part of leading with passion and joy.  If there was work that needed to get done, I was in the midst of it, working side by side with teachers and staff to create what was wanted or needed.  If a student was in crisis, I most often was there, working with the team to bring the child out of crisis to be able to reenter into learning.  I wasn’t afraid (in fact I liked) getting my hands dirty.  That was work play for me in many ways, working with and in the midst to get to another place.  Working in this way always gave me a sense of accomplishment.  And it brought me joy.  I knew that I was making a difference for students, for staff and for our school community.  I empowered others to make a difference as we dug in together.

Today I am not talking about that kind of getting your hands dirty.  I am talking the literal version of getting your hands dirty.  One way to play is to literally dig in and get in the mess.  I do this when I plant flowers in the spring—digging into the dirt to create a bed or a container of beauty.  Fun.  Sweat mixed with earth as I create a colorful flower bed of summer enjoyment.  This play is awaiting me as the warm weather nears.

As a child, I made mud pies in my backyard with my siblings.  When my children were growing, they spent days on end in the creek behind our house squishing mud between their toes and fingers as they built cities in the islands within the stream.  Getting dirty is fun. 

The other day, I was working with a five year old and at the end of our work time he had a five minute play time during which he wanted to dig into Playdoh.  He built and invited me in.   He built a dog and spelled it for me as the green squished under his nails.  I rolled out a snake and he responded that snake started with an S.  His getting his hands dirty was fun and it was learning—maybe more so than the lesson that preceded it.  Lots of good things happen when you get your hands in the dirt.

Once I sat at a potter’s wheel slowly turning the clay to make a bowl.  I positioned the clay as it moved under my hands.  Slippery and mucky, the clay slid through my fingers and under my hand as I turned the wheel, changing from from a chunk of earth to an earthen bowl—something useful…something beautiful.   My dirty hands worked to create a vessel of beauty.

Create with dirt, learn with dirt, build with dirt, have fun with dirt.  Dig in and enjoy!

PLAY-TITUDE #15:  Fun is in the mess.  Dig in and get your hands nice and dirty!

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for dedicating space and time for writers and teachers of writing to come together to share ideas, practice and life experience.


  1. Lots of truth in this today, Deb. I've never worked at a wheel, maybe someday? Have a great Sunday!

  2. I must confess, I'm not a fan of digging into dirt. But I do get my hands dirty when I'm in the kitchen. Sometimes you just need to use your hands and not a spoon or spatula.

  3. You got me thinking. Have I gotten really dirty lately? Another snow storm is to start tonight but as soon as it seems to finally be Spring in VA, you've inspired me to dig! Like Elsie, I regularly get my hands dirty when cooking but personally I want to learn more about plants and gardening. Maybe I'll combine the two and plant a kitchen garden?! Thanks for your slice that inspired me. I heard Tony Wagner speak yesterday at the NBPTS Teaching and Learning Conference and he is ALL about the importance of play, passion and purpose! He'd like your blog!

  4. I love gardening, but perhaps it's time to try that wheel?! Thanks for inspiring me!

  5. "Fun is in the mess." What a great line. What a great reminder that sometimes getting dirty is the answer--there is meaning in the muck. :-)