Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a school in a tree. The tree was gigantic, with a hollow trunk that could hold 100 people standing hand in hand in a circle and 6 branches that could each hold a classroom. The classrooms were full of wonder. They were covered with canopies of green leaves from the tree and were open to the world outside so cool, gentle breezes could blow through the rooms. Small, colorful birds could sit on the floor and tap out a beat for all of the drummers and tappers in the classes. The tables were carved from hard knots on the branches and were large enough to comfortably sit four students. The teachers wrote on bright wood below stripped away bark with pens they had created with colors from the flowers of the tree.
Mr. Bark was a new teacher on the 3rd branch at the school. His heart was full of love and care for the students in his classroom and his mind was spinning with ideas about ways he could help them learn.
At 8 a.m. on the first day of school, a giant woodpecker landed on the office branch and pecked the tree to let the teachers and students know it was time for the school day to begin. The twenty-two 3rd branchers in Mr. Bark's class had climbed into their room and had stopped and looked in surprised silence. Mr. Bark was at the front of the classroom standing on his head.
- Good morning, class. I am so glad to see you! What nice feet you have! You can learn most about people by looking at their feet. You can understand how hard they work by seeing if their feet are calloused and worn. You can understand their hearts by seeing if they can walk in someone else's shoes. Join me! All of you, stand on your heads!
The students were stunned. At first, no one moved. One of the students remembered the school rule that you received a letter "N" if you did not follow your teacher's directions so she placed her hands and head on the floor and pushed her feet toward the ceiling. The other students followed her lead and soon there were twenty-three heads on the floor and forty-six feet in the air. The students thought Mr. Bark should receive a letter "I" for inappropriate behavior.
- Isn't this great? It is good to look upside down at the world every day. I want to teach you to look at things upside down. You might have problems that you can't solve when you look at them rightside up but that you can solve when you look at them upside down. This is true for reading problems, writing problems, math problems, or any kinds of problems. Learn to look upside down at your problems!
Suddenly, one of the students screamed.
- Ouch! This is crazy! You can't make me do this! I'm not standing on my head for anybody! I'm not going to do this!
The screaming student was lying on his back. He had tried three times to get his feet in the air and had fallen with a "thud" each time. After his third fall all of the other students laughed at him. He was angry, not at his giggling classmates or at his eccentric teacher, but because, no matter how he tried, he could not stand on his head. Mr. Bark looked at him with calm eyes and spoke to him in a quiet voice.
- Please try one more time.
He looked down at the floor and reluctantly put his hands and head on the ground again. He tried to move his feet toward the leaves and began to wobble back and forth, around and around. He grimaced and prepared to hit the floor.
The last sight he saw before he closed his eyes was of Mr. Bark's wiggling foot. He expected to hit the floor and have his breath knocked out of him but instead he felt a gentle tug on his ankles. Instead of falling down, he was being pulled up. He opened his eyes and saw with astonishment a miniature elephant flying by flapping its ears. The tiny elephant had its trunk around his ankles and was holding his legs up straighter than any of the other legs in the room.
The students could not believe their eyes. Mr. Bark had a magic elephant that could fly to them and help them when they needed help. They learned that their new teacher also had a magic pen. Whenever he wrote with his magic pen they immediately understood fully what he was trying to teach them, even difficult math and science problems. Occasionally, when students were having a tough time writing a story, he would let them use his magic pen and they were able to write in perfect form and with perfect grammar the thoughts and feelings that were inside of them. The students knew they were going to have an exciting, meaningful year.
They learned happily ever after.