How Knowledge and Trust Tell Us What "Forward" Means

When I say "forward" to Nacho, I am giving one of the very basic training commands and certainly the most used command. It also seems pretty "straight forward," forgiving the pun there! You would assume that I mean to move ahead in a direct path. Guess what? It rarely means that!

(Photo of Nacho kissing me after leading me forward out to investigate a snow dog that Amish children built before our visit to their school.)

*** If a hallway is empty and clear, "forward" would indeed mean to go straight ahead.
*** If a corridor has people or other obstacles but still offers wide enough pathways for both of us to pass through with ease, "forward" means to go ahead but be comfortable about swerving this way or that to find those wide pathways.
*** If the passage has people or obstacles that prevent a wide enough pathway for both me and him to navigate safely, "forward" could mean go as far down the hallway as possible until there isn't room for both of us to pass, then stop and wait further instruction.
*** If we are on a sidewalk, "forward" could be hindered by construction barriers or cracks that present a significant elevation change, but it is always always always leading toward a full and firm stop at the next curb so that I can listen for traffic before crossing the street, and that stop needs to happen even if I don't ask for is innate.
*** If we are inside a train station, "forward" means the critical time for intelligent disobedience if we are facing the edge of the platform. Nacho will refuse to go forward and will fiercely turn immediately right, putting himself next to the daunting edge of the platform and keeping me wondrously safe.

(Photo of Nacho leading me forward out the door of Hershey Elementary School after I spoke at a PTA meeting.)

Here are five examples where one simple word translates into five completely different reactions. "Forward means go straight, feel free to swerve, do not hesitate to stop if things get dicey, soon cease all movement without question, and absolutely defy me by turning to the right! I praise Nacho for all of these reactions to "forward." How do I know what is the right reaction for him to have to this basic command? I pay attention to the context, and I trust our training.

(Photo taken by Katie Altvater at the "Dining in the Dark" fundraiser for Clearer Vision Ministries in St. Augustine, Florida, after Nacho guided me forward to the podium and I began to speak.)

Oh that those who craft education policy could discover the same simple truth, that when different children in different classrooms within different schools based in different communities with different economic situations in different states within different regions and in different countries have teachers who understand their students and who make decisions based on the extensive professional training they received as educators, they can be trusted to do what is right for kids. I say "forward" to that destination!