A New Year's Resolution: Every Moment is a Chance to Change a Lifetime!
Recently, I was reading about Sesame Street being taken over by HBO. In reading the article, I thought about entering the teaching profession 29 years ago and remembered a quote by Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets. Henson stated: “[Kids] don't remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
That got me to thinking about our current state of education. It got me thinking about what truly is important as students move through our system; what we truly should value as a learning community. So I looked at some analysis of what current and former students globally believe are the most important characteristics an educator should have. In study after study, the following kept coming up:
Then I sought to locate what classroom procedures students value the most and also, what leaders in all industries remember the most about their time as students. In all cases, it seems the “little things” made the most difference.
Just being warmly greeted each day with a "Hello" or "I will see you tomorrow" can truly make someone happy. A smile that lets the student know you are delighted to see them and really want to be with them. Being attentive to students, even if for a brief moment, to let them know you truly care. Helping students consider how their dreams might become realities. Getting to know children as individuals; who their favorite team is, what they do on holidays, etc.
Students also want to be challenged. They especially do not want someone to let them give anything less than their best effort. They want the freedom to ask questions and take risks without the worry of being embarrassed. But most of all, students want someone they can trust.
In a similar vein, during your new teacher orientation, ask the faculty and administrators to respond to the following question:
"What teacher had the biggest impact on you and why?"
Here is what our group had to say in response to that query:
- My favorite teacher was a role model on how to treat people.
- My favorite teacher made real-life connections to the subject.
- My favorite teacher took us outside the classroom and went far beyond the book or the curriculum.
- My favorite teacher cared about me as a person.
- My favorite teacher got to know me as a person.
- My favorite teacher allowed me to disagree with her.
- My favorite teacher was open-minded.
- My favorite teacher was not afraid to tell me the truth or that I was wrong.
- My favorite teacher treated us as equals.
Then I began to wonder why we don’t use those attributes to identify great schools systems. It is very difficult to find any strong evidence whereby teachers, students, parents, administrators, the most successful business people, elected officials, movie stars, anyone for that matter, identifies test scores, salaries, median income, or for heaven’s sake lunch menus as the reason cited for their success. Yet, those are indicators of a variety of school rankings.
Then my attention turned to some of the most influential people in our history who did very poorly in their formal education. Some never finished college, some never completed high school. All were marginal students by the traditional alpha-numeric system.
- John Rockefeller
- John Glenn
- Steve Jobs
- Mark Twain
- Henry Ford
- William Shakespeare
- Winston Churchill
- Abraham Lincoln and
- Albert Einstein
While these individuals might have had marginal "formal" educational outcomes, they all had some very common traits. Each person had someone to help them overcome struggles; each individual had an innovative and creative flair that was nourished by someone (a parent, a mentor, and of course in all cases, a teacher). Also, each had some semblance of an apprenticeship along the way to greatness. They all had someone that believed in them, did not give up on them, and in whom they could trust.
Great teaching and great schools are measured in countless ways that don’t appear in a test score, stat sheet or ranking.
At your first day for all staff in 2017, honor any employee with 20, 25, or 30 years of employment in the district for their dedicated service and commitment to our students. Children touch all corners of school, interact with all employees, and we never know how a simple act such as a smile or kind words will change the course of a child’s day, or change their future. Often that is all someone needs and it can come from anyone.
It can be the advisor that got the student interested in a club and that individual went on to a career in that area; the person giving lessons that got a child playing an instrument who one days performs in front of a packed house; the coach that kept the player on the team even though he or she might not be very competitive. Yet, down the line that player becomes a great coach or leader; the teacher that stayed after to work with someone who was struggling on a concept, and low and behold years later that person is responsible for a breakthrough in that field; the guidance person that noticed something different about her counselee before something bad happened.
To me greatness is measured by the ovations we see and hear during the high school musical, they are measured by the countless times our aides assist in the classroom, lunch room, on the school bus, they are measured by our nurses who heal and comfort, they are measured by our secretaries who are somehow able to simultaneously embody the talent of teacher, principal, receptionist and care giver (if you can’t appreciate this just spend ten minutes in the main office of any school). They are measured by our custodial staff, who fix, clean, open, close, set up, break down, line fields, take out the trash, plow snow, and drive the buses.
They are measured in the success stories we hear when our graduates come back and let us how they are doing, they are measured in the families that are second, third, and fourth generation to a school system. These are the true measure of who we are as professionals, why we constantly adapt to ever-changing landscapes, how we continuously rise above economic, social and regulatory challenges, and what, ultimately, defines us as educators.
There are many difficulties in our professional world today. These difficulties can create frustration, anger or fear within us. Those emotions battle with hope, compassion and excitement. However, as the Cherokee saying goes, the “ones that win the battles inside us are the ones we feed.”
So as we enter a "New Year," let’s take it one moment at a time, one lesson at a time, one phone call at a time, one bus ride at a time, and one practice at time. Feed your hope, feed your compassion, and feed your excitement.
Every moment is a chance to change a lifetime. Changing lives is how we define great schools!