The Most Idiotic Comment in Education

7:00 A.M. Wednesday morning. I wake up with this comment stuck in my head.”If I can reach just one child in my career it will have been worth it.” I really have no idea why. It was just there. Questions.

1. How did this ever become something an educator (principals and teachers) would ever dream of thinking let alone say?

2. Do some folks in other organizations believe this about their personal impact on their “product”?

3. How would you communicate this to a child, let alone the parent of a child?

I’ll start by saying that I believe this is NOT the norm. What we do in education for the kids is an “all in or all out” endeavor. We don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing. Some will take more time and demand more of us than others. Our impact on each child is not measured in the here and now. It’s measured when they enter adult life as a citizen in our great country. So let’s not think about reaching one child. Let’s reach them all.

WE FIRST NEED TO BELIEVE THAT ALL STUDENTS ARE WORTHY OF OUR BEST EFFORT.

I’ve been in this game too long to recognize that some students are easier to engage than others. Every student in our schools is in a different place in their life and carry their own set of hopes, dreams, fears and aspirations. We have to meet them where they are; not where we want them to be.  Your challenge this year is to find five students with whom you might normally not connect with and make it a point to be there for them. Last year, for me, it was Brianna, Anna, Andy, Lexi, and Weston.

I.T.W.Y.K

This is an acronym I’ve used over the years while a guest lecturer in a secondary methods course at our local college. My piece is on what I call systems thinking. As conscientious educators, we are always working to refine our efforts for the betterment of the system which we believe (not hope) will improve the teaching and learning environment for students. While data is an essential part of our decision-making process there does come a time, more times than not, that at the end of the day we fall back on I.T.W.Y.K or “If this were your kid?”.

Try this out sometime when faced with a decision and the data-driven decision process has stalled out. I belive you’ll be surprised when you pose this question to your team or the group in charge of making the decision, just how powerful and personal it all becomes. If you determine the change is something you’d want for your own child…then why not for others? To difficult to do or implement you say? Then ask yourself, “What’s the moral imperative?”. Ouch!

WE EXIST BECAUSE OF THE KIDS. NOT IN SPITE OF THEM.

My oldest daughter would call this an “ouchy” statement but in my travels as a teacher, coach, and principal I’ve found this to be the mindset among some of my colleagues. Call it a skeleton in our closet, but unfortunately it’s all to real. The reason for your/my existence in the schools we serve is to be there for the students NOT merely teach a content you personally love. While this is certainly a key attribute or vehicle in becoming an educator, it should never define you as one. I once had a middle school history teacher tell me about a comment raised by one of her students during an American history lesson. After an excited and energized presentation by the teacher, a student raised her hand and said, “Mrs. Bumgarner, teach me to love this stuff as much as you do cuz I just don’t get.” Wow! The message? You obviously love this stuff but I don’t. I really like you as a teacher so if you can help me understand YOUR passion for this stuff I’ll meet you half way. Do your students understand WHY you love your content?

DROP AT LEAST ONE OLD PRACTICE AND REPLACE IT WITH A NEW ONE.

One of my favorite quotes is by Dr. Carl Sagan the creator of the COSMOS series and famous for his “billions and billions” reference to the stars in our universe. “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

Each year I eliminate one old habit/practice and replace it with a new one. It may be a simple replacement of one thing for another or a total abandonment of a practice in order to implement something more relevant and essential. This does several things for me. Some are merely esoteric while others create a new mindset. For example, last year I quit printing our administrative team agendas and now manage all of that work through my iPad and an App call Notability. It took me a while. I struggled. It wasn’t efficient. It seemed cumbersome. When it all began to click, I was actually proud of myself. I call these “Big boy moments”!

When we ask others to do something like going paperless or learning something new, we need to make sure we can model the expectation and define the why. Learning along with the kids is not a sign of a deficiency but models the essence of what we’re about which is being a lifelong learner. When students witness you struggling and learning along with them, you are making an essential interpersonal connection with them. When you ask them to learn new things and trust in your abilities to help them do so; don’t hesitate to reciprocate. Model it. Celebrate it.

Learning something incredible FROM your students is more important than when they learn something incredible from you. Instead of reaching just one child, you can touch them all.

It’s better in the middle!

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