If Only I Knew Then…

I’ve said many times that if I was superintendent where my old-self was teaching that I’d fire myself from the profession with zero regrets. In my beginning years of teaching I was isolated and I liked it that way. I did things my way because that’s what I knew best. I was a lecturer and a worksheet giver. If a student could memorize they would have done very well in my class. I was self-centered and egotistical. I taught in a way that was comfortable for me and I had little regard for the comfort of my students.

My classroom management skills consisted of rules, rules, and more rules. The main objective for students was to learn and to conform. They were to sit in desks, keep quiet, copy notes, and memorize them.

Yes, that’s how I taught. I’m embarrassed even writing about it. It absolutely pains me to think of how many children came through my classes that needed a connection emotionally and socially and I missed it. How many children reached out to me, but were met with dead air and no hand to latch onto? How many students came to my classroom every day with trauma and anxiety? Rather than fostering relationships and connecting with these kids, my goal was to get them to learn and to conform. Simply put, I did more teaching than reaching.

It wasn’t until my seventh year in education, and my first as an administrator that my entire thought process on education began to change. That was the year that I failed to hear a child’s story.  That was the year a sophomore girl in my school took her own life. On the outside she was the “happy-go-lucky” child. She excelled in all areas of school and was an active member in many extra-curricular activities. But I failed to see past all of that. I limited my site to my eyes, and I failed to see with my heart. Behind her flesh and her accolades was a girl that was struggling.

As I started to open my heart and close my eyes I soon realized that many children were struggling. As a matter of fact, it has been said that as many as one out of every five children today suffer from some sort of mental illness. Yet, schools across the country are tasked with getting all children to succeed at high-levels. How do we go about this? How can we ensure that our student’s needs are met on a social, emotional, and academic basis?

To find the answer to these questions I’d like to recommend the book Future Driven by David Geurin. Over the past couple years David and I have become friends. I first came across David on Twitter as I noticed he and I seemed to share many of the same thoughts regarding education. When I saw that his book was released I grabbed a copy right away.
I’ve now read it front to back twice. His thoughts are spot on and everyone from teachers, administrators, parents and students could benefit from reading his book.

In his book, David talks about the importance of building relationships with students. Every child has gifts and talents that can be used to change the world and we must create learning environments in which they get a chance to showcase these talents. Innovation is dominating every sector of the working economy, and because so we must invest in the creativity of every child. It’s no longer important for a child to just be knowledgeable. What is important however, is allowing children to build on the knowledge they have and to create new knowledge.

To do all of this we have to get away from conformity style schools and classrooms. The world needs risk-takers; people willing to step out of their comfort zones and push the status quo. And it all starts with educating the heart, creating relationships, and listening to every child’s story. As David says in his book; “We never know when a simple conversation with a student might spark something lasting and worthwhile.” In my opinion truer words have never been spoken.

I’m certainly embarrassed as to how I taught and thought when I first started out as a teacher, but many educators have similar stories. If it wasn’t for the people I worked with over the years, as well as the many wonderful educators I have met over the course of my career such as David, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The power of connection is just as amazing for adults as it is for our students.

We must continue to create environments where students and teachers can collaborate, communicate, and create. In doing so we must continuously empower, encourage, and empathize with our students and teachers. This will ensure that we truly are #FutureDriven and our children are equipped to survive in an unpredictable world.

As I close I would like to leave you with two recommendations. Number one, pick up a copy of Future Driven. You won’t regret it. Number two, from this point forward, never miss an opportunity to hear somebody’s story. You just never know, it may save a life or kick start yours.