In 1995 I had the good fortune to hear Rick DuFour speak at a conference on the topic of PLC’s. As a first year assistant principal I can still remember being completely moved by his words. He spoke passionately and with a sense of purpose and spirit that I remember thinking I would work for this man for free. He made that type of impact on me. In fact, his keynote inspired me to write the following three words down in my notebook that eventually would become the mantra for the way I hoped to inspire others to lead – with a sense of passion, purpose, and spirit. Eventually I added the word pride to this list when I took my first and only principal job which I still hold today. Over the course of the next twenty plus years, I continued to be moved by educational leaders in our profession at conferences throughout the country, beginning with Todd Whitaker and Terrence Deal. Eventually, I was able to see thought leaders like Bill Daggett and Robert Marzano speak in person and they too moved me to want to be better.
I will admit, I still want to be inspired by a good talk. I want to be moved to be better. I want to be inspired to believe I can change the world. Do I also want and need specific strategies to improve my skills as a leader which can help me understand how to put into practice systems to help me move my school forward? Absolutely! Does my staff still need consistent, sustained professional development over time to help them grow and develop their craft? No doubt. As a building leader, do I need to make sure we maintain a clear and focused plan to ensure student achievement remains a priority? Of course. All of these things are necessary in our work. Undeniably so.
However, I will contend that we all have seeds of hope within us that lie dormant and need to be rekindled from time to time. The job of a teacher and school administrator is taxing. What other profession do you know that requires its members to do a years worth of work in nine months and do it with all of the emotion, patience, and investment of a surrogate parent? How many times have you pulled into your driveway and walked into your home exhausted and emotionally spent with nothing left to give your own family? Or walked down the hallway and out the doors feeling empty inside because you weren’t able to get through to a student like you wanted to and then questioned your ability to make an impact like you always thought you would? Honestly, it happens to me regularly. Yet, I know that tomorrow is another day so like many of my colleagues, I dig down deep, keep the faith, and go to it again.
So maybe that is why I still need a good talk. I want to be reminded again why I do what I do. I want someone who does what I do to talk to me. I want a talk that is so powerful that it pushes me to think beyond my routine thought process, tugs at my emotions to the point of tears, or moves me to the point that I want to go champion a cause at that very moment. That is still something that I need from time to time; even if for no other reason than to remind me that it’s okay to feel good about myself or the work I do because I know I give everything I have every day to serve others and yet I know sometimes it still won’t be enough. So when I find myself in front of a speaker who is emotionally invested in me as an audience member, I feel blessed.
Last month I had the opportunity to be reminded again of our moral obligation to help all students be successful. I was at a PLC conference in Minneapolis when Rick DuFour took the stage. I still get chills thinking about it. His words not only struck a deep chord with me, but the courage, passion, toughness and integrity he showed that day not only moved me, but changed me. Changed me for the better I believe. I recognize and understand the importance of effective teaching strategies, fair grading practices, etc., and I value the need to respond differently to students who take longer to learn a concept than others. But spoken words that change someone to the point that it actually makes them a better person? That is a gift.
I not only want to be inspired, I need to be inspired.
Thank you Rick for being the change our kids, teachers and leaders so desperately need.
“The experience of others is the best classroom you will ever find.” – Warren Buffett