What Do You Do With a Chance?

Last week during NHCS’ 8th Annual Legislative Luncheon, NHCS Teacher of the Year and Southeast Region Teacher of the Year – Christy Howe – presented the following speech.

This is the question posed by one of my favorite picture books written by Kobi Yamada. The story is about a young boy who encounters a chance. At first, he does not know what to do with it. He is curious but afraid. When he does finally take the chance, he fails, and feeling foolish he resolves to never try again. Over time, the boy is saddened to find that the more he ignores his chances, the less they come around. Finally, he decides to let his excitement for what’s possible overcome his fear of what could go wrong and he takes a chance – a big one. He learns that when a chance comes your way, you take it because it is an opportunity that may never come again. When a chance comes, you take it because it just might be the start of something incredible.

Christy Howe, NHCS Teacher of the Year & Southeast Region Teacher of the Year

This book speaks to me because we are a part of something incredible, public education, and this is our chance. Education is one of the most important ways in which we take responsibility for shaping our community today and designing the future of our society tomorrow. Education builds capacity in others and equips its citizens to effectively navigate and improve the world in which we live. Education lifts up and empowers learners so that they can, in turn, do the same for others. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which one can use to change the world.”

Changing the world is a weighty task, but it is also a tremendous opportunity. In this room today are educators, elected officials, and invested members of our community. Each of us is here because we value education and want to create opportunities for children.  We may work towards this goal in different ways and capacities, but we are better and more effective when we work together. The power to affect meaningful change in the lives of children is through our collective efforts. My goal today is not to offer answers, but to ask questions and spark discussions that will improve the learning experiences and lives of our children.  My hope is that today is just the beginning of an ongoing, rich discussion between educators and public officials designed to improve the lives of every student in every school.

There are two questions in particular that I’d like to lift up for consideration today. The first is how can we identify, develop, and celebrate the diverse talents of our students? The current focus on standardized measures of achievement and accountability has narrowed our definition of intelligence. A limited vision of success marginalizes our students who are not interested or do not excel in these areas. Furthermore, a narrow definition does not equip our students with the array of future-ready skills they need, such as the ability to think creatively, resolve conflicts, and lead with empathy.

What we measure in our schools influences the types of learners and educational ecosystems we create. While standardized test data is easier to capture, it may not measure or develop the skills we value most, such as collaboration, perseverance, problem-solving, and service to others. As award-winning educator David Guerin states, “Academic skills are only a piece of the complex tapestry of what it takes to be successful.” Our kids are multidimensional; we do them a disservice now and in the future, if we attempt to reduce them to a single score.

So, let’s talk! How can we reimagine our current accountability systems so that they reflect what we truly value?  How can we ensure that the messages we send to our students, teachers, and schools are truly aligned with our vision? Our world is not static and neatly packaged. It is exciting, complex, and continually changing. Let’s work together to be sure our evaluation systems are the same.

The second question I’d like to elevate today is in regards to teachers. Research shows that an effective teacher is, more than any other variable, including students’ socioeconomic status, the greatest impact on student learning.”  So how can we be sure to recruit, retain, and energize high-quality teachers?

In order to attract high-quality teachers, we can take greater ownership of the narrative being told about public education. The work being done every day in public schools is impressive! We are creating life-long learners and leaders who are equipped to make a positive impact on our community in the future and today.  We need to intentionally share and celebrate the wonderful work we do. Our stories give those who are not in schools a glimpse of the magic that happens every day. By sharing our passion, purpose, and impact with others, we can re-write the story that is often told about public education. Let’s work together to create a unified voice that illustrates and honors the value of our profession.

How do we retain and energize the teachers we already have? How do we develop their talents and feed their passion for the profession? The teachers I know are constantly striving to grow and learn so they can create improved experiences and outcomes for their students. If we value life-long learning, reflective practice, and continual growth, we must support teachers seeking to improve. Dr. Katie Martin, the author of Learner Centered Innovation, argues that “teachers’ practices are shaped by their experiences both past and present, and these are mirrored in their classrooms.  If we don’t prioritize authentic, relevant learning experiences for educators, how can we ensure our students have deeper learning experiences?”  Educators can lead the way in transforming our schools, but we can’t do it without meaningful support. Excellence should be encouraged and incentivized; educators who pursue advanced degrees in an effort to improve their craft and create better learning experiences for students should be compensated for their expertise. This investment not only benefits teachers, but serves students, schools, and our community as well. As educator Dr. Amy Fast says, “In order to be effective for our students, we need to make sure the system is maximizing teachers’ potential as well.”

So, what do we do with a chance?  We take it. This is our chance to not only shape the future but to redesign the present; we can work together across diverse networks to make a positive difference in the lives of our children and the future of our community. This is our chance to identify and develop the diverse talents of our students and to reimagine accountability measures so that they represent the diverse talents we need and value. This is our chance to invest in teachers and their passion to improve. Together we can be the change our students need. So let’s work together in a unified way to make it happen. Our kids deserve it.

1 Mandela, N. (2003).”Lighting Your Way to a Better Future [Transcript]. Retrieved from  http://bit.ly/1oaldAy
2 Guerin, D. (2017). Future Driven. United States of America. Book Layout.
3 Hattie, J.A.C. (2003). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Melbourne, Australia. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/1AW27oR
4 Martin, K. (2018). Learner Centered Innovation. United States of America. IMPress.
5 Fast, A. (2016). It’s the Mission Not the Mandates. United States of America. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

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