I recently found myself sitting at a STEM ceremony listening to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke speak about the value of quality education for the community at large. In his talk, he mentioned the importance of reaching all of our students where they are and giving them all a chance to become successful citizens. To be truthful, I checked out of the rest of the speech because my mind began racing. It wasn't the first time I had heard this idea articulated, but it was the first time I realized a solution instead of thinking of all of the reasons why it is seemingly impossible to do what he was suggesting.
I was reminded of the classic illustration of The Boy (or girl in the video) and the Starfish. It goes something like this:
I heard that for the first time when I was a teenager and it was one of those moments when I can distinctly remember thinking "I have to find a career where I can make a difference." As I sat at the commencement, I realized this illustration is outdated. It is a compelling story and certainly is a wake up call for many of us. Far too often, I see fellow educators who have become disillusioned by the system. They have been burned or burned out and they have started using the excuse that since they can't help all of the students, they stop trying to help any of them. Andy Stanley says this kind of thinking can be crippling. We don't have to be fair. When we try to be fair, we often handcuff ourselves to the point that we never make a difference to one because we can't feasibly make a difference to all.
The other trend I have noticed is that there are a lot of high quality, energetic teachers who have resigned themselves to making sure their students get a quality education even if they can't change the course of the educational titanic for the better. In other words, they have bought into this illustration perhaps too much. They are making a difference for some, but are quickly giving up trying to make a difference for all for a myriad of reasons.
That was my epiphany. Twenty years ago, this story was relevant because it showed a young person who cared enough to make a difference, no matter how small. However, today, what would we expect from the girl in the video, the boy on the beach? After realizing how to make a difference, the middle school-aged child would not start throwing starfish back as fast as possible. She would pull out her smartphone, text her friends, tweet an invite, and post a picture or two on Instragram imploring anyone who was willing to spring to action. The tweet might say, "Just found a way to save thousands of starfish. Meet me at ABC beach ASAP to help. Retweet please. #MakeADifference."
As I sat in the STEM commencement I had to admit to myself, I had become complacent. I had resigned to making sure the kids I came in contact with would get a quality education from me, and that I would just basically ignore the blaring issues that needed to be addressed. I was making a difference to a few, but was becoming increasingly complacent about the many. What if we start finding the teachers who are making a difference to a few starfish, and have them rally more people to start making difference to all of them? I am quickly becoming persuaded that this looks like collaboration amongst teachers and educational experts. It means policy makers need to take more of a hands off approach to liberate quality teachers to refine their craft and then to share it with others. It looks like great teachers using multiple mediums to share their strategies. Not only will we develop the best ways to educate our youth, we will re-ignite a viral passion for educating that very well could push us back to forefront of education!
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