At the evening session of Communities for Learning, the question of “What Inspires You?” was posed. I sat listening as educators shared personal passions like photography and nature and Art and thinking that what inspires me is my work. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been really good at in my lifetime. The chance to make a difference for children? What could possibly be more inspiring?
School was an incredible experience for me as a child. Teachers are the people who took care of me in the sixth grade when my father was seriously injured in a coal mining cave-in and my mother was consumed with caring for him through rehab. Teachers are the people, along with my mom and my grandparents, who encouraged me to try everything from leadership roles in clubs to acting in the Sr. Class Play to competing in DECA. My father was very strict and not at all “inspiring”, I wasn’t permitted to date or to go anywhere but he allowed me to do anything that was school related. So I joined everything! School was the place where I began to learn what I was good at and what I was better off leaving to others with more ability and talent. I’m grateful for those experiences and I am compelled to recreate them for our students. It’s the reason we’ll be supporting two musicals next year, not just one for HS, but one for ES too. Look at the huge number of students who are touched by that experience!
I’m most inspired by those experiences that we create that touch students who aren’t connected to us through academic or athletic success. For those of you who will remember, it’s why I started the Randolph Rumble in 2002-03—to showcase the talents of an amazing group of young men who were disenfranchised in our system. In talking to them because they wouldn’t participate in gym class or for disciplinary reasons, I learned that they had a band called Post Mortem. At that point I asked them to perform at the Randolph Rumble–a culminating activity originally designed as a school wide behavior management program to improve attendance and school climate. They rocked that auditorium and from that day forward those boys were somebody in our school, they had an identity and a voice. And every one of them graduated and continues to be successful today. It’s one of the moments in my career that most inspired me and of which I’m most proud.
Another is Joe Tyler. When I arrived at Gowanda, Joe was in the 9th grade and his dad saw me in the hall one evening. At that point it didn’t look like Joe was headed for much academic success. His dad told me, “I need that boy to go to BOCES and learn a trade so he can get work some day”. Because Joe was technically a 9th grader and BOCES occurs in 11th-12th grade, it wasn’t typical to send him. I said, “I’ll send him to BOCES for a trade!” and handing Joe Tyler his HS diploma was one of the best moments of my whole life. He found what worked for him and graduated from HS.
Our kids and helping them find success and happiness, that’s what inspires me. Every time one of our students walks through my door to talk to me about something, that what fuels me. How about you?