More than 25 years ago, I was finishing up my last day of fourth grade and walked out of school with one of my all time favorite teachers, Mrs. Lammers. As we were heading to the walker line, she asked me about my plans for summer, how excited I was for the upcoming baseball season, and what I was most looking forward to in 5th grade.
I loved Mrs. Lammers for many reasons: her passion for baseball, the way that she brought characters to life when she read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and most importantly how she made an intentional effort to connect with me while pushing toward higher levels than I thought possible. I was not the highest achieving student, nor was I the hardest worker. School was just not my thing; I really struggled with reading and did not put forth the effort to get better. However, it was different with Mrs. Lammers, as she held this incredible belief in me and made me want to learn more each and every day. She showed me that mistakes are not fatal, reading Sports Illustrated for Kids is completely acceptable if it piques your interest, and intelligence is not fixed: success will come to those who work hard and find their passions.
As we were walking out of school on the last day, Mrs. Lammers stopped me and said,"Dan, you have my full permission to be great."
These words have stuck with me since 1989, as I think about my time as an educator working with students and adults. We are in a field where we have tremendous influence over others. In 2016, there is certainly not a shortage of school improvement efforts and initiatives, as the pressure to improve is forever present within our settings. I am a firm believer in school improvement and am constantly searching for ways to get better; however, sometimes we over think it.
Whether it is 1989 or 2035, education is always going to be about people and the positive relationships established will be a key accelerator in school improvement efforts. I am not discounting comprehensive systems and programs that schools across the globe are implementing to better serve students, but we must never lose sight of making strong, genuine connections with our students, families, and colleagues. Dr. Russel Quaglia said in his keynote address at #naesp16, "Common sense often gets trumped by common practice within our schools." Let's not overthink it when we are searching for ways to get better. Sometimes all it takes is for the conditions to be right and permission to go out and be great.