The year was 2008. I sauntered into the house after another tireless day as an elementary school teacher. My head was dragging and my heart was void of any real desire. I slowly placed my stack of ungraded papers on the counter and sunk into my favorite chair. After a deep breath and a long exhale, I said these words to my wife; words that would ultimately shape my journey and give me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and into my life’s mission.
“Honey, I want to make a bigger difference. I’m tired of spending my day adhering to district mandated “blocks” of time for core content, when I could be teaching them about life and leadership. I’m tired of creating behavior plans that seek to remedy the symptoms, when I could be teaching them how to manage their own thoughts and emotions; which you and I both know serve as the root of every choice they make. I’m tired of attending meetings where we spend one hour learning about a new initiative that will surely be extinct by this time next year. I’m tired of being told what and how to teach, when I feel like I’m the one who knows what my students need most.”
Rather than letting me continue my pity party, my wife politely interrupted me and simply said, “Let’s do it. It’s time for you to fill this void and share your important message with every child.”
From that moment, my life as I knew it would completely change as I confidently stepped into my dream. A dream that would allow me to act on the belief that I knew what students needed to learn, which was well beyond the antiquated model of the Three R’s.
Although I’ve had the great fortune of sharing my message with thousands of students thus far, I’m not willing to stop until ALL students have heard it.
Below is an open letter to ALL students, which contains 5 truths that I believe EVERY child needs to hear, EVERY day.
Dear students of all ages,
Let me start by saying that I’m well aware of the fact that each day you arrive at school, the expectations we have for you are limitless. You’re expected to absorb a huge amount of information, only to regurgitate it frequently in the form of tests and quizzes. You’re expected to follow the rules and make good choices. You’re expected to be engaged and interested in what you’re learning. You’re expected to listen to what the teachers are teaching you. The list goes on and on.
As a former teacher, I will be the first to admit that there is one thing we often overlook in this sometimes crazy world of education. In our quest to adhere to the Common Core and countless other student benchmarks that exist today, believe it or not, the easiest thing to overlook is you, the student. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes we make is that we see you only as a student, and not as a human being. We fail to recognize that, much like us as adults, you arrive at school with all sorts of thoughts and emotions that may interfere with your ability to learn or perform. You may be struggling with self-confidence, yet it’s not cool to admit it, so you plaster a fake smile on your face, making it appear like you are ready to learn. You may feel so much pressure from your parents to achieve perfect grades that you mask your stress with a fake sense of peace because the last thing you want to do is to let your teacher know that you’re struggling. After all, there is plenty of learning to take place. The fact is that while your bodies may be in the chairs, your minds can be in a completely different place.
Imagine if the school day began with an opportunity for you to unload your emotional backpack and cleanse your mind, which would perhaps allow you to be in a position to actually learn.
Here are five truths I want you to know that you won’t learn in a textbook. My hope is that you will remember these truths each and every day and use them as a foundation for what really matters. Sure your grades and test scores will ensure academic success, but it’s the following truths that will contribute greatly to your life success.
#1 – YOU LEAD, AND THEREFORE, YOU MATTER.
Despite what others may tell you, leadership is NOT about authority or control. It’s NOT about popularity or having the greatest number of followers on social media. Leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less. Everything you do or say has an invisible ripple effect on the people around you. You have the power to create massive change simply by focusing on your own ripple. When you go to school each day, be intentional about the ripple you are going to create and align your actions with that intention. Your actions and words are contagious.
#2 – IF YOU WANT TO CHANGE SOMEONE OR SOMETHING ELSE, YOU MUST FIRST CHANGE YOURSELF.
It’s easy to point fingers at other people and blame them for your current mood. The fact is that it’s NOT your circumstances that are causing you to feel a certain way. If there is someone in your life who is causing you distress (teacher, parent, etc…), you must look inward for change. The more you try to change them, the more out of control you will feel. Lasting change begins with you. You are the driver of your life. You can’t control the road conditions, but you will always be able to choose how you drive.
#3 – YOU SEE LIFE THROUGH DIFFERENT LENSES. SOME ARE EFFECTIVE AND SOME ARE NOT.
Your mind functions much like an information processor, constantly making sense of the world around you. A large majority of the thoughts you have during the day are out of your awareness. They happen without you even knowing it. However, when you practice awareness, you can catch yourself in the midst of “stinking thinking” and choose a new lens, or way of thinking, that will process information in an empowering way. You are ultimately in charge of your thoughts, so why not choose thoughts that will serve you.
#4 – YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CHOOSE WHO YOU ARE.
You will always have people asking you what you want to do when you grow up, but the most important question to consider is – Who are you? You see, in order to do something in life, you must first consider who you want to be. Who you are is not a name or a job title, but rather your character. While society will continue to tell you what you should wear, what you should look like, or what you should purchase, I want you to recognize that who you choose to be trumps all of this. It’s your character, NOT your appearance or possessions, which will shape your future.
#5 – EMOTIONS ARE A NATURAL PART OF BEING HUMAN, BUT THEY ARE ALSO A POWERFUL SOURCE OF ENERGY.
I want you to know that emotions such as anger or jealousy are NOT bad emotions. We all feel them. It’s important to understand, however, that every emotion contains a certain amount of energy. It’s your thoughts that fuel this energy, so when you choose new thoughts, the energy changes. If a friend at school is triggering angry feelings in you, the easiest course of action is to unleash your anger on them, which often leads to regret. However, the most effective action is to use the anger as an opportunity to hold onto your power. When you are angry at another person, you are essentially giving your power away.
As academic expectations continue to grow, please remember that the only thing you can truly control is yourself. School will continue to be school, but the experience of it will change dramatically when you learn to embrace these truths.
I believe in you!
P.S. If you’d like to learn how to make these truths a part of your life, I invite you to read my book (click here). I wrote it especially for you.