Eighteen years ago, I completed my MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching) at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. The program culminated in a leadership symposium of sorts, with each graduate candidate presenting a Leadership Thesis on a topic of their choice. From the moment I received my acceptance letter, twelve months prior, I had an immediate hunch as to what my thesis topic would be. After spending a year immersed in both the theory and art of teaching, including six months of student teaching experience, my initial hunch was solidified. It was clear to me that the academic needs of students took a front seat to what I felt was a glaring, unmet need – the social and emotional well-being of all kids. So, I set forth in crafting a presentation that would open the eyes of my fellow graduates, in addition to a team of professors who rarely broached this topic. I was going to shock the world with a ground breaking presentation on the absolute necessity of meaningful character education programs in schools throughout the country. What followed was an emotional roller coaster of events that would ultimately lead me to where I am today.
I began my presentation by recounting the horrific tragedy at Columbine High School, followed by a thought provoking question, designed to plant a seed in the minds of those in attendance.
“Could a meaningful character education program, during a child’s elementary years, prevent something like this from happening?”
After what I felt was a compelling 30-minute presentation on the need for quality character education programs in schools, I walked confidently toward the back of the auditorium, ready for another speaker to take the stage. Just prior to reaching my seat, one of my supervising professors handed me a paper. It was a critique of my presentation, which included several hand written comments. I quickly perused the feedback, most of which was positive, but a single sentence near the end of the page caught my attention. Little did I know that this comment would serve as a springboard for the work I do today.
“Great presentation, but I don’t think a character education program is going to prevent anything like this from happening.”
The rush of adrenaline following my presentation was quickly replaced with another unwelcome rush; a rush of anger. The resulting though attack, many of which were accusatory in nature toward my professor, would eventually subside and I’d come to a revelation of sorts. Although I don’t remember any particular thoughts at the time, I realize now that the divergent roads which Robert Frost referred to in his well-known poem “The Road Not Taken,” were right in front of me. I could either continue to talk about the need for change or move in the direction of being the change, which was clearly the road less traveled by.
Fast forward to today and I’m firmly on the road less traveled by.
As we continue to witness tragic school shootings, unprecedented numbers of teenage suicides, and a bullying epidemic that continues to gain steam, I can’t help but wonder…
“Are we still of the belief that these events are largely out of our control?”
Each day I walk into a school, I choose to think about the one child who needs to hear my message.
The child whose self-esteem is at an all-time low and is beginning to contemplate whether or not it’s worth it to live.
The child who’s under a tremendous amount of pressure to be perfect and just wants to throw in the towel.
The child who’s the victim of countless bullies and feels absolutely powerless with regard to moving forward.
The child who spends hours and hours playing video games that glorify death and destruction, not realizing the impact it’s having on his mind.
I ask you, “What is the purpose of education? Is it to only educate the mind, or do we have an obligation to educate the whole child, including their heart?”
I believe we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to provide a transformative means of education for our children. It’s called self-education and it has nothing to do with the 3 R’s that we continue to obsess over. While standardized tests may very well measure a child’s intellectual abilities, what are we doing to measure, or even pay attention to, their social and emotional well-being?
I may never know if my teaching will somehow prevent one of these tragic events from occurring, but I can assure you that I’m going to do whatever I can to make emotional intelligence a part of every child’s education.
Will you join me on the road less traveled by?
If you feel so moved, I invite you to share an introductory video (see below) with teachers, administrators, parents, coaches, or in any other adult who might be interested in providing young people with the gift of emotional intelligence.
As always, I’m grateful for your support.