Monday, September 30, 2013

A Challenge to Teachers from St. Ignatius Loyola

My welcome back remarks to staff included my hope and expectations for the year ahead.  Excerpts from my comments follow:

“Go forth and set the world on fire.”

Here’s what this quote from St. Ignatius Loyola says to me:  Empower young people to learn, grow, achieve, and then release them to go and repeat this cycle for a new generation, for a world desperate for their scholarship, service, and leadership.  Kindle within your students a sense of belonging, of purpose, and a hunger for innovation and social justice.

If by year’s end we have not raised up all of our students—all students—to stretch their minds, overcome a personal obstacle, create, or discover we have failed them and their lives are diminished and the world has become a little darker.

And this world can use some help.  Given what we read about in the news and experience firsthand, how can we not believe that our work in schools is not critical?  Political gridlock.  Newtown.  Climate change. Trayvon Martin. Marathon bombing. Egypt. Syria. We do not have to look far to see the hubris, arrogance, and prejudice that pervades our world and dims the lights. Education is the answer and teachers are the fire-starters who must propel young people forward to dispatch ignorance.

You are the ones to guide young people in their quest for self-discovery, growth, and meaning. And education is the critical mass needed to assist young people to develop the skills, imagination, and courage to tackle the intractable problems of today’s world. These problems will require sophisticated responses, intelligent discourse, and creative problem solvers who will collaborate and cooperate to improve lives and brighten the world.  Along with their parents, we have the awesome and humbling responsibility to nurture and excite young people and believe in them so they, in turn, can become beacons of compassion, justice, civility, and hope.

And I commit to you today you will not do this work alone.  The district will have failed you and your students if we do not build and maintain the relationships, resources, and structures you need to start fires!

  First, we will organize training and planning around educator evaluation in such a way that supports you to grow and empowers you to stretch yourself and enhance your skills and your students’ learning.

  Together we will craft innovative curriculum programs and common assessments that will engage students in creative and consequential ways, in ways that promote interdisciplinary learning and authentic opportunities for students to express themselves and their growth. We will act together to ensure equity and access for all students so they can learn and achieve.

  We will strengthen advisory, homeroom, and small groups facilitated by teachers and adults so students can build relationships and develop skills that will assist them to grow into responsible, resilient, and caring young people.

  We will pilot new and mobile technology tools so that both you and your students can learn more efficiently, collaboratively, and in a way that complements the technology rich environments of home, college, and the workplace.

  We will offer opportunities for you to expand your students’ experiences into the community so they can serve and learn about the world around them.  We will expect you to become more culturally proficient and understand that each adult and child has a unique story to tell—one that is rich in culture, ethnicity, language, lifestyle, and faith.

  We will collaborate closely with the School Committee, Town officials, and parents to advocate for additional time, space, and the resources we need to support all of this work and more.

And, finally, we will do this work imperfectly and we will allow room for error, failed attempts, and mistakes.  And we will be OK with that and grow from the experience.

Next Tuesday, and every day after, as scores of young people tumble from buses and cars and pile into your classrooms they will bring with them a jumble of emotions, skills, experiences, expectations, and possibilities.  Somehow you must skillfully and carefully connect your knowledge and wisdom to the lives of your students in a way that inflames their passion for languages, the arts, writing, math, and scientific discovery. 

This, then, is the essence of your work:  You don’t just teach children, you ignite a generation!

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