I once heard a preacher say that every minister really just has one sermon God gave them to preach. However, life provides many ways for them to live and teacher that message. How very true is this in the life we live? Everything we do impacts our singular purpose, whether good or bad. Everything we say, every action we take, and even the unnecessary judgments we make of others, impact the message we send and eventually the message we receive.
We can see this example in many of history’s game-changers. When we think of Mahatma Gandhi, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Mikhail Gorbachev, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Mother Teresa, and the recently deceased Nelson Mandela; all of these individuals affected millions of human beings throughout the world in several ways. Yet, when it is all said and done, we can sum their many stories and vast experiences down to one message. Through their ups and downs, their uplifting experiences to their torturous memories; that one message they shared with us resonates deep in our core and inspires us to make a difference in the lives of those we not only love, but have an opportunity to come in contact with in some way, shape or form.
When I reflect back to my pliable years and my experiences that helped to shape my values, I think of those people that made a huge impact on my beliefs. I think of their singular message and how it impacted the man I am today. I was fortunate to have many, many experiences. From sports, to debate; from public to private; from urban to rural- so many experiences allowed me to see what a person’s true message is. Their message is not always what they choose to allow people to see. If you choose to visibly promote one unity, but all others feel is division, isolation and segregation; what message did you really leave? If you choose to live a visible life that is lavish with all the finer things, but your children only know bill collectors, eviction notices and hungry sleepless nights; what message are you really sharing with them?
This directly correlates to my profession. As an educator we always talk about closing the Achievement GAP. The government provides huge amounts of money through competitive grants to programs that write proposals to address this GAP. States and districts spend millions in consultants, research teams, and out-of-a-box initiatives that provide an “instant cure” to the problem. Yet the GAP continues to get bigger and bigger. It is not just education. We see the same symptoms in the prison system (https://www.aclu.org/school-prison-pipeline), national debt, and I could go on and on. So, as it relates to education and also the strength of a nation, how can we address this hypocritical conundrum? In Against the Night, Chuck Colson states, “A nation or a culture cannot endure for long unless it is undergirded by common values such as valor, public spiritedness, respect for others and for the law; it cannot stand unless it is populated by people who will act on the motives superior to their own immediate interest.” It blows me away sometimes when I hear questions colleagues (educated people within the field of education) ask me, “Greg, what made you different? How did you make it?” In other words they are asking me, “What made you not like them?” They obviously do not know their role in the lives of those they serve? Their message is damaged. What they fail to realize is I had so many people within my family and outside my family from all cultures and backgrounds making an investment in to my life; people who acted on the motives superior to their own immediate interest; MOSTLY TEACHERS! Mrs. Miles – who made me want to be an artist; Mrs. Jackson – who told me I was the next Langston Hughes; Mrs. Page – who gave me the desire to hear and play notes that strengthened the fiber of my culture; they all put something in me I desire to give children and educators daily and none of these teachers mentioned looked like me or were from anywhere near where I was from. I am a teacher simply because I was “taught” to care more by others who didn’t have to. They made me understand it mattered not what my last name was or where I lived. It only mattered that I was a future success. They made their “One Message” a life experience for me. In fact, I became an example of their “One Message”.
So, what if we applied this concept to the field of education? I truly believe we need assessment to measure growth and to hold educators accountable to meeting the needs of students. However, if we took more time measuring dispositions and purpose within our educators (especially our future educators) and training educators to meet the social and emotional needs of ALL students (no matter race, gender, sexual orientation, religious background, etc.), I would argue the need of over-assessing would be minimized and the ability to show growth towards meeting the GAP would be substantial. Since I believe we will always have those that are disadvantaged, we would obviously always have some form of a GAP, even if it was strictly socioeconomically represented.
Education departments are huge money-makers for universities (future blog). HUGE!! As a principal, there were times I had nearly 200 applicants for 1 position. BUT, if we found teachers who were passionate and prepared; whose message and purpose was truly to prepare all children for success, there is no telling what our education system could accomplish. Imagine the administrators and district leaders this focus would produce. Consider all of the students whose lives would be changed.
Teachers are the ones that prepare others for EVERY profession. A stronger message, a stronger student, a stronger nation, a stronger world. So, what message will you leave?