Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Convocation 2016 - "To Empower A Community of Learners Who Will Change the World".

This week, I had the high honor of addressing the faculty and staff of the Worthington School District during our annual school kickoff event known as Convocation. The event is part pep-rally, part tradition and part serious talk. There are lots of things I could have focused on during my 7 minutes of fame, but I decided to focus on the district's new mission statement which is: 

To Empower a Community of Learners who will change the world. 

My message had two main parts - the world-changing role of teachers, aides and public education in general in our society and what specifically it means to change the world. 

The opportunity to provide this message is one of highlights of my time on Worthington's Board. It was an opportunity to take a step back from the day to day, week to week routine of serving on a Board of Education and focus on what the heck we are really doing here. Here's the speech. 
Good Morning. My name is Marc Schare and I have the honor of serving as the President of the Worthington Board of Education this year.

I’ll start my remarks with a bit of a confession. I’m really not one for corporate mission/vision statements. In my experience in corporate America, large companies spend a lot of time creating an utterly meaningless statement that is forgotten as soon as it is introduced. Still, when our new Superintendent told our board that he wanted to go through yet another visioning process, I thought it was harmless. A few months went by and I didn’t really think much more about it. Dr. Bowers would send the Board updates periodically and a few of us went to a few of the community meetings and finally, one cold day last February, Trent sends an email announcing the mission statement.

To empower a community of learners who will change the world

What an audacious goal, I thought.  Aspirational to be sure. Thought provoking? Absolutely!  But seriously, as my inner voice debated with itself – how many Worthington students will, in the fullness of time, change the world and what does that even mean. Ultimately, I decided that it was not only meaningful, not only actionable but absolutely essential to what we do here and  I thought I’d take my allotment of time to opine why this mission statement, unlike so many others in corporate America, should be taken seriously as a foundational, governing document. To do so, I thought I would channel my inner “Trent Bowers” and tell you a story.

I went to small, private high school on Staten Island in New York and didn’t have any real opportunities to explore career options until I was a freshman in college. My first year, I signed up for mostly introductory classes at my community college turned 4-year school because that’s what you did in the 70’s but there were really only two classes that I was looking forward to. The first, and I know this is going to shock you, was Politics 101 and the other was Computer Science 101. I had zero exposure to either area before college since my high school offered neither. In my political science class, from day one until day whatever, the professor stood in front of the classroom literally reading the textbook to us. There was no inspiration, no passion, little discussion and he didn’t care if you showed up or not, and this was in the middle of the Presidential Campaign between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. I did poorly on the final examination despite getting every answer correct because I missed the instruction in the beginning that said I needed to write in complete sentences so although I knew that Carl Albert was the Speaker of the House, since I didn’t write “Carl Albert is the Speaker of the House of Representatives”, I was marked wrong on every question and very nearly failed the class for that reason. I do not remember the instructor’s name, only that I swore I wasn’t going to take another class like that again. The next semester, I took Computer Science 101 and fell in love with it immediately. The professor was Mimi Tausner and she was able to take what for most was an incredibly dry subject and make it come alive for me. She was so inspirational that I did numerous extra credit assignments for her, including programming a horse race prediction program among other notable accomplishments that first year. Professor Tausner is the reason why I went into computer software as a profession and I’ve always thought that if Professor Tausner brought her passion to Politics 101 and Professor Politics brought his drudgery to Computer Science 101, my entire career and life would have been very, very different. Such is the power you, as teachers,  hold in our society and it is an awesome power to literally change the direction of a student’s life in a few short months.

But, does changing that life mean changing the world? Well. That brings me to Part 2 of my story. Fast forward 5 years and I was working in Bell Labs as a systems programmer working with really, really powerful mainframes. I noticed that we were doing all kinds of repetitive, operational tasks manually that could be done more accurately and more efficiently by the machine itself. A few years and a lot of 1am to 7am programming time later, the world’s first commercially available automated operations package for IBM mainframe computers was born. A few years after that, it and the competition it inspired was running in a thousand companies  across the planet and changed the way that people thought about operating these large scale computers.  I don’t know if that is a “change the world” story but I’m pretty sure it’s as a close as I’m going to get. One thing  I know for certain  is that it would not have happened if Professor Mimi Tausner didn’t spend time with  an awkward 17 year old kid who had a really tough time in high school, never took an AP class or any advanced coursework for that matter, never took the SAT and yet somehow, she  ignited a passion I didn’t know I had. Maybe I didn’t change the world, but she sure changed my world, an opportunity you will have every day throughout your careers as educators. The moral of my story, not to beat you over the head with it, is that you never, ever know what word, what action, what combination of events is going to inspire some student into performing some world-changing action.

To Empower a Community of Learners that will change the world

A few weeks ago, I had a long conversation, coincidentally, with a 20 something year old Worthington graduate who was expressing personal angst that he had not yet changed the world and accomplished something significant. Eventually, the conversation came around to exactly what “changing the world” means.  Does it mean solving some intractable global problem like world hunger or clean water? Does it mean directly influencing global public policy?  Does it mean you have to invent something that positively impacts the lives of millions of people? My answer is no, not necessarily. My fondest wish for our students is that armed with what you provide them, they go out into the world and, to the best of their ability, change *their* world in positive ways, whatever that might mean to the individual, and if it has some broader significance to our society, so much the better. Some of our students will change their world through good works afforded via financial success. Others will, I’m quite certain, achieve scientific breakthroughs (in fact, I saw one at last year’s science fair).  Still others will be known locally, nationally or globally for their abilities in the arts but virtually everyone who walks through the door of one of our buildings this week will change the world as perceived by their parents, their relatives, their professional colleagues and later on, their children. How they do that is up to them, and you.

I really believe that every single one of our students walking into each of your classrooms, getting on each of your buses, eating one of your lunches, playing on one of your teams or participating in one of your activities has the God given potential to change the world but it is up to you, teachers, aides, drivers, secretaries, custodians and administrators of the Worthington School District to find and ignite within that student the passion, drive and commitment necessary to maximize their own world-changing abilities, just like it was up to Professor Mimi Tausner to do so with me.

No, I’m not one for corporate mission statements, but this one works for me because it so encapsulates why we are here, why you became educators, why I ran for the school board in the first place and how our district will ultimately be successful and how, honestly, that success should be measured. On behalf of the Board of Education, thank you for your attention, we look forward with you to the start of the school year and most of all, we wish you Godspeed in your mission to empower a community of learners who will change the world.