Friday, May 10, 2013

Teachers: Keep Asking the Question, "What if?"

I cannot explain in words, but I will try how much I love the story of Liz Murray, the author of Breaking Night. She is known for her story of going from being a homeless teen to a Harvard graduate. The TED Talk, which I posted previously brings so many different thoughts to my mind. One thought that stands out the most is the question, "What if?"

In the talk, Murray describes her life prior to her mother's passing. Although homeless, Murray would go and visit with her mother, and they continued to have a relationship despite her mother's illness and inability to care for her. During her mother's illness with AIDS, Murray strived to improve her life, often stealing self help books such as Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but she had not taken any real action. She was still just getting by. Then, her mother died.

The death of her mother, made her realize that change happens. Life evolves. It moves. Understanding this, she began to ask, "If change happens, how can I change my life?" With that in mind she took her questioning a bit further. She asked herself, "What if....I finished high school?" "What if.... I got a scholarship?" "What if ....I got a degree from Harvard University?" Then, instead of saying, "No, that is crazy! What am I thinking?" She said, "What do I have to do to make my "what if's" a reality"? So, she started knocking on doors of high schools, day after day, despite constant rejection. She would wake up, brush herself off and hit the pavement. Then, finally she found a high school that accepted her. She finished high school in two years, got a full scholarship to Harvard, and graduated with a degree in psychology.

So, knowing that she opened herself up to the "What if?" question, how can we, as teachers seeking excellence open ourselves up to that same question? What are our "what if's?"

The following are several "what if" questions that I have asked myself lately.

  1. What if my students read twenty award winning books this summer?
  2. What if my students wrote two essays a week?
  3. What if my students created their own college plan in sixth grade? 
  4. What if I connected with the parents whose children I will have next year?
  5. What if all my students pass/exceeded on the CRCT?
  6. What if I wrote letters to all my students telling them what they meant to me this year, and how proud I am of their accomplishments?
As Rudy Ruettiger stated in his biography, "It is one thing to dream, but what are you doing about it?"

We all have dreams. My dream is for all of my students to achieve greatness, because I believe that they all have the capability to be great. But, I cannot just think it. I must act. I must take it from the "What if" question to the "How will I?"

In closing, as the last week of school approaches, I will strive to make my "what if's" a reality. I hope that anyone reading this might do the same. What are your "What if's"?

As Oprah told Liz Murray on her show, "Your future is so bright it burns my eyes." My hope is that we feel that way about all of our students. Determining the "What if's" might be a great place to start.

Liz Murray in 2004In 2004, Liz Murray shared her unbelievable story. Her childhood was consumed by drug-addicted parents, hunger and homelessness. To care for her schizophrenic mother, Liz never went to school, but she taught herself by reading books.

Today, Liz has graduated from Harvard and is the author of a memoir of her troubled childhood called Breaking Night. She is also part of a group that is launching the Broome Street Academy Charter School, a high school for homeless, foster and runaway youth in New York City. "What I want people to take away is they are so much bigger than their circumstances," Liz says. "People have choices in their lives and, inch by inch, you can create a life for yourself that has nothing to do with your past."

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