The heart of a champion

Rewind to the summer of 2000 in Washington DC. I was a marathon coach to roughly 150 first-time wannabe marathoners who spent every Saturday morning over six months gearing up for the Marine Corps Marathon. They arrived with trepidation and doubt on making it to the 26.2 mile finish; so we instead focused on what it takes to arrive confidently at the start.

One of my runners, whom I'll call Ronnie, age 22, had social skills and a learning level that rendered him more akin to a 10 or 11 year old. Ronnie was a strong athlete superbly unaware of the doubt that blanketed him by society at large. His pace averaged 12 to 13 minute miles, and he was a slower than usual starter, which to some made suspect he'd fall way behind, if not lose his pace group altogether. Ronnie was especially enthusiastic to train for his first marathon, and brought big smiles and hearty laughs to his pace group, even on the most hot and humid early morning training runs.

Race day arrived on a sunny and crisp October morning. I followed my runners on bike, zigging and zagging the Northern Virginia and DC race route to track their progress and call in support, as needed. When I came upon Ronnie's pace group, he wasn't in it; in fact, he was ahead of them by over 15 minutes and I had to sprint on my bike to catch up. When I found him, he was unusually stoic with laser focus. Ronnie finished the race over 20 minutes ahead of his pace group. He found something he cared deeply about, and he conquered.

I cannot be a champion of everything; but I can spark others to be champions for themselves and for the things they care most about. From my days as a marathon coach and personal trainer, to my role as a parent, to the passion and energy I pour into any training curriculum or facilitated community forum, I'm here on this fantastically small planet to inspire others to be the change, to be champions for what they love most.

In the context of Learning401 I aspire to inspire...

  • Students to see themselves as bright lights loaded with potential, worthy of great learning and profound impact on anything they touch.

  • Teachers to see themselves as agents of compassion, stimulation, and sea change, something most enter the field believing, but all too often leave disbelieving, weighed down by ever-changing regs and compliance, where we must push forward with grit and with grace.

  • Community members [parents, mentors, business and municipal leaders] to own education as their public right, and not just that which is bestowed to our youth. We all make up this public trust and it needs our voice, our curiosity, our engagement, and our ideas now more than ever. But we have to show up where rarely we are now seen. The very best classrooms are communities.

I spark conversations that matter.

I ask questions that change world views.

I like wicked problems that call for wild and crazy solutions.

I help people to dream big and make things happen.

I am a trusted agent for bridging divides and orchestrating powerful people collisions.

I make work feel like play.

And doggone it , people like me. [Thank you, Stuart Smalley.]

Our words create our world; how we talk is a window for how we view the world and ourselves in it. If we value education like we say we do [like nothing can impact a community more than education - really], then let's talk about it; let's ask questions that poke for stories, reveal what matters, what we truly care about, and what we're going to do more of or differently as a result. Inquiry just might be our most potent form of advocacy.

If we value student-centered learning then we must inquire into and study what that looks like and can be at its best.

If we value equity then we must examine and model equitable structures for funding schools near and far.

If we value teachers as professionals then we must understand what it looks and feels like to be groomed, challenged, encouraged, and compensated as a professional.

If we want a different WHAT, we need a different HOW. [Thank you, Albert Einstein for allowing me to paraphrase.] My HOW is inquiry-driven, solution-focused, story-seeking conversations. Let's have more of them. And let's ensure they're happening where they are needed most - in school cafeterias, advisories, and after school programming; in local libraries, playgrounds, and soccer fields; in town halls, school committee meetings, and community forums [where we arrive to both listen and to be listened to, to engage]; and of course at home, from the dinner table, to good night and good morning.

Getting started is easier than one might think. Worry not about what to say, but rather what questions to ask. What we seek, we find, and what we pay attention to grows.

Let's ask to understand and not to judge. And let's listen to the champion within that's aching to be known, to be heard, to be free to make a difference where we care most.

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