'Three Takeaways for your Educational Journey!'
“Three Takeaways for your Educational Journey!”
By Irvin Scott
On the Occasion of Penn State University College of Education Commencement
May 8, 2016
Thank you, Dean Monk!
Good afternoon. Before I get started, I want to encourage you to do two things: #1 listen intently and #2 go on Twitter, and let me know your thoughts; I would love to continue this conversation. My Twitter handle is @iscott4.
To the faculty, honored guests, family, friends and the class of 2016 graduates: I am delighted to be here on such a wonderful occasion. Just five years ago I was graduating with my doctorate, so I was in a similar position to those of you graduating today, and the feelings of EUPHORIA are still quite fresh in my own mind and spirit.
I also remember how anxious I was to get that hot regalia off, so I promise not to take too long … but I do have a few critical points that I want to share with you before you run off to celebrating, job searching and loan repayments.
First let me say, make no mistake about it, the decision that you made several years ago to do the work, commit the time, and make the financial investment to acquire this degree from Penn State University — that decision WAS THE RIGHT DECISION!
As a matter of fact, I want you to do something for me: I want you to turn to your neighbor, give them a high five, or a fist bump or a hug, and tell them: YOU MADE THE RIGHT DECISION!! This is an exciting time to be in the field of education, and I want to leave you with three big ideas to remember as you transition to the next level of your careers.
However, before I tell you why I feel this way, let me tell you a little bit about some of the work that we do at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
I am honored to be working for the Foundation’s US Program, which is all about building connectors — connectors of people to vital resources, of potential to possibility, and of optimism to opportunity. At the Foundation, we believe that these connectors can improve people’s lives and put their dreams within reach. That’s why over the years, the Foundation has awarded more than $800 million to help 17,000 students pursue their dreams of higher education through the Gates Millennium Scholarship. It’s also that commitment to the potential in all that has me traveling across the country to elevate and celebrate effective teaching and teachers.
And it is that national perspective that makes me hopeful about the opportunities that we have as educators today. So here are the three takeaways that I want you to bring with you on your journeys as educators and shapers of all of our futures.
The first is an African Proverb: if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
This is especially true in education. Teaching, learning, servicing America’s children, America’s future should be a shared enterprise, not an isolated pursuit. However, that can be hard at times. For example, as a teacher, I know that when you spend all day in the classroom with your students, it can be hard to just get together with other teachers — let alone “go together” with them.
At the Foundation, we’ve heard time and time again from teachers and leaders that they hugely value collaborating with their colleagues. They tell us it’s the best form of professional development they can get. And they’re always craving more opportunities to collaborate with their colleagues down the hall AND across the country.
The good news is, there are now more ways than ever for teachers and all educators to connect with each other. One of the networks I’m deeply involved in is called Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers — or ECET2, for short. ECET2 has been around for less than five years, but in that short time it’s grown into a movement that’s all about bringing teachers together to unite around their shared passion for education. There have been more than 100 ECET2 convenings around the country, and at every one of them teachers run it all — the seminars, workshops, meetings — you name it. Teachers leave ECET2 convenings with a new, very supportive professional network — and a renewed sense of empowerment about their work.
Efforts like this show that when educators get together and pool their expertise, they can do anything. This is because teachers and leaders are the true experts on teaching and learning in the classroom — and they place a tremendous amount of trust in each other. Connecting with your colleagues will help you stay strong when times get tough (as they sometimes will). And collaborating with other educators in your school or your district, or even across the country, will keep you learning and growing in your practice — and that will keep your students learning and growing, too.
The second reason that you should be excited about entering education right now is the power of new tools and technologies that are helping educators transform how adults and students learn. The science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic – and we’re living in a truly magical age in education.
Now, let’s be clear: there are no silver bullets in education, and this is true of technology. No app or website or YouTube video can replace a great teacher.
What technology can do is act as a powerful tool for educators. It can help them tailor their instruction to students’ needs and interests. It can let students learn anytime and anywhere. It can free up teachers so that they can spend more time working one-on-one with students and building strong relationships with them.
This is what personalized learning is all about — allowing students to take greater ownership of their learning while enabling teachers to work with them to discover their passions and interests. The relationship between students and teachers is always at the center of personalized learning — technology just plays a supporting role.
As a matter of fact, here are a two tools that I would encourage you to look up when you’re done reveling in this great accomplishment.
The first is Graphite, which is an online service that enables educators to provide feedback on the latest educational tools.
The second is Learnzillion, which is an organization made up of dream-team teachers from across the US who are working to break down the traditional barriers between publishers and practitioners. These are just two examples.
Technology is also enabling educators to connect not just with colleagues across the hallway but with virtual colleagues across districts, states, the country and the world.
One of my professors, Richard Elmore, used to say: Isolation is the enemy of Improvement. Technology enables connections and the right connections enable IMPROVEMENT. I can’t wait to see how you all harness technology to improve teaching and learning in the future.
There’s a final idea that I want you to take into your educational journey. And this idea is a constant in education. EDUCATORS and EDUCATION transform lives. I know this firsthand. And I bet each and every one of you knows this firsthand too. I’m sure you have had a teacher who has connected with you, challenged you, and helped you see what’s possible.
And so I want to end with a personal story. What I call “My Ms. Scritchfield story.” One day my ninth grade English Teacher, Ms. Scritchfield, started off our class by announcing that we would be studying poetry.
We would focus on the poet, Robert Frost. We would read his poems, analyze them, write them and recite them to the entire class. I was bold back then, and I expressed my displeasure with the latter part of the assignment. At that time, I was interested in one thing: football. I had a dream of being the next Tony Dorsett, running back for the Dallas Cowboys as a matter of fact.
Before there was a Nick Scott #24 for the Nittany Lions (and my son), there was Irvin Scott, #22 for Chambersburg Trojans High School. Class of 1985.
Well, Ms. Scritchfield looked at me and said, “Irvin, not only are you going to do this poem, you’re going to write your own poem and recite that one also.” And so the day finally came. And when it did, I stood up in front of the class and said:
While I never became a running back for the Dallas Cowboys, I did go on to become an English teacher for 15 years, where I taught thousands of children poetry. I then became a principal and district leader overseeing many teachers who had similar impacts on students’ lives.
What’s my point? My point is that as educators you have the same potential to help others realize their dreams in ways THEY could NEVER imagine. Every child has a dream. And a great education is the best vehicle every child has to realize their dreams and transform their lives.
The Great Poet Langton Hughes said it best when he declared:
“Bring me your dreams you dreamers,
bring me your heart melodies that I may
wrap them up in a blue cloud-cloth away
from the two rough fingers of the world.
And that is what poetry might do,
wrap up your dreams, protect and hold them
until they come true.
Columbus dreamed of finding a new world;
He found it.
Edison dreamed of light, more light, and he made light
All the progress that human beings have made in this
old, earth of ours; grew out of dreams.
That is why it is wise, I should think
to hold fast to dreams, for when dreams die
life is a broken, winged bird that cannot fly;
hold fast to dreams, for when dreams go;
Life is a barren field frozen in snow.”
I congratulate you for following your dreams. And I encourage you to embrace the opportunities and the challenges ahead as you help others realize theirs.