Opening Day Remarks - August 26th, 2019
Often, when we think of influence, we imagine the influence we have had on a system or person. We dream of the impact we might have on our world, some lasting effect that we might leave behind staking out some territory, large or small, that we can lay claim to. A way of saying that we were here. Or, we think of the people who have influenced us – parents, relatives, teachers, coaches, spiritual advisors, pop stars, or politicians – all of the individuals whose words or deeds changed who we are.
Those two spheres are really the same universe with you at the center, a conduit and filter of the influence you have received, and a beacon of the influence you hope to have. In its most positive form, it is a mashup of collective culture and your individual hopes and dreams, knowledge and wisdom, passion and empathy. Every day you carry that with you into your kitchen and living room, out on to the freeway, and into your classroom or office. In other words, you are constantly influencing others around you both intentionally and otherwise. Influence is a powerful thing we all have but mostly ignore, almost like a superpower that we’ve forgotten.
Every time we move through the world, we have the opportunity to be influenced and to exert our influence. Like radio signals, we send and receive through the noise of our modern culture in the hopes of transmitting something meaningful to our families, our colleagues, and to our greater community.
And then one day, we hear a voice loud and clear that speaks to us in ways we haven’t heard before.
Aside from my remarkable parents and grandparents, that voice was Corrine Flynn, my 12th grade Senior Humanities teacher at Ingraham High School. It was Ms. Flynn who opened my mind to the great philosophers and writers of predominately white, Western thought. In her quiet, brown paper bag sort of way, she changed the course of my life.
But why her? Why did her voice cut through the noise? A bit dour, certainly out of step with 1977 punk or disco culture – why Ms. Flynn? She was cool to be sure, or at least as cool as someone who was as impossibly old as she was could be. There was an authenticity to her, and she gently challenged my firmly held, teenage conviction that I knew everything I needed to know. I mean, that’s why I bought those blue suede, marshmallow sole, platform heels.
In the end, she was the educator who was ready with her professionalism, her passion for learning and knowledge, her technique, and her just-cool-enough disposition when I was ready. And she didn’t just open the rather narrow door to Plato or Sophocles, she opened the door to all that learning has to offer – I was changed.
Now, some 40 years later, from my white, male, privileged perspective, I think about the fact that not all of us are granted the same access to the superpower of influence, and we are lesser for it. In a profession where the positions are dominated by those who identify as women, do women have access to influence? Do our educators and students of color have equitable access to influence? Do our LGBTQ staff and students share in the power of influence? Only when we all have access will we know the true power and positive impact of our ability to broadcast influence.
When I talk to my mostly white friends from high school, each one has a story like mine. Each had their mentor or favorite, their coach or office administrator, their principal or lunch lady, their custodian or nurse who was ready when they were ready - for me it was Corrine Flynn who cut through the noise.
But not everyone had the same chance for that someone to be a person who looked like them or talked like them, someone who shared the same cultural wisdom. We have work to do here in Shoreline to move beyond diversity as an abstract subject and into the inclusivity and equity that our students, not only deserve, but have a right to.
It is clear to me now, that it is a collective effort. No single ‘educator of greatness’ can make the difference or be the conduit of influence. The signal must be amplified to be heard above the noise. It is a collaboration of unique individuals willing to spend their working lives preparing for that moment when students are ready, at times encouraging them to be ‘readier’, nudging them when their lives have left them not ready, and quietly listening when being ready is not important.
What Ms. Flynn surely knew is that teaching is an act of collective influence, and what she gave to me amongst many things, is the conviction that we are stronger together. Our signal is stronger in collaboration and amplified by our common vision. Our signal, our influence, will only reach a few if we stand apart, but from ECE to AP, from Head Start to Running Start, we are stronger when our unique voices and talents are broadcast together, and when we are tuned into the aspirations and uncertainties, the hopes and doubts, the ‘influence’ that our students transmit.
April 16, 2019
December 11, 2018
November 6, 2018
September 27, 2018
September 3, 2018
August 24, 2018
August 21, 2018
July 17, 2018