I'll never forget sitting in the audience of Minnesota's largest conference for elementary principals. It was February and despite the frigid temperatures outside the room had a palpable warmth. Although I didn't have the best seat, there was no mistaking the red toy airplane sitting ominously on stage. That's because I knew who that airplane belonged to and I could hardly wait to learn from him.
And by "him," I mean a former Greenwood Elementary student named Ethan.
Ethan is in middle school now, but as he took the stage a flood of memories came over me. I thought back to the times I'd pass by him in the hallway as he was learning to read, write, and share his ideas with the world. I grinned as I reflected on some of the video-production projects he and I worked on in my office over the years. But most of all, I remembered all the teachers who invested in Ethan along the way. In my mind, this was their stage as much as it was his.
As Ethan started to speak, I desperately wanted him to do well. I knew how hard he had prepared. And there was no escaping the fact that he had never done anything quite like this before. At the same time, I knew he was ready and uniquely equipped to deliver a message about what student learning could be.
As it turns out, Ethan gave one of the most meaningful 10-minute talks I've ever heard any speaker share. Fortunately, you don't have to take my word for it; you can hear Ethan's message about student empowerment by watching his MESPA Speaks video below.
It's one thing for the adults in a school to talk about student empowerment, but an entirely different thing for a student to educate us on the importance of learning that lasts. When I think back to seeing Ethan on that stage, I start to reflect on my own story as an educator. Without hesitation, I'm inspired by our students and their potential. I'm also grateful for all the people who have made it their life's work to seek out student talent (and those who have shared how and why this is so vital with me).
Not every student has a stage, but they all have a spotlight. That spotlight is you and me.
We shine the light on who they are and who they might become. We understand how far they've come. Sometimes the spotlight we cast on a student is indiscernible to everyone else except the student we're connecting with. Other times it is bigger. Regardless of what the spotlight looks like or who the audience is...the most important thing is that the light is focused on the student, his parents, teachers, and the community who put him there.
That's why the best part of our story will always be you.