On April 17-18th, I had the honor of participating in a Choose2Matter Live event in Estherville, Iowa. Choose2Matter is a groundbreaking non-profit (co-founded by Angela Maiers and Mark Moran) that helps students find their inner genius as they identify issues that are important to them, work collaboratively with their peers to solve real-world problems, and share their ideas with the world. By simply asking “What matters most to you, and why?” and “What breaks your heart about it?”, students are empowered to follow their heartbreak.
Led by their amazing leader, superintendent Tara Paul, 1400 students from Estherville Lincoln Central Community Schools gathered together and were given the gift of time to tackle challenging issues that mattered to them. Topics ranged from sports injuries, suicide prevention, bullying, child hunger, animal cruelty, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and many more.
The event began with an engaging presentation delivered by Angela Maiers and a live Skype chat with General John Michel (Commanding General, NATO, Air Training Command). Once students were empowered with a sense of courage, they divided into groups to begin the “heartbreak mapping” process. As I walked around and observed these students, from preK-12th grade, I was blown away by their bravery and determination. I can honestly say this event has transformed me in so many ways as an educator and a learner. You can read Tara’s entire summary on HER BLOG. Here is a portion of her reflection:
“In all of our efforts to improve teaching and learning, we are failing to connect with our students at the very deepest level to move them to embrace the educational reforms that we are creating. How do we connect with our students on the very deepest and most sacred level? How do we create an educational system that is not only focused on the academics but also on the person? How do we connect to our students’ sense of empathy, compassion, and passion?”
On the second day, I had the opportunity to sit with a high school freshman who wanted to help families dealing with PTSD. Her father, an American hero who fought for our freedom in Afghanistan, struggled to find help with his PTSD after his last tour of duty. “What breaks your heart?” I asked her. She pointed to her paper, where she had written the night before in big, bold letters “Not all wounds are visible.” As I sat with her, I listened to her story and held back tears as she told me about Paws and Effect, a non-profit based in Des Moines that raises, trains, and places service dogs with children and veterans with disabilities. She told me about the difference their dog, Saber, has made in helping her father adjust to life after war. Later in the morning, her father and Saber came in to help work on her project. It was an honor to shake his hand and thank him for his service. Watching them work together to brainstorm ways to help other families dealing with PTSD left me speechless.
To say I’m excited to continue working with Choose2Matter is an understatement. This was more than just an event, it’s a new way of teaching and learning that focuses on empowering students to take ownership of their learning.
As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, I can’t help but think about all of the amazing teachers I’ve had over the course of my life who have helped mold me into who I am today. The ones I hold dear are the ones who took the time to shower me with love and compassion. Sure, they taught me about the Reign of Terror, how to interpret Shakespeare, and how to run a sub-6 minute mile. But that pales in comparison to the lessons they taught me as they modeled how to love and care for others with your whole heart.
I would like to dedicate this post to my HS cross country coach and PE teacher Ms. A, who went above and beyond to instill in me a love of running and teamwork. And my social studies teacher Mrs. P, who sadly lost her battle with cancer a few months ago, for sharing engaging stories of our past so we could better understand our present. I smile each time I think of these compassionate women who inspired me to follow in their footsteps.
I like to think I’m a compassionate person. I think that’s why I got into the teaching profession. Even though I’m no longer in a traditional classroom, I’m still a teacher (and a learner). If you think about it, we are all teachers and learners. As you think of who and how you teach, remember that you can never go wrong when you teach from the heart. So, what’s love go to do with it you ask?
Happy Teacher Appreciation week to all teachers near and far! May you always know how very much you are loved.