Recently I was nominated as one of the six finalists for Broward County Public Schools’ Principal of the Year. It is a great honor just to be nominated and even though I didn’t win, the love and support from my family and school community was so strong that I left feeling like a winner. My main motivation leading up to the ceremony was to make the following speech from the stage. I really wanted the chance to thank my parents from the stage (how often do we get to do something as cool as that in education?). I also wanted to make a statement about the importance of innovation in education and how standardized testing is limiting the likelihood that innovating ideas can spread throughout all schools.
This is truly an honor. It was an honor just to be nominated along with my five distinguished colleagues. This is listed as an individual award but anyone in my position knows that one person cannot do it alone. You have to have support from all those around you. I am blessed to be a part of the awesome Gator Run community with teachers and staff who go above and beyond each and every day for our kids. With kids who bring their energy and excitement and who are literally banging on the doors to get into school like Black Friday at Macy’s. With the most appreciative and supportive parents and community who want what’s best for kids and who will fight to make even the craziest ideas from me happen.
I am also blessed with an amazing family. My wife, Susie, and our kids, Taylor, Maddox and Jagger. My in-laws, Norma and Jay. And my parents who are the direct reason I am here tonight. My dad, Jeff, who taught me the value of hard work and the importance of “Family First”. My mom, Bonnie, who saw a directionless 20-something and asked the question that forever changed my life – “Keith, you are so good with kids, why don’t you become a teacher?”. I owe you both so much.
Wayne Gretzky was considered the best hockey player of all time – his nickname is “The Great One”. But Gretzky wasn’t the fastest player, or the strongest, and he didn’t have the best shot. But what he did have was an ability to see the ice better than anyone else; he could see plays happen before they did. Wayne has a quote that I think we can relate to education: “To be a good player, go to where the puck is; to be a great player, go to where the puck is going to be.” We can apply that to our classrooms and schools. Sure we can be good teachers and schools and keep doing what we’ve always done. Or we can choose to be great and seek out better ways to reach our kids. You see, the world is changing so rapidly but sometimes education cannot keep up. We need to innovate in our schools. Our kids deserve new ideas and strategies. There are many new ideas that teachers and schools are implementing right now to incorporate what I feel are the two most important elements we need in our classroom today – student voice and choice.
In order to make innovation in schools happen, we need more self-reflection and collaboration. I urge you to reflect on your current practices and seek out those who are trying new ideas. Because if school is just about giving out packets of worksheets or going page by page in our math books or giving hours of homework, then we aren’t doing anywhere near enough for our kids.
Unfortunately the biggest barrier to innovation in schools is standardized testing. Those of us within education know this and we hope that those outside will recognize it too and help us make a change. Schools should be about passion and creativity but we are sometimes limited because of the fear of standardized testing results. Too much emphasis is placed on these results that can put a ceiling on our potential as schools, teachers and students. Let’s keep speaking out and not become defined by results. Because our schools are more than a letter grade! Our teachers are more than an evaluation score! Our kids, my kids, are more than a test score!
Peter Drucker was considered a guru in the business world. He would often ask “the Naïve Question” to businesses. The Naïve Question is “If you were going to start over again, would you do it this way?” I ask that we apply this question to our schools. If we were going to start ‘school’ over again, would we do it this way? Or are there better ways? My guiding mission statement is to “make kids’ lives better”. Let’s go back to our schools, reflect on our current practices, collaborate with each other and share our best practices.
I promise to use this honor to speak out and collaborate with all who will listen (and some who won’t) to help make education better for our students and for those of you who want nothing more than to simply try to make kids lives’ better.