Ashley Judd, human rights activist and Emmy-nominated actress, taught us to listen to our children. As she related a tragic circumstance that she experienced in the second grade, she reflected on the adults she entrusted with her story. Those adults, when confronted with the shocking truth, chose not to believe the words of a child, with devastating effects. “The grown-ups in that moment were empowered with the right words or tools or resources to believe me,” said Judd. “And, if the only thing you ever do as educators is believe the child who comes to you, you will have done enough.”
Reflecting on Judd’s comments, we would suggest that educators do so much more than just believe in their students—they encourage hope, inspire curiosity, and motivate excellence. But we do agree that believing our children when they share their pain, their thoughts, and their dreams is an essential first step in forging the relationships that are at the foundation of a successful education.
The other two ISTE keynote speakers, Kevin Carroll and Jeff Charbonneau, each dared us to reimagine education with two-word questions.
Kevin Carroll, founder of Kevin Carroll Katalyst and author, encouraged us to take on challenges with the question, “Why not?” For Carroll, this question is a legacy of his interactions with the mother of a childhood friend and chief encouragement officer, “Miz” Lane.
“Miz Lane gave me permission to dream big with two very simple words, ‘Why not?’,” he recalled. “It wasn’t enough to give you permission, she also held you accountable. She checked back in with your ideas. Are you turning those ideas into reality? Are you making those things real? Don’t talk about it, be about it. Everyone needs a Miz Lane. Everyone needs a chief encouragement officer—someone who lifts you up and challenges you, who holds you accountable for your dreams and ideas.”
With this question at the heart of everything we do, Carroll said that we can become a community of catalysts—only limited by our imagination. “If a dream doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough,” Carroll said.
With the question, What If?, often on the screen behind him, Jeff Charbonneau, 2013 National Teacher of the Year, taught us to consider possibilities. “I think being a true educator, somebody who is really an advocate for your students, really boils down to one thing—you ask yourself on a regular basis, ‘What if?’” he said.
- What if I can be a little bit better for my kids?
- What if I could do something different for my students?
- What if we could teach differently and embrace curiosity in our students?
- What if our next big initiative in education is kids?
- What if the desire to invent drove you?
- What if we fail?
Charbonneau suggested that by giving ourselves the permission to ask the questions, educators can consider something different for their classroom and model a behavior that students can apply to their lives. “The real impact that we have, the real thing that we do is: we are the guardians, we are protectors, and we are the purveyors of hope,” he said. “We give our students the opportunity to hope about their futures.”