Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Giving Back. Who’s the Student Anyway?

A couple weeks ago, I was invited to speak to a class at a small magnet high school in Milwaukee. Those who follow education policy know that the Milwaukee Public Schools have been at the vanguard of school choice and in allowing state funding to follow students to their chosen schools, public or private. Milwaukee is now also a leader in hiring Teach for America teachers – newly minted college grads, like the Peace Corps – to bring new energy and enthusiasm to the learning environments. As an ex-school board member in my hometown, I’m interested in education reform and quality improvement, and therefore showed interest in supporting TFA. They in return invited me to speak to one of their classes.

I was amazed and incredibly impressed. I walked into the school building and, after checking in at the office, was led to the classroom by a young man in a blue jacket, white shirt and tie, who started the conversation with me, not vice versa. There the infectiously upbeat TFA teachers greeted me and told me more about the school. The bell rang and the kids filed in quickly, all wearing their uniforms, and headed directly to their desks where they waited respectfully for me to begin. Their attention never wavered. To my shock, as a four-time experienced father of teenagers, they never looked bored.

I spoke of course about Allen Edmonds and how we make shoes and that we’re one of the last remaining American shoe manufacturers. They were naturally interested in what it takes to create jobs here in the U.S. Mostly, though, I talked about the power of clear vision in business and in life and how, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there (to nowhere). If you have a vision for your life, your career, your family, your company…. you can figure what to do and what not to do, what you need and what you don’t need, to achieve your goals.

Then I opened it up for questions. Suddenly the tables were turned and I was the student. It was obvious from what they asked me how much these kids really were thinking about their futures, and how much they wanted those futures to be bright. Their questions were good. They had done their homework and knew all about my background. They asked about my time in college. They asked about my time in Germany. They all introduced themselves at the beginning of their questions. They were genuine, smart and eager. They “had it goin’on.”

By the end, I knew who had benefitted the most from my visit. I had.

Here’s to their visions and their bright futures!

Best wishes,