Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Inspires You?

ColleenK on Twitter said that she got to hear Peter H. Reynolds speak this week and he gave a "very inspirational talk." To which I replied, "Peter is always inspirational to me, in one-on-one talks or in large groups. He has a great outlook on life and kids." It is no secret if you have ever happened upon this blog that I am a big fan of Peter Reynolds and of FableVision. I have even tried to explain what it is that motivates me to speak of them so often.

Which led me to wonder, what inspires me - or maybe more accurately, what is it about the people who inspire me? I will start with what inspires me and I hope readers will comment with what inspires them.

Thinking back to speakers I have heard, I think of the things that they said that are still with me. I think I have come up with some common threads to share.

1- One strong memory I have of being completely inspired--and in fact, changed, was when I heard Bill Page who was a speaker at an "At Risk" conference. I remember him saying, "it all comes down to what you believe in?" He said (paraphrased), if you get done teaching a lesson and the kids fail the test, what you do next depends on what you believe in. If you believe the kids are dumb and didn't learn what you so excellently taught, you move on. If you believe that all kids can learn if you could teach it in a way that they learn, you reteach and you do it in a different way. I can't tell you how those words have practically haunted me. When dealing with kids, I frequently hold decisions up to the "Bill Page" test. Not that I give tests, but it is a great way to approach problems.

2- Next, I would point to Peter H. Reynolds (I know, not a surprise). I had never met Peter until 2006 at the Iowa Technology Education Connection Conference when he was the keynote speaker. I had known the company and Peter's books, but I hadn't met the man. I had the priviledge of meeting Peter and Bill Norris in person. You could go through a lot of life without meeting people as genuine as Peter and Bill.

The true inspiration of Mr. Reynolds lies in watching him interact with people. I believe I have watched him interact with people for dozens of hours between the Iowa conference and the two NECC's I attended. I am amazed how 'present' he is when he talks to people. Total and complete chaos can be occurring around him, but he focuses on the person he is speaking to. It inspires me. It makes me want to be more like that. He is a person who has hundreds of projects going at the same time and deadlines that have to be always looming, and he takes time for people.

The other facet of the inspiration comes from the walk-the-talk nature of his personality. The first time we were out to dinner with a huge group of people, I am sure my jaw dropped when Peter took out his water colors and using a little wine, embellished a picture someone down the table had drawn. He is everything that the website says he is, a truly rare commodity.

4- A few years ago, I heard Debbie Silver, author of the book Drumming to the Beat of a Different Marcher: Finding the Rhythm for Teaching a Differentiated Classroom, which ironically did NOT have a cover by Peter Reynolds when I bought the book (but it does now and I have that copy too). What amazed me about Ms. Silver was that she was keynoting at the Iowa Technology conference and seemed to ignore the technology part and just speak about her educational experiences. I laughed...I got misty....and best of all, it made me think. It was early in the days of differentiation, or at least the word, and she spoke compassionately about kids and learning.

5- I have also mentioned Dr. Peggy Healy-Stearns a bunch of times and, trust me, she is deserving of every mention. She inspires me through her honest love of learning. Let's face it, Stationery Studio is an amazing piece of software and if Peggy did nothing, people would still buy it. That software is how I got to know FableVision. But watching Peggy talk to people about the software is an amazing and beautiful thing. She encourages them to send her projects and share what they are doing with kids...because she loves to learn how kids are impacted by the software and enjoys seeing the creations. The fact that she is one of the nicest people I have ever met is just icing on the cake! She also listens to every suggestion about possible changes to the program...the only thing that could motivate that is wanting it to be the very best and the most useful.

In terms of inspiration there are many other people who inspire me. Sylvia Martinez, Diane Cordell, and Karen Janowski all used Skype to present to the college class I am teaching. First, they were all inspiring because they had so much knowledge and experience to share. Second, they were so inspiring because they all either volunteered, or jumped at the chance to help out. It takes a special person to share their knowledge in a non-traditional format. There literally wasn't a moment of hesitation for any of them to jump in and help, which I attribute to being great people and to loving what they do. I won't go into the entire social network again, but I am constantly inspired by my learning network.

I am also constantly inspired by my wife. She teaches in a large school (for Iowa -- 1800 in 9-12) and she sincerely cares about the students in her classroom. It is easy for me in a small school, but her classes are sometimes stretched to fit more than 30 students, it amazes me that she knows all their names and can work with them all to bring out their best writing. I can't tell you how many times she has cried over something her students have written or how many times she has gone above and beyond to help them.

Now, for the common thread that all of these people share -- they all have a passion for learning, people, and kids. They are all immensely creative people who care about other people and share their talents.

People with passion and creativity inspire me.... What inspires you?


SherryC said...

Thanks for making me think about those that inspire us. My list is on my blog at I enjoyed reading yours as well!

Kim Caise said...

Ron Clark and Erin Gruwell inspire me greatly. I heard and met both them when they spoke at TCEA. When I get discouraged I just look at the pics I took with them or re read their books and I am immediately encouraged.

Also, my PLN at plurk and twitter has been absolutely fabulous. I have made real, deep personal and professional connections. I know I can rely on my new found friends for advice, encouragement, direction or assistance at all hours of the night around the globe. It is amazing the depth of the conversations I have had with people that started out as complete strangers. Without twitter and plurk I would never have made these wonderful connections and I am so grateful to the friends in each of my networks. Through plurk and twitter just a quick sentence of encouragement can really make a difference in my mindset while preparing for an interview, presentation or lesson for students. Even though I have not met the colleagues in my online PLN, they are as crucial to my point of inspiration as the colleagues in my daily life.

At this time, I have shared my struggles with finding a job after leaving a district that ended badly. The people who have left plurks and twitters will never know how much they have helped and inspired me to rise above, meet the challenges before and strive to achieve my professional goals. For that, I thank you and only hope that I can be a source of inspiration in return in your time of need.

loonyhiker said...

I am inspired by many people who are authors or speakers that I've never met but I feel mostly inspired by people that I've come in contact with. When I see people who are teachers doing fantastic things with every day tools that I might have, I feel inspire and motivated. Through Twitter and Plurk I have met many of these people who keep me going when I'm feeling low.