Saturday, November 9, 2013

Supporting Boldness & Semantics Matter: My Interaction with Rick Wormeli

Have you ever had an experience with another person that for them was probably pretty mundane, but for you it was anything but?

A couple of months back we were discussing educational leadership in our Master's class. As a part of this we were tasked with crafting a set of questions that each of us in the learning community would use to interview an educational leader - we would then share back with what we learned. As we talked about who we would interview the usual suspects popped up - mentor teachers, assistant principals, principals, a superintendent here and there. Like most I initially thought I'd interview my principal. However, on a whim I sort of sarcastically said I was going to interview Rick Wormeli. I got a few chuckles and a couple eye rolls...and that's all I needed. Challenge accepted!

If you've ever had the opportunity to hear Rick speak you know a couple of things - one, you know he is awesome and two, he gives you his contact info...As in his home email and phone number. So, I figured if he gives it out publicly he has to expect that the occasional nut job will indeed contact him. It was my time to be that nut job. 

I fired off an email to him explaining the situation and that I, some completely random Joe-Bag-of-Doughnuts teacher in Minnesota, wanted to interview him. I was fully prepared for a polite rejection - or even no response at all. What I wasn't prepared for was a quick response where agreed to the interview! In part he said he wanted "to support boldness" rad is that?! A few email exchanges later and I was set to Skype with one of my educational rad! I plan on writing a post about the interview later...but that's not what this is about...

Fast forward to this afternoon. Minneapolis was the host of this year's Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) national conference, and Rick was in town to drop some knowledge. I had the chance to go and listen to Rick earlier this afternoon and one of the things he said that really resonated with me (and believe me, there were many) was that "semantics matter". Words matter. What you say, matters. This mattered to me for a reason that had absolutely nothing to do with the message he was sharing with us, but for something entirely different. It didn't fully click until I was driving home.

Rick had done two relatively simple things that had a profound impact on me. One, he supported the bold step I took when I emailed him by giving me an hour of his time. I took a risk, and he supported it. Huge. Two, he wrote a quick note in a book I had him sign that had me walking on cloud nine. Semantics matter - words matter. For all I know Rick writes something genuine and sincere to all of those that he writes to...but that doesn't matter. He was sincere and genuine, and those words were written to me. Answering my email, taking the time to talk with me, writing me a note, and sending me a Tweet were, I assume, all relatively small things for Rick that had a huge impact on me.

Now, if you've read this far I guess here's where the message is...I didn't write this to be self-congratulatory or to boast, but rather because this interaction really crystalized something for me as a teacher. My actions matter. My words matter. Am I doing all that I can as a teacher to support (and encourage!) the boldness of my students? Am I providing the genuine and sincere support that they need? Am I fully aware of how my actions, or lack of, and my words can have such a profound impact on how a student walks away from my class? 

Prior to all of this I was "aware", but having recently been on the receiving end of the support and the words of a mentor I am more aware than ever. Our actions matter more than we know. Our words matter than we can imagine. Supporting the bold actions of our students and what we say really matters

Thanks, Rick.

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