by George M. Graham Jr.
The following article is a modified version of a presentation that I made on November 19, 2015, for the Exceptional Children's Teachers of Excellence ceremony, at the 65th Conference on Exceptional Children, in Greensboro, N.C. It was an honor and a privilege to be able to speak to over 3,200 attendees including over 110 Exceptional Children's Teachers of Excellence who were honored at that ceremony.
I started work in the field of special education the same year that Congress enacted the law that would guarantee students with disabilities the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Being there from the beginning, so to speak, has provided me with opportunities and experiences that have helped me to learn and grow.
I want to share with you five keys that I learned over the years to be helpful in all endeavors of life. The five keys are Passion, Motivation, Relationships, Persistence, and Thankfulness.
In his book, The Element - How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Ken Robinson tells the story of Mick, who attended a boarding school in England in the 1950's. Mick had a family who loved and supported him. He also had great friends, but he did not do well in school and was very frustrated and unhappy.
Although Mick's teachers thought he was bright, according to testing he lacked intelligence, and he was failing miserably. His performance in academics confounded his teachers. Even though there was not an official diagnosis of learning disability in those days, Mick acknowledges that he had a learning disability.
One thing that Mick really loved to do was bang and tap on things all the time. He had an epiphany when he visited his sister in London. He went with her to a nightclub to hear a group of jazz musicians perform. His dream of being a drummer was born that night.
At sixteen, with his parent's permission, he moved to London with a set of drums to pursue his passion. Through a series of fortunate breaks, Mick eventually became one of the founding members of the band, Fleetwood Mac. Mick, of course, became one of the most famous drummers in the world - Mick Fleetwood.
Someone once said, "God's gift to you is your potential. Your gift back to God is what you do with that potential." I encourage you to continue to learn, grow, and develop your passions. Incorporate your passions, whatever they may be, into your job. You may be surprised by what may happen when you do.
Motivation is a force that drives us to action and influences our behavior. Motivation is the driving force behind passion. John Lennon said, "There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance." The motivational force of love is what makes a difference.
When I was a little boy, my friend Jimmy and I used to ride our bikes and go exploring for miles around where we lived. One of the places we liked to go was Rowan Street Park. Back in those days, there was an elderly black gentleman, whom everyone referred to as King, that lived on the edge of the park property. He lived in an old shack that was inside a wooden fenced area that also housed other smaller buildings, to include an outhouse. He had no electricity or running water.
We were always fascinated by this place because it looked like a fort to us. One afternoon, as we were riding by, my curiosity got the best of me. I saw King outside feeding his ducks and chickens. We stopped, and I asked him a question about his animals. King graciously invited us in to show us all of his animals.
He proceeded to show us a variety of different animals. He concluded with showing us a mother possum and all her babies that were inside a big empty oil drum. He talked with us about each his animals. He told us that they knew they were safe as long as they stayed inside of the property. Then, he sat us down and read stories to us from the Bible. To be honest, it was an afternoon I will never forget.
I do not believe that King had a mean bone in his body. His only motivation was love. He impacted my life that day in a big way, because of his love for all his animals, his love for the Bible, and his willingness to share his heart with us. By the way, I think there is a point to be made about the motivational force of love and longevity because King lived to be 108 years old.
We intuitively know that our heart represents who we are. It is love that flows from your heart, the innermost part of your being, that will guide you in making the right decisions. Trust your heart and live your life by the motivational force of love. It will guide you in helping you to be your best and in making a difference.
Relationships are the foundation of all aspects of life. As you all know, any relationship takes a lot of work. There are times when we may feel that we are at the "end of our rope" with a parent, staff member, or even an administrator. Here is a little strategy to use when this happens. I call it Heart of Compassion.
How many of you have a pet or have owned a pet. Many folks treat their pet just like a member of the family and are very compassionate about their pets because they are very near and dear to their hearts. By using the word PET as an acronym, we can see a simple example of steps to take in developing a heart of compassion. The acronym stands for Practice Empathy and Thankfulness.
Here is the strategy - when you are frustrated with someone, think about your pet and focus on the tenderness and compassion you have for your pet. Allow those feelings to be a springboard in helping you to have tenderness and compassion with the person who is so challenging to you. Having these feelings should help you to be able to listen more actively, to seek to understand the other person's point of view, to focus on things you have in common and not on your differences, and in helping you to build trust.
Think about your pet to use your heart of compassion in developing and maintaining relationships with others.
There are times when we all get discouraged, and we may want to give up and quit. Persistence is a refusal to give up or let go. It is an obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. The following story was shared by Joel Osteen in his book, The Power of I Am.
In 1995, a young lady gave birth to twin girls that were born prematurely. One of the preemies had a severe heart problem and wasn't expected to live.
The hospital's policy was to keep the babies in separate incubators. Several days passed, and the one baby continued to go downhill and was very close to death.
One of the nurses felt that the babies should be put in the same incubator as they had been in their mother's womb. After much hard work and much persuasion, she convinced the hospital to make an exception to their policy, and they put the babies in the same incubator side by side.
Overnight, somehow the healthy baby managed to put her arm around the sick little sister. Much to everyone's surprise, the little sister's health started to improve. Her temperature came back to normal. Her heart stabilized. Little by little, day after day, she got better and better.
Today, both of those young ladies are alive and healthy thanks to a nurse who was persistent in taking the right course of action.
Persistence takes self-discipline, determination, and intestinal fortitude. Don't ever give up on yourself or your students. Stay focused on the results, taking one step at a time, as you persist in making a difference.
We are quickly approaching the time of year that we remember to give thanks for all of our many blessings. Our goal should be to count our blessings every day. Live life with an attitude of gratitude.
About a year ago, I was reminded of this in a very vivid way. I was working out behind our house where we have three levels of retaining walls to keep the dune from eroding.
I was at the top of the first retaining wall and somehow fell forward, flipping my body and hitting my head on the second level retaining wall. Falling approximately 12 feet, I found myself wedged in between the house and the bottom of the third retaining wall in a dazed state.
I was laying on my left side on top of my left arm and the left side my face was in the sand. I realized at this point that I could not move the entire right side of my body. I could feel blood running down my face. I coughed, and when I did, I spit up blood. I knew I had to move because I was having trouble breathing.
After what seemed like hours, I dragged myself from the back side of the house around to the front steps. I made it up the first flight of steps to the front door just as my wife was coming out to check on me. I realized then how thankful I was that my wife is a nurse because she immediately took charge and kicked into the nursing mode.
At the emergency room, the findings indicated two fractured vertebrae in the upper back and neck area and damaged ligaments along the spinal column. The next day I saw a neurosurgeon and after reviewing all my tests he said it was a miracle that I was not dead or paralyzed from the neck down.
Within a couple of days, I went to see my dentist for some x-rays because of numbness I was experiencing from hitting my head. I will never forget as I was leaving the office, the dentist said to me, "George, evidently God is not done with you yet."
Ladies and gentlemen, I tell you the same thing tonight, "God is not done with you yet." Each and every day you work miracles with the children you teach by making a difference in their lives. It is because you have a passion for what you do, love motivates you, you build a relationship with your students, parents, and peers, you don't give up even when you want to quit, and you do it all with an attitude of gratitude.
Every time one of your students walks across the stage at graduation; you are witnessing a miracle. A miracle that you helped to make happen.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am truly grateful for each and every one of you and the difference you make because you truly are miracle workers.