Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a learning tour through the National School Board Association’s Education Technology Site Visit hosted by the Greenville County Schools in Greenville, South Carolina.  I was part of a team of educators from my home district and as we listened, observed, walked and talked, we were inspired to dream big for our students.  One of the tour stops was at Carolina High School and Academy.  Our time was limited but the minutes there were extremely beneficial.  I hope to write of some of the other lessons learned from that trip, but my focus for this post is the power of words.

Principal Michael Delaney has been at the school as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and site administrator and has helped lead a true turnaround in this high needs area.  He reported the graduation rate has gone from 48% about six years ago to 84%.  There are multiple layers to their success story, but I was truly impressed with the school motto because it wasn’t really a motto.  It was a mantra, a battle cry, a mission statement and perhaps even a living presence tangible in the hallways and interactions with students and adults.  On their website and on the walls, you will see “Whatever it takes.”  Principal Delaney said it isn’t just a collection of words.  It’s an attitude and an impetus for action.  He said it’s asking a student and parent to sign a graduation gown as a commitment to doing whatever it takes to graduate.  It’s a poster in the hallway that the parent signs discussing the future that their graduate will have as they commit to partnering with the school and the student to help them achieve that degree.  It’s an administrator sitting on the couch in a student’s apartment while he gets ready for school because the principal knows he has to take a test that day and missed the bus.  It was more than a phrase.  Those are words that those adults, students and community members choose to live by.  Here is a photo of some of the graduation gowns signed by the senior classes:

Carolina HS gown pic

Here is a link to the school website:

The school isn’t perfect and he made that clear.  No school, job, relationship, or place is ever perfect.  I don’t know that I would want to work at a “perfect” school with no challenges or real-life problems to tackle.  On the other hand, I love witnessing the power of like-minded champions who commit to a shared vision embodied in the hallways, not just with posters and symbols, but with actions, deeds, attitudes and reflective practices.  I hope as an individual and as a team member, I can work to make that more of a reality in the hallways our students roam each day, week, month and year.

Whether you work in education or elsewhere, please take a moment to consider what words you are living by.  What stirs your soul and propels you to action?  What helps you get out of bed in the morning?  What solutions are you passionate about pursuing?

For me, I’m trying to “do it for them” and previous blog posts have focused on my “them.”  Some days I get it close to right while other days I miss the mark others set for me or I set for myself.  I appreciate the example of Michael Delaney and his staff who demonstrated the power of an authentic, student-focused statement of purpose.  I appreciate the opportunity to visit the school as a result of the planning and efforts of the Greenville County School District and the National School Board Association.  I am inspired by educators committed to making a difference in the lives of their students whether in South Carolina, Oklahoma or any geographical location.  We have similar issues to deal with while experiencing uniquely local or individual challenges at the same time.  Whether you decide to do “whatever it takes” or “do it for them” or another statement of purpose, I hope you take the time to find that driver and apply it to your relationships, your work, your efforts and your future today and re-apply tomorrow as well.

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