2015 Comes to an End

IMG_9071.JPGAs we end 2015 I’m sitting in a quiet office on a gray day in Worthington, Ohio.  My coffee is dark and hot and there is some space in my day to reflect on the past year.  What a year it has been!   It’s hard to distill my favorite memories of this year into just a few, but here goes….

Living in Worthington, Ohio my oldest daughter is attending the same middle school building that I attended in seventh grade.  While the school name has shifted from Perry Middle School to Phoenix Middle School the same maroon lockers remain from when I was a student there in 1985.  In August my daughter and I were at the school and she was practicing opening her locker.  The combination lock is always a bit tricky and it’s made trickier with years of use and wear.  As I sat on the floor while she practiced over and over again I was taken back in time to those very same lockers.  Back in 1985 as a 7th grade student at Perry I asked Katie Worden to the Valentine’s Dance.  She said yes and we were to meet at the school.  As a suave 7th grader I went to Kroger at the Worthington Square and purchased  a heart shaped box of candy to give to Katie.  Unfortunately, that’s where my courage ended and I decided to stash the box of candy in my locker until the right time presented itself to give Katie the candy.  That time never came and so it’s possible that there is a locker somewhere at Phoenix Middle School that still houses a heart shaped box of candy that I purchased for Katie Worden but that I never had the courage to give her.  On a side note, my daughter has become very proficient at opening her locker.  If she would only become proficient at bringing things home from her locker we would be O.K.

IMG_9063In 2015 I was able to officiate my first graduation as Superintendent of Worthington Schools. It’s a bittersweet memory but one that will resonate with me for a long time.  A student at Linworth Alternative, Chris Chia’s, mother was in hospice at the Kobacker House in Columbus.  It was very important to her to get to see Chris graduate and thus our team at Linworth set-up a personal graduation for Chris and three friends at the Kobacker House.  The students wore their blue graduation gowns, the school got their diplomas ready, and a cake and a number of family members came to the Kobacker House.  We held a ceremony.  I was able to speak for a few minutes and our Teacher/Director at Linworth, Chris Hasbrook, spoke as well.  The boys graduated together in the presence of Chris’ mom who passed just a few days later.  I hope to have the great privilege of presiding over many graduations in the coming years, but I am doubtful many will hold the memory of this one.  I’ll remember with gratitude the work of the staff at Linworth Alternative who made certain this day happened and I’ll remember four friends who graduated together and supported one another in a very difficult time.  When things work well this is how they work.  A synergy between the school lending support and a community coming together.  This was a community of young men but it was a true honor to be a part of.

IMG_9065.JPGIn 2015 I ran my first cross country race at our Worthington Schools Eisenhart Invitational.  Having grown up in Worthington I used to watch Jenni Beymer, Jen Hamdorf, Chris Szabo and many others run the cross country course each day in the fall.  Frankly, I thought they were crazy!  Why would anyone run if they didn’t have to?  But as an adult I’ve become a runner.  Mostly because I have to do something to stay active.  I’m not a good runner.  I’m an every day, left foot, right foot runner.  But when I realized there was an adult Eisenhart race I signed up.  It sounded like a good idea at the time. But when I got to the starting line there were only about 30 of us.  And, it was obvious to me that there were 29 real runners and then there was me.  This was not good.  I really didn’t want to be the Superintendent who finished last, but I was going to have to run this race at a very uncomfortable pace and likely I was going to finish last anyway.  And so I ran like my hair was on fire and just barely I didn’t finish last.  Next year I’ll likely volunteer to help at the event, but I’ll always remember my one and only run on the Thomas Worthington Cross Country Course.

IMG_9064Finally, in 2015 I was totally blessed to be able to speak to every employee of Worthington Schools at our opening convocation.  For me this opportunity was unique and special.  It was made even more special because my parents and my wife and kids were able to be in attendance to share the day.  On this day I was able to share our six expectations for all Worthington staff bracketed by “Be Kind to Kids.”  The expectation is that everyone who chooses this profession understands that this being kind to kids is our number one job.  To nurture our students, to treat them with respect, to make sure they know we care about them and will do everything possible to help them see success.  We’re in the kid business.  Learning only occurs at high levels when it is in relationship.  The rigor of our courses is irrelevant without really getting to know our students on a personal level and helping them through this portion of their life.  Kids challenge us everyday.  They do things that make us laugh, that make us cry, and that often make us shake our head.  That just makes them kids.  But if we want them to grow and learn and be successful far beyond what we may believe is possible, if we want to produce students who will go off and make a positive difference and literally change the world, it begins simply with “Be Kind to Kids!”

2015 has been a very cool year for me and I hope it has been for you as well.  The end of this year comes with a touch of sadness but more so it comes with excitement.  2016 will bring many new challenges and many new moments.  Some will be awesome, some not so much.  Time to start running again!

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The “What” and the “How”

IMG_8949Recently I was honored to spend a significant amount of time with the Thomas Worthington Girls Field Hockey team which won the 2015 Ohio High School Athletic Association State Championship in November.  As Superintendent of Schools I’m removed from the day to day activities of our teams so it’s been a joy for me to get to know some of these young ladies and their families.  In addition, I’ve had the unique opportunity to speak publicly about this team.  In preparing to speak about the team I kept coming back to one overriding thought.  It’s not the “what” but the “how.”

As a school district, and as a community, we’re incredibly proud of what these young ladies accomplished this season.  They won the state championship!  They completed an undefeated season!  Six different players scored in the state tournament! They allowed no shots on goal in the state final.  The “what” was truly remarkable.  But the “what” is not what we’re most proud of.  What we’re most proud of is the “how.”

How do you you win a state championship?  How do you win three state championships since 2007?  How do you dominate the state tournament?  The “how” is what I’m most proud of and from my vantage point it’s two main parts.  First, this team just plain outworks the teams they play against.  They practice extremely hard and throughout the game they challenge every ball.  Wherever the ball is there is a Cardinal player.  As a team they are completely relentless from whistle to whistle.  If you like sports, it’s a true joy to watch.  To play for the field hockey Cardinals you must compete everyday.  You compete all summer when it’s 95 degrees on the turf and you compete every second you’re on the field.  They work hard!  Second, these young ladies are leaders in the classroom.  They compete in the classroom like they compete on the field.  They are excellent students and they put their academics first.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  These are amazing young ladies, but they’re still high school girls.  They’re not perfect and they don’t do everything right.  But I believe it’s the “how” this team goes about their business that is what can be positive about high school sports.  Learning to work hard, harder than you ever thought was possible, and seeing success for that work is bound to carry over throughout their lives.  And really that’s what matters most.  Their picture will forever hang on the wall at Thomas Worthington High School but it will eventually fade and be covered with dust.  What will stay with them forever is a work ethic and an ability to compete throughout their life.  

In high school sports the “how” is always more important than the “what.”

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The Night I Disrupted Parent Teacher Conferences

Heavy1As Superintendent of a large suburban school district with 19 schools and nearly 10,000 students there is somewhere I should be every night of the week.  I have formal meetings to attend or  student athletic contest or performances.  Most nights that is exactly where I am and on those nights that I get to watch our students, I really enjoy it.  

Last week I was out at something each and every night.  With that in mind I determined that last night I was going to be home with my family.  It was a nice October night and with some extra time my daughter and I determined that we would go to the elementary school and throw the lacrosse ball against the solid brick wall.

For athletes hoping to improve their lacrosse skills throwing the ball against the brick wall is one of the best possible skill building activities.  We began by throwing 50 with our right hand and then 50 with our left.  My daughter had her stick and a ball and I had my stick and a ball.  Before long I was transported back 30 years in my mind and I was channelling my inner Cory Kahoun as I banged the ball against the wall.  (Cory Kahoun was a Lacrosse All- American)  Each time I would throw the ball a little bit harder or attempt to catch the ball in a little different position.  (This is likely when at my age I’m apt to throw my back out or tear a hamstring, but that’s not for this story…)

As Superintendent, I was lost in my mind and enjoying throwing the ball around with my daughter.  Families were coming in and out of the school and many would stop and say hello.  It was really a nice evening for me and hopefully for my daughter.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten that this week is conference week at many of our elementary schools.  Our first grading period ended on Thursday of last week and most elementary school teachers have scheduled personal conferences with the parents of the students in their classes sometime this week or next week.  In Worthington, we no longer have a set night or day for conferences at the elementary and some occur before school in the morning, others late into the evening.

It was the late into the evening part that kind of slipped past me last night.  While my daughter and I were banging the lacrosse ball against the brick wall one of our outstanding teachers was attempting to hold a parent teacher conference in the very classroom where our ball was continuously bouncing off the wall.  This teacher was doing everything right.  Unfortunately she also had to come outside and remind this Superintendent that conferences were going on in her classroom and maybe we could find a different wall to throw our lacrosse ball against.  Yikes!  I’m likely the first Superintendent in history who was attempting to spend time with his daughter and instead disrupted the very parent teacher conferences I think are so important.

So, tonight I’ll likely take my daughter to watch our students play or perform.  And, I’m in the process of writing my hand-written apology for disrupting conferences.  Sometimes life is interesting!

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Creating a Growth Mindset

CPC8g4EW8AAdsh3Fostering a growth mindset is critical for all of our students in Worthington.  On Monday 9.21 we posted a blog on our sister site Absolute Excellence titled “Why a Growth Mindset?”  This post is intended to build upon that post.

We want all of our students to experience and believe that “hard work pays off” because we know it’s true.  As we work through the transition to new standards and work toward our Future Ready Skills we can’t expect students will find this easy.  This provides us an opportunity to cultivate a growth mindset as we intentionally design lessons and experiences to help students build their skills.

Growth mindset has been a topic of much research and work in recent years.  There are many online resources parents can reference.  Carol Dweck, a leading Stanford psychology professor, has written about the effect praise has on a student’s mindset and how we might unknowingly be reinforcing a fixed mindset with our students.

Dweck says that the impact of praise is closely linked to how students view their intellectual ability, and they tend to hold one of two beliefs.

  1.  Intelligence is a “fixed trait”.  Students with this fixed mindset become excessively concerned with how smart they are.  They seek tasks that will prove their intelligence and avoid ones that might not.  The desire to learn can take a back seat.  Students who think this way tend to:
  • Care a lot about whether people think they are smart
  • Avoid learning challenges where they might make mistakes
  • Try to hide mistakes rather than trying to correct them
  • Believe that if they have the ability, they shouldn’t have to try hard
  • Believe that needing to apply a lot of effort means they are dumb
  • Not deal well with frustration and setbacks, sometimes giving up or cheating
  1.  Intelligence can be improved! When students believe they can develop their intelligence, they focus on doing just that.  Not worrying about how smart they will appear, they take on challenges and stick to them.  They don’t necessarily believe that anyone can become an Einstein but they do understand that even Einstein had to put in years of effort.  Students with a growth mindset tend to:
  • Care about and invest in themselves in learning
  • Believe that effort is a positive thing, causing their intelligence to grow
  • Try hard in the face of frustration and failure
  • Look for new learning strategies

The way students think about learning has major implications on how and what they actually learn.  We’ve all met students we knew were promising, only to have their performance not match up with what we know they are capable.

While we can’t shape the years of experiences that have led to the development of a growth or fixed mindset, there are some things that teachers and parents can do to set students on the path of developing a growth mindset.

Here are some ideas:

  • Talk about adopting a growth mindset in class or at home–tell stories about former students who thought they would never learn the subject but who, with persistence and effort, ended up being successful in the class.
  • Talk about what is will take to effectively learn the course material–make explicit your expectations for the amount of time students should be putting in and the types of activities they should be engaging in outside of class.
  • Emphasize that “fast” learning, or getting assignments or exams done quickly, is not the same as “deep” learning.  Often students who take longer to “get it” learn the material more deeply.
  • Break difficult or complex tasks down into their component parts so that students will see for themselves their own skills building up over time.
  • Think about setting achievable micro-goals to encourage students’ consistent, incremental progress.  Small wins repeated over time can lead to a growth mindset (and increased confidence!).
  • When students succeed, praise their efforts and strategies as opposed to their intelligence.  Praise for intelligence can actually undermine motivation and performance, as children praised for intelligence increasingly view intelligence as a fixed trait; in the face of failure, these children will display less task persistence, less task enjoyment, and overall worse performance.

Where to you fall on the fixed vs. growth mindset?

The following resources may help you in building a growth mindset:

Growth Mindset Graphic https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2l34QClfJ4GZG55UXJOeHJRcEk/view?usp=sharing

Building Your Intelligence Graphic

https://drive.google.com/a/worthington-portal.org/file/d/0B_LlQravkBOBcGxnc2pIeV9hR1k/view?usp=sharing

Cultivating a Growth Mindset at Home

https://drive.google.com/a/worthington-portal.org/file/d/0B_LlQravkBOBRW9pdU8zbVQ3OG8/view?usp=sharing

Growth Mindset Resources

https://drive.google.com/a/worthington-portal.org/file/d/0B_LlQravkBOBZVlfQ2wwVTRhalE/view?usp=sharing

Growth Mindset TEDx talk:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN34FNbOKXc

Fostering a Growth Mindset in Struggling Students talk:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLQQbzWxduM

You Can Learn Anything

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wh0OS4MrN3E

The Growth Mindset Playbook

http://trainugly.com/mindset/

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Worthington Schools – It’s Worth It

On August 18th we released our new video “Worthington – It’s Worth It”  I hope you have taken the time to watch the video and that you enjoy seeing some familiar faces.  This is our attempt to share “the story of Worthington Schools.”  Several teachers, community members, and students, are featured in the video.  Here’s what they actually said:  (It’s fun to read, because I think they hit the nail on the head and point out some of what we’re really proud of in Worthington Schools.)

“Worthington Schools has a strong tradition of excellence and our community has high expectations for our schools.  In Worthington we strive to provide a well-rounded education for all of our children.  This means we have a rigorous curriculum, we have caring teachers who strive to make a positive difference and connect with our students and we offer many activities and clubs.  We call this a “Both / And” approach.  We’re not striving just to make a difference on test scores, we want our students engaged in curriculum, we want them engaged in activities and clubs and sports that provide them a well-rounded opportunity.  Our students in Worthington walk out college and career ready.  They’re ready for the workplace, they’re ready for college, but more importantly, they’re life ready.  They’re full of grit and perseverance.  In Worthington we do this with a stable and lean budget.  Every dollar we spend is analyzed carefully to make sure it’s best spent for student success.  We invite you to take a look at our Worthington Schools website, connect with us on social media and better yet come see first hand what a Worthington education looks like in our schools.” – Dr. Trent Bowers, Superintendent

“I definitely think the teachers here are all very genuine and they all love their job so that actually like makes the students like want to come to school.”  – Caroline (middle school student)

“First of all, we chose Worthington for a lot of different things.  One of which was obviously the schools.”  – Phil Giessler (Worthington Grandparent, Realtor)

“Being a product of the district, having taught for the district, and being a parent of children within the district, it has such a community feel to it.” – Jen Shaver (Parent)

“Everybody that’s there is just so involved.  There’s always events that I’m volunteering for or that everybody’s involved in. We’re always trying to get the whole community involved.” –  Stephanie Woodrow (Parent)

“Well I have to say we have a really amazing parent community.  Families are so involved, it feels really good to live here and work here, I know people on a professional and a personal basis.  It’s really cool to see kids in the neighborhood.”  – Kate Kennedy (Teacher)

“Ms ______ is my favorite teacher.  She’s nice and she helps us a lot.  She’s loving!”  – Camden (Elementary Student)

“As we have a child at high school, middle school and elementary school we’ve seen the diversity of programs offered and the quality of programs.  The teachers are phenomenal!”  – Jennifer Button (Parent)

“I graduated from Worthington Kilbourne and went on to Ohio State to play soccer and study finance there.  Just going to Worthington City Schools my whole life has really prepared me for college and post graduation and getting a job and starting my career.”  – Sage Gardner (Graduate)

“My boy is going to go to Harvard.  Worthington prepared him for that.” – Jason Liu (Parent, Business Owner)

“One of the things that the Worthington Schools does give us is a sense of diversity.  And by allowing our kids to meet other kids whether it is ethnic diversity or religious diversity that’s something that really enables them to learn what it’s like to live in the real world.” – Rabbi Rick (Parent, Religious Leader)

“My younger daughter Erin attended Kilbourne just for her freshman year and wanted to explore the Linworth Alternative Program.  She’s a junior now and not only does she love the program, she is thriving there.  To have that option and that choice just meant the world to us.  That she could attend school and actually like school.”  – Kathy Riebel (Parent)

“Both of the high schools have several different programs to help get your child prepared for college.  Especially the STEM program and the International Baccalaureate Program, so it’s worth the effort to come to Worthington.  Most definitely.”  – Rebecca Billingslea (Parent)

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My 6 Expectations for ALL Staff

At our Worthington Schools convocation last week (8.18.2015) I was able to share my 6 expectations for all staff members in Worthington Schools.  They’re very simple, but I believe if we can get to the place where all 1,250 Worthington staff members are following these expectations there will be great positive power for our school district.  They’ll provide you a glimpse of where my heart is.

Be Kind to Kids  We work in the kid business.  As public school educators our job is first to love our kids.  We must always treat them with respect and do everything possible to help them grow.  It’s critical that we remember that they’re just kids.  Whether they are 7 years old, 12 years old, or 17 years old, they’re kids.  And as kids, they’ll act like kids.  Sometimes because we spend so much time with them we lose perspective and we see them as “10 feet tall and invincible.”  It happens to all educators from time to time.  In Worthington we will recognize this and take a step back.  As adults we will ask ourselves, “How can I make certain that all students are held to high expectations for learning and behavior but are always treated with kindness and respect?”

Be Present  Being physically present is important, but just as important is being mentally present.  Each moment throughout the day is an opportunity to engage with our students.  Did we say “hi” to them by name when they got on and off the school bus?  Did we talk in meaningful ways with students in the lunchroom, in the hallway, or on the playground?  It’s not enough to be physically present we must totally invest in our kids to make the positive difference we seek.

Serve the Customer  In 2015 students and families have many options for public education.  They can learn online, they can go to a local charter school, or to a local private school.  Students can take courses at our local universities and some of these courses are even offered on our campus.  Worthington Schools has a whole lot to offer, but I think where we can, and will, differentiate ourselves from the market is with a personal approach.  Before making a decision we must always ask,  “How will this decision make things better for our students?”  or “How will this make things easier for the parents of our students?”  Public schooling is a service profession and we must get better at providing positive and proactive customer service.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate  There are many great things going on in Worthington Schools, but if we fail to tell our story someone else will tell their version of our story.  It’s critical that we take the time to share the positive stories that happen each day in our schools.  In addition, communication has never been harder.  Our families and our students need clear and simple communication that makes going to school and managing a complicated world easier.  Finally, as a staff member in Worthington, what you say about your students, your school, or our school district has great weight in our community.  Communication is everyone’s job.

Believe in Growth  Every child in Worthington Schools should know they have a trusted adult, or many trusted adults in our schools, who believe in their ability to learn and who are vested in their success.  In Worthington we will set high expectations for student success and will partner with our students to help them achieve those high expectations through hard work and positive relationships.

Be Kind to Kids  We are in the kid business.  Take care of our kids.  As a parent I’m trusting the school district with the most important people in my life.  I’m sending the best I have.  Love them.  Believe in them.  Hold them to high expectations and help them reach those high expectations.  Do it all with kindness and love.  

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My Convocation Speech “It’s Worth It!”

IMG_7907This morning I have the opportunity to speak to all 1,250 employees of Worthington Schools.  Who would have ever thought that a kid like me would have the privilege and honor to speak to the educators in Worthington? Those were long odds.  It’s my first address as Superintendent of Schools and while I hope I’ll have this opportunity every year for the next 20 years, I approached this year as if I may only get one opportunity and decided to share what matters most to me in public education:  That every child knows they have a trusted adult, or many trusted adults in our schools, who believe in their ability to learn and who are vested in their success.  That we will set high expectations for student success and will partner with our students to help them achieve those high expectations through hard work and positive relationships.  Here’s what I plan to share this morning:  (Caution: this is long.  I plan to speak for 18 minutes.  I hope it’s worth your time.)

“It was the fall of 1982.  I remember the day was one of those perfect, yet rare fall days.  I was standing on the playground of Worthington Hills Elementary near where they had painted white lines for a time-out box.  I wasn’t in the time-out box, but I was near the time-out box.  Josh Ness, one of my fourth grade classmates from Worthington Hills came up to me on the playground.  He told me that he was smart and I wasn’t.  He knew he was smart because he was in EPP and I wasn’t.  Now, I had no question that Josh was right, but I also had no idea what he was talking about.  What in the heck was EPP?  Was that even a word in English?  (For those of you who don’t know, EPP is the acronym we have used in Worthington for many years for our elementary gifted and talented program.)  So, I had no idea what Josh was even talking about, but I also assessed that he was correct.  Josh was very smart and I was not.

See by the fourth grade, my first year in Worthington Schools, I had developed a fixed mindset about my abilities in school.  I believed that there were many smart kids in my classes, kids like Josh Ness and then there were a few kids like me who weren’t very smart.  Most people seemed to accept this thought process and they may say “school is just not Trent’s thing.”  It never occurred to me that it was possible that through hard work and extra practice I could improve my cognitive ability, so…I didn’t. Instead I invested in the things that were my thing.  I was a gym class champion.  I could catch a football and throw a lacrosse ball.  Classroom work, well that was for the smart kids.

With that mindset I muddled through fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade before I became a freshman at Worthington High School.  At that time all freshmen attended the Kilbourne Building (now Kilbourne Middle School) and only 10th – 12th graders attended this building.  In 9th grade I was signed up for more challenging course work than I had been earlier in my academic career.  Well, that was going to be an issue.  I wasn’t smart.  If I couldn’t do the coursework, why even invest the effort.  Thus, I invested my efforts elsewhere.  I learned how to sneak out at lunch to walk to the Home Market, buy a sandwich and eat on the roof of the store.  Once I led my classmates in a shared experience.  Unfortunately not a positive shared experience.  When our Spanish teacher Mr. Benacazar turned his back we all threw our super balls at the wall.  They bounced for a long time and Mr. Benacazar turned many shades of red.  And, with that effort, or lack of effort, I finished my freshman year with a one point something grade point average and still no belief that I could actually learn.

In coming to main campus in 10th grade my mom thought it would be a good idea for me to take Etymology class.  Etymology was an English elective that she was certain would help me do better on the SAT and ACT.  (I took each test three times by the way.)  Much like EPP, I had no idea what Etymology was but when I arrived for my first class there was an empty seat next to Nicole Van Steyn.  All of the sudden Etymology was my favorite class.  (Now, just to be clear, I was not confident enough to actually talk to Nicole Van Steyn, and had she spoken to me I may have passed out and needed medical attention.  But, as long as that seating arrangement held I would be on time and ready to learn in Etymology.)IMG_7910

And, that’s when my life began to change.  Nicole Van Steyn had nothing to do with that, sadly, but instead I met my Etymology teacher, Jan Fish.  Mrs. Fish was new to Worthington High School and she treated me differently than any other teacher I can remember.  She expected me to learn in her class.  She offered to help me learn, she reviewed with me what I needed to learn, but she expected that I could and would learn.  Not only that, but she took an interest in me as a person.  She would meet me and others at Dalts and talk Etymology and life.  She would attend my athletic contests and would discuss them with me in class.  (Sometimes even in front of Nicole Van Steyn.)  I knew she cared.  In Etymology I succeeded.  I think I earned a B-.  For me that was a huge success.  And, it led to more.  As the semester ended Mrs. Fish pulled me aside and asked me to sign up for her advanced composition course.  Really, me?  Advanced Composition?  But she believed in me, so I found myself the next year in the basement of this school sitting at an Apple 2E learning that writing is rewriting.  More importantly I began to believe that I could really write.  And that belief, that was fostered by Mrs. Fish, carried over into many of my other classes.  I still graduated from Worthington High School in the bottom half of my class with a 2.6 grade point average, but because of Mrs. Fish’s high expectations and relationship building I was beginning to believe I could do class work.

From Worthington High School I went off to college at Taylor University.  (Famous alumni of Taylor include Worthington Kilbourne’s Jon Sprunger.)  My goal at Taylor was to not flunk out.  Seriously, that was my goal.  Just don’t flunk out.  I was not confident I could handle college level work and I just didn’t want to flunk out.

At Taylor I played football and likely that’s how I got into school.  My freshman year I began the season third string on the depth chart and as fate would have it both of the guys in front of me tore their ACL’s and thus midway through our first game I found myself as the starter.  I started all year long and my position coach was Dr. Joe Romine.  Dr. Romine was also the college athletic director and he was a gruff, no nonsense guy.  For the first four months I knew him I did everything possible to avoid him.  He would bark at me BOWERS, and he was tough.  In our final game my freshman season we were playing our archrival Anderson University.  I dropped an easy touchdown catch on third down (I turned to run before looking the ball into my hands) and coming off the field Coach Romine met me with a face so red I can’t believe he didn’t have a stroke.  That was 24 years ago and I can picture that face like it was yesterday.  IMG_7918

As our season ended each player had to meet with the head coach and their position coach for a season evaluation.  As a freshman boy I was feeling pretty good about myself.  I had started all 10 games that season and I hadn’t yet flunked out.  I went into the evaluation expecting to hear really good things.  Coach Romine didn’t even show-up and the head coach looked at Coach Romine’s written comments and read them to me:  “Bowers has very little athletic ability, but takes coaching well.”  The head coach looked up at me and I kid you not, all he said was, “keep it up.”  That was it, end of my big end of season evaluation.  I guess I wasn’t as important as I thought I was.

The first semester ended in December and in those days there were no computer based grades (there of course was no internet or email either…) so first semester grades would be mailed to my home over break.  When my grades came my parents opened the perforated paper with care.  They looked at the grades and then they danced around the family room like they had won the lottery.  I had a 2.8 grade point average my first semester in college.  It was the highest I had ever had.  I was not going to flunk out.  My parents were more surprised than even I was.  Boom, a 2.8!  (On a side note it’s all perspective.  My wife had a 3.4 GPA her first semester and cried because she had never received below an “A” in her life.)

At Taylor January is it’s own term.  So as the January term began I was heading to the Taylor weight room to get a workout in.  I was wearing my all purple workout suit and my black Nike high tops when I spotted Dr. Romine working the ticket booth at the basketball game.  Immediately I tried to avoid him.  I thought, don’t make eye contact, walk fast, don’t look up.  That’s when I heard his booming voice “BOWERS.”  Stink, he saw me.  I went over to Dr. Romine, “Yes, Coach.”  He said, “what were your grades first semester?”  I smiled, stood up straight and very proudly said, “Coach I had a 2.8 GPA.”  He just looked at me… then he grabbed the back of a basketball game program and asked, “what are you taking this semester?”  I told him about my class schedule, he did some math on the program and then said some simple words that changed my life forever.  He said “Get an A this term and your GPA will be a 3.0.  Don’t ever let it get below a 3.0.”  A 3.0 GPA, really? Me?

While earning a 3.0 GPA would be nothing to many college students, I had never even considered this possible.  There were smart kids like Josh Ness and there were kids like me.  My mindset was totally fixed.  And while Mrs. Fish began to change how I thought about learning and about my abilities it really never occurred to me until Dr. Romine said those simple words to me that I could do better.  Not only that, Dr. Romine expected that I would do better and like Mrs. Fish he invested in my life on a personal level and over the next four years he showed me he cared about me, he cared about my family, and he cared about my future.  The truth is I didn’t go on to earn my doctorate in education because I someday wanted to be the Superintendent of Worthington Schools, (although that is a pretty cool thing…) I earned my doctorate in Education because my senior year in college I promised myself I would because I wanted to be just like Dr. Romine.

Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck wrote the book “Mindset, the New Psychology of Success.”  In her book Dr. Dweck explains that there are fixed mindsets and that there are growth mindsets.  Those with fixed mindsets see intelligence as static.  From an early age I operated with a fixed mindset about myself.  Sadly most well intentioned adults cultivated this fixed mindset, and likely, they even bought into it.  At Worthington High School whether it was a conscious decision or not Mrs. Fish believed differently.  Mrs. Fish operated from a Growth Mindset.  A Growth Mindset believes that intelligence can be developed.  And over time I began to believe that I could learn, grow and achieve.  It took Dr. Romine’s tough love approach and seeing success for a number of years before I began to think differently about my own abilities.  Over time I began to believe that with the right amount of effort and support I could learn.

I share my story with you today because it’s the story I know best, but also because I believe many of you can relate to my story.  Likewise I believe we have literally thousands of students in Worthington Schools who don’t believe they can learn at the level that is necessary.

Jan Fish and Joe Romine changed how I thought about myself and in so doing they literally changed the trajectory of my life.  They’re very different people with different styles but they both had several important things in common.  First, they had high expectations for me.  They didn’t lower their expectations, instead they were very clear about what was expected but also clear that they would help me get to what was expected.  I would have to work hard, but they would support me and they would not rest until I was successful.  Secondly, they invested in me as a person.  They took the time to learn about me and about my family.  They gave of themselves and spent time talking with me.  In Mrs. Fish’s case at Dalts, or in Dr. Romine’s case in the athletic office at Taylor.  I knew they cared about me academically, but more importantly I knew they cared about me as a person.

It’s a simple combination really, one that can be repeated over and over again.  Set high expectations for success, commit to helping every child get there, and take the time to make sure students know you believe in them and you care about them.  I believe if all 1,250 of us commit to doing just that then there will be great power.

In 2015 there are many different ways students can choose to learn.  They have options.  They can learn online, they can go to a local charter school, or to a local private school.  Students can take courses at our local universities and some of these courses are even offered on our campus.  Worthington Schools has a whole lot to offer, but I think where we can, and will, differentiate ourselves from the market is with a personal approach.  We will be 1,250 adults who spend time building positive relationships with our students and our families.  Every child who attends Worthington Schools should know that they have a trusted adult, or many trusted adults, who believe in their ability to learn and who are vested in their success.  Families will continue to choose Worthington as their educational provider because they will know that every adult who comes in contact with their child knows them personally and really cares about them.

It does not matter if you are a bus driver, a teacher, the custodian, a food service professional, or a member of the office staff.  Our number one job is to engage with our students and to help them believe in themselves.  Some students come to us with this belief firmly established.  We need to foster that belief, nurture it and expand upon it.  Some students are like I was.  Those students need to know that someone believes they can and will be successful.  Sometimes it takes a trusted adult believing in you before you can believe in yourself.  Sometimes it may take many trusted adults before a child can begin to believe that growth is possible.  Whatever it takes, that’s Worthington Schools!  Every one of us plays a major role in this goal.  It won’t be easy.  Kids don’t always play nice in the sandbox.  Sometimes they throw super balls at the wall.  Sometimes they sneak off campus and eat lunch on the roof of the Home Market.  Love them anyway!  Believe in them anyway!  Hold them to high standards, but help them achieve those high standards!

When it’s all said and done our goal is to make a positive difference in the lives of our kids and their families.  It won’t always be easy, actually it will almost never be easy, but it will be worth it.  It’s the reason we’re here!

Learning to have a Growth Mindset for yourself and for all of our students is important.  I still have to make that choice for myself everyday.  We have 9,700 or so students in Worthington Schools.  My dream for this year and for every year is that each of those students knows that the adults in their school believe they can be successful and will do everything possible to help them be successful.  That’s our number one goal for this school year and together we will make it happen.  It will be Worth It!”

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