Coach Scott Morrison’s journey as an educator serves as a great lesson for all of us–no matter our profession or path. He was kind enough to share his experience with me and generous enough to give me permission to share it with you. (He’s the one in the orange jersey and pictured with his colleague Jim Bibler–another inspiring guy whom I’ll tell you about him in a future post.)
I’m deeply gratified to hear that my work has served as a confirmation of Coach Morrison’s natural impulses and instincts. My hope is that his story will do the same for you.
Oh…and you may want to grab a hanky for this one:
I come from a tight-knit, middle class family, and I am the son of two retired educators. I grew up having dreams of playing in the NBA, anchoring Sportscenter, and all kinds of different professions involving sports. I was successful in school both academically and athletically, and I was involved in various programs that were offered in my high school. I always cherished family time and family vacations because I had a fabulous home life. I was very blessed.
I enjoyed the environment of school, and I saw the satisfaction my parents received from their profession, and ultimately my passion for family, school, and sports led me to decide on becoming a Health and Physical Education teacher. I graduated college in 2006 and was fortunate to land in Delaware [Ohio] (only 30 minutes from my hometown) right out of school. I taught Health and PE for 3 years at the high school level and then was the unfortunate victim of budget cuts at the end of the 2009 school year.
In July 2009, my mentor and good friend was killed in a plane crash. He was the head basketball coach at the high school where I taught and coached, and he was also a PE teacher at the Elementary school within the district. I had coached for him for 3 years, and he was truly one of the finest men I had ever met. His passing has had an unquantifiable impact on my outlook on life that cannot be expressed in print.
At his funeral, his wife and parents approached me and subsequently put in motion the first OS!M of my professional career. I knew that because of his passing, I would be contractually called upon to take over his position as the PE teacher at the elementary level. He was beloved by many, especially his students. I would have huge shoes to fill, but more so, I would have an audience of 25-30 kindergarten through fourth graders to answer to seven times a day about their beloved teacher’s passing. His family’s message to me was that “there is nobody he, or his family, would rather take over for him, and there is nobody that is better for the job.”
I spent two amazing years at the elementary, and then was RIF’d again by the district, only to be moved back to the high school for the current school year.
This whole story is important for multiple reasons. First, experiencing the joy that elementary students have for school opened my eyes to a glaring problem that we have in the educational system. Somewhere along the way, students lose the love they once had for being present, learning, and engaging in school. Second, I’ve stared down unemployment on two separate occasions, and surviving those experiences has helped to remove any fear of it happening again. OS!M’s are now 100% directed at making a difference, and are possible because the fear sets a certain boundary, but it doesn’t drive the bus.
I spent the entire first semester of this school year frustrated with my profession. I couldn’t stand the school culture compared the elementary. I cringed each time I heard the word ‘standard’ or ‘test’ or any other term that has been saddled onto our school system that sucks the life out of our abilities to be creative and make an impact on the world. I disliked getting up in the morning because I was reporting for duty to do something that I knew wasn’t the best, and had no ability to leave a lasting impact on my students.
The frustration built up so high that an OS!M was the only outlet. I completely flipped my classroom philosophy and pledged to myself that I would do ONLY those things that I truly believed were advantageous for my students. I knew that I LOVED having discussions with my students, so I pledged to do that at least 80% of the time. I knew that I LOVED helping students become better people and learners, so I decided to scrap the traditional way of doing school and adopt a student-centered, project-based approach that allowed students to pursue a passion and develop a skill of their choosing, while using health-specific content as the base of their learning.
I was outspoken about this method. I changed my grading policies to revolve around what students learned, not what a test told me they memorized. I shared this and other happenings in my room on my blog, around school, and to anyone I knew. And magic happened. All of the sudden I started to see signs everywhere that what I was doing was, if not right, way closer to right than what I had always done in my classroom. Student’s attitudes changed, smiles were shown, passion was creeping out from under its covers, and learning was happening. It was an amazing transformation. I was meeting with students one on one on a daily basis and the conversations I was having were life-changing for me. These students were empowered to take hold of their learning and were doing it, but the personal connection I was establishing was satisfying not only to me, but the students were beginning to line up just for the chance to talk. More students were saying “hi” in the hallways, other teachers were visiting me to see why there was a buzz from my students, and my administration team provided me with all kinds of support because they were hearing good things. A culture that desperately needed changing was beginning to change, one student at a time.
When I shared my new methods with Mike [read about Mike McDonough here], he convinced me to read The Radical Leap because he told me I was doing exactly what the book spells out. I couldn’t put it down. Page by page I was feeling the fire inside of me to make a difference become stronger and stronger. I was doing many of the things in the book, but I wasn’t doing them to the level necessary to represent my true level of passion. So, I adopted Mike’s mindset of “being in constant pursuit of the OS!M” and sought them out daily. Through my OS!M hunt I helped my colleagues, Jim Bibler, Jordan Blackburn, and Sean Duffy find the willingness to read The Radical Leap. They too made adjustments to their classroom philosophies and a gradual change in culture got another boost it needed. Students were hearing the LEAP message multiple times per day and an energy was generated in both the students and staff.
The impact that the LEAP philosophy was having could be felt within us all. It wasn’t as if we didn’t know what was right, but we had never received the energy to unleash the audacity that it took to begin to change the culture here at Delaware Hayes High School. We have a long way to go and huge mountain to climb. But, each and everyday we are seeing colleagues and students have “aha” moments as a direct result of our adoption of the LEAP philosophy. We see the signs, and pursue the OS!M’s on a daily basis thanks to your lessons from The Radical Leap.