Last week, I traveled to Avon, Indiana as keynote speaker for the Avon Education Foundation (AEF).
Avon is a charming suburb of Indianapolis nestled in the countryside just outside of the city.
Avon has a tax base challenge as it is a community with no industrial base and very few commercial tax dollars. The State of Indiana has wisely protected homeowners from abusive and punitive real estate taxes, so there is a serious need for school funding aside from government funding. That is where the businesses and citizens of Avon generously step in.
So, you don’t live in Avon and why should you care?
This story is the same for countless communities around the nation, but few seem to function with the success of the AEF, led by President of the Board Shane Sommers and Executive Director, Sara Bender. Sara is an enthusiastic fireball who believes in the mission of the AEF and refuses to believe any need should be unmet and no goal is unattainable. She exudes a level of optimism that is contagious, but it doesn’t stop with Sara and the AEF.
Avon schools and students project a level of optimism that I rarely see, and I have spoken to hundreds of schools across the nation in my role as a motivational/inspirational speaker.
Does optimism make a difference?
When you believe the best is coming, the mind subconsciously works to make it so. The same is true in reverse with a pessimistic outlook. I didn’t spend enough time in Avon to trace the origins of this optimism, but I was there long enough to see that their optimism permeates through the entire educational system.
Take as an example the Marching Arts program. Both the Avon Marching Band and Color Guard are nationally recognized as “top-notch.” I enjoyed the privilege of meeting and spending time with Dean Westman, Performing Arts Chair and Daniel Wiles, Visual Program and Winter Guard Director. Together, these educators have amassed numerous national championship awards. What was the first thing that came to mind when I met them? They were optimistic.
Optimism generates enthusiasm and enthusiasm generates positive actions. And of course, positive actions create positive results. It all begins with optimism.
Then there is the Avon High School Library. In many schools, the library is avoided like the plague … but not at Avon. At any given moment, the library is packed with students. I visited with librarian Robyn Young. What did I notice first? A genuine optimism and enthusiasm. It seems to be contagious at Avon and worth catching.
In the USA, we bury our school systems with funding, while the boards of education scream for more. The truth is that school funding alone does not create quality education. In fact, I can make a compelling case that if not properly managed, it causes damage by relying on technology alone.
If funding was a key driver, the USA would be ranked number one in every category of education… and we are far from it. I’ll take an optimistic and positively enthused teacher with a chalkboard any day over a pessimistic teacher with the latest and greatest technology. Technology can be a valuable enhancement to education but without an optimistic outlook, technology only amplifies the pessimism of the user.
My message to Avon was to not only keep it up but ramp it up. Why settle for being one of the best school systems when you can strive to be the best school system? Be optimistic X 10. Never settle. Never be satisfied. Never accept mediocrity when excellence is at your doorstep.
So again… what does this have to do with you and your school system?
Stop looking for additional dollars and technology to help your students succeed in life and begin with optimism. Optimism isn’t a genetic gift passed from parent to child. Optimism is an acquired skill. An optimistic outlook in life is a choice we make. Optimism is the foundation that success and happiness are built upon and make no mistake about it. There is no middle ground. You are either optimistic or you are pessimistic.
It is the attitude and outlook of the student that is all-important. That outlook and attitude can be shaped and formed by the educational system. Yes, its difficult to overcome an unsupportive or bad home life for your students, but the school system is the next greatest influencer. When a student can be taught and influenced to believe that if they work hard and pursue excellence a positive future can be theirs, get out of their way and watch them fly.
My message to Boards of Education, teachers and taxpayers is simple: If you are not teaching and formulating an optimistic environment within your student’s heart and mind, stop wasting your money on technology.
Optimism is the key to success in education.
Optimism is the student’s super-power.