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John O'LearySketch_Thornberry

This portrait of me was drawn by Belleville, IL art teacher Rob Thornberry during my event at his district last week.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

Have you ever wondered if your work really matters? Ever had those days when you’re curious if it is worth the effort? It’s common to question as parents, in sales, as entrepreneurs, educators, health professionals and leaders what the value of our daily work really is. It’s less common to learn just valuable our work can be.

Last Thursday a gentleman named Jesse Swift who emotionally reminded me and his 500 colleagues of the sacred value of their work. Today I remind you.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been fortunate to speak in front of five school districts, comprised of more than 3,000 faculty, who impact over 100,000 students each year. These amazing people are shaping the future.

I was fortunate to share one of my favorite message titled, The Power of One: the truth that one person can change the world and that person can and must be you.

Through our time together, I reminded the educators of the truth that every encounter, word, glance, lesson and action has the potential to dramatically impact the lives of others. Through omission and commission, everything we do will either push our students further down, or dramatically elevate them toward the possibility of their lives.

I shared the stories of the greatest instructors in my life and how their teaching changed me. My parents, siblings, nurses, educators and friends who modeled throughout my life the invaluable skills possessed by all great teachers. They taught from – and lived rooted in – a foundation of love. They were fueled by causes greater than themselves. And they probably didn’t know I was listening, watching, learning and being dramatically shaped by them.

We must move away from the fear that our work doesn’t matter and instead step boldly and faithfully toward the truth that everything we do matters profoundly. [Tweet that.]

After my presentation, the superintendent gave me a hug and began to thank his teachers and staff for living The Power of One. Mid-sentence, a gentleman stood in the crowd and asked if he could say a few words. The packed auditorium sat silently and stunned as a campus security officer made his way forward. He’d been patrolling this school for more than two decades, but never spoke at public assemblies.

He began by sharing that on Sunday night his mother died. She had been battling for her life for six years. At the beginning of their fight, he took his mother to the Mayo clinic. Where, although 11 hours from home, the doctor who operated and saved her life was a graduate of their high school. Three years ago when she fell and broke her hip, the doctor who set the fracture and compassionately delivered the care was a graduate of their high school. The physical therapist who got his mother to walk again was a graduate, too. And just one week earlier, as his mother was taking her final breaths, amazingly the nurse holding her hand was a graduate of their high school.

Through tears, he pleaded for his fellow staff members to realize their work matters. He declared that they had changed his life and his mother’s life by shaping their students years earlier. With tears rolling down the cheeks of all of his coworkers he thanked them.

He reminded them that they make this same profound impact for their students today.

My friends, as the pools begin to close and the school year opens, it is the perfect time to remember the net effect of our lives on others. You see, we are all educators. We are all teachers. There are eyes on us all the time and they are learning from us.

The great invitation is to choose to not only embrace that you matter profoundly, but also the possibility that you can make an even greater difference going forward. If education is the most powerful and effective weapon in changing the world, let’s set the world on fire with hope, love and the truth that the best is yet to come. [Tweet that.]

Who are the teachers who have most greatly impacted your life? Share in the comments below. 

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0 replies on “You Will Change the World Today”

My English teacher was Camille Selman (junior year of high school). Ms. Selman taught us MANY things – that it’s ok to be honest, to share what you are feeling, and what a great outlet for pain writing can be.

Having just lost my grandmother the year before, I was in pain. She meant so much to me and I was angry she was gone.

My final exam that year was a paper I wrote about coming to terms with my grandmother’s death. I received a 100, and the note she wrote to me meant more than the 100.

In the year she was my teacher, I began to heal from the loss of my grandmother. I began to view writing as an outlet (and although I don’t have much time to spend writing, I will still find pen and paper from time to time and just “write it out”).

Amazing story Jenn! Thx for sharing and I’d bet both Miss Selman AMD your grandmother are very proud of you today! Have an awesome night and thx for sharing. J

I was playing around on my IPad and decided to google my name. Much to my amazement and surprise I found the comment that Jenn wrote about having me as her English teacher her junior year in high school. Thank you, Jenn, for the kind words. They meant so much to me. You just never know what your students are thinking while they are in your class. I’m thrilled that you still pick up that pen and paper from time to time 🙂

Wayne, you certainly do. Thanks for ALL you do. Please share this blog with your fellow teachers so that they have the same reminder of their impact too. J

My life was changed by a sprite of a woman, my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Lemon. Even at age 5, I was as tall as she, but not nearly as wise. Mrs. Lemon had on display, from the first day we walked into the room, a great barnyard of plastic animals, farming equipment, fences and barn. It wasn’t very long that I couldn’t resist the urge and put a small lamb in my pocket to take home. Of course, there was no enjoying the lamb because my mom would know that she hadn’t provided it, so I snuck it into a toy drawer where it remained. Every day after for the entire year, Mrs. Lemon would ask about the lamb, looking straight at me and saying, “The person who took the lamb knows that it wasn’t the righ thing to do.” Twenty five years later, our paths crossed again, and she reminded me of my venture into theft (this time in front of my mother). I can honestly say that because of her year-long persistance, I NEVER again took anything that didn’t belong to me.

Mary Kay thanks for sharing! Were you able to share this with Mrs. Lemon? And what happened to the little lamb?! Can’t leave us hanging. Thanks for all you do and have a GREAT week. J

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