Month: July 2014

Why did you decide to make a difference?

Be that #oneperson

Why did you decide to make a difference?

As I reflect on why I became an educator, 3 goals keep coming to the top of my list. First, I wanted to give children the same kind of hope that many of my teachers gave me. Secondly, I wanted to build relationships and inspire people to be great. Lastly, my goal was to make the world a better place one action at a time. Some days I fall short with those goals, but I also have those magical days when my goals are fulfilled. I hope that my blog will help you reflect on the question: Why did I decide to make a difference?

Goal 1

Give Hope

 I remember that I wanted to play in the NBA when I was in 3rd grade. My wonderful teacher, Mrs. Welsh, encouraged me to reach for that goal, but in a very gentle way reminded me that I may want to focus on my studies as well. She gave me hope but also wanted to make sure that I stayed focused on my grades. I’m glad I listened; I am 6’1” and my vertical jump was very low. I did however become the first person in my immediate and extended family to graduate from college.

As educators, we have the ability to give children hope everyday. Many of our students come from households where desperation and despair rules the conversation around the kitchen table. Our students can often feel as if they must accept their future, but as educators we can offer a brighter outlook. Educators should instill the values of hard work within their students, so they can see that a great education can open new doors in life. One success may lead to another and this helps our students gain a sense of hope. Always give your students hope in the classroom because there will be plenty of despair in other areas of their lives.

 Goal 2

Build Relationships

As I begin my 15th year as an educator, the importance of building relationships is becoming more distinct. My former students are starting their careers and families. They are very proud to introduce their children to me. I have even talked to a few who have become educators.

What I hear from my former students over and over again is this, “You cared about me. You also taught me some stuff, which I know was important, but above all you cared about me!” WOW- you see content is never more important than the child and we must remember that. Never stop working to connect with everyone in the schoolhouse. You will be remembered by how many relationships you built not how many Powerpoints you created.

 Goal 3

Make the World a Better Place

The last reason was made very clear to me at the Cardinal Junior/Senior Prom this past April. The video below is perhaps one of my proudest moments as an educational leader. While I had nothing to do with the students’ votes, I hope that I have modeled an environment that Todd Whitaker states “makes it cool to care.” I watched my students rise to their feet and applaud their classmate who they have known since kindergarten. I observed my community clapping and crying during this moment. You see if you fight to make your culture special, your students will follow the examples of the leader. That night the world became a better place!

As always, I leave you with an exercise that you can do with your school staff to help remind educators why we are in the business of making the world a better place.

#Oneperson Action Item:

  1. Have your staff write down someone who made a difference in their life on a postcard
  2. Have your staff include the address of that someone on the postcard
  3. Collect the postcards and store in a safe place until December 10th
  4. Send a letter to your staff member’s #oneperson identified on the postcard
  5. Step back and let the magic happen


Sample letter

December 19, 2011


Dear Jane Doe,

This letter of appreciation is being sent to you because John Doe mentioned you as a person who has had a positive influence on his life. John works at Cardinal Community School District and makes a similar contribution to a number of students here daily. As a way of thanking him for making a difference, I thank you for the role you have played in his development.

May your holidays be filled with love, laughter, and fulfillment.



Joel Pedersen


Cardinal Community School District



Excellence can be achieved if you:

Care more than others think is wise.

Risk more than others think is safe.

Dream more than others think is practical.

Expect more than others think is possible.

-Roland Barth



Be that #Oneperson

Blogging is not something I have ever done. However, as a lifelong learner I follow many blogs to expand my knowledge as a leader and educator.  I have decided that if I want to build my own Professional Learning Network (PLN) and bring more value to my current PLN, I should create a space for my own experiences and education to assist other educators.

Therefore, my first post will encompass a little of everything I believe about the power an educator has on the life of a child.  I understand all too well, how overwhelming the demands of education can be on the lives of educators.  So, I am creating a post, which will hopefully, energize all educators by simplifying what it takes to make a difference for all children.

I was recently talking to my friend Ron Mirr, a well-known educator in the state of Iowa.  Ron is known across the state for is work and teaching on school connectedness and family-school partnerships. He currently teaches a graduate course at Harvard on this topic every summer.  He shared something with me, which helped me see value in building relationships in education. This research he shared was simple; yet, powerful, and would have a profound impact on my personal mission statement.

In an educational age where politicians, who argue the merits of Core Curriculum and standardized, test scores, can disillusion educators, I believe school leaders must put an emphasis on the impact of relationships. What if every student had just, “one person,” with whom they felt connected?  Does, “one person,” really have the ability to influence the items below?

  • Incidents of fighting, bullying, or vandalism
  • Absenteeism
  • School completion rates
  • Motivation
  • Classroom engagement
  • Academic performance

Well, the research supports the concept of, “one person.” Research from the Center for Adolescent Health and Development, University of Minnesota, has shown a strong association between school connectedness and every risk behavior they studied, including school failure. 71,515 students in 127 schools were asked questions, which helped document the following areas:

  • Why do some adolescents feel attached to school and some don’t?
  • What individual and school characteristics predict connectedness?

I find the  graph below simply astonishing. The students stated the number one factor of school connectedness was the importance of one supportive relationship with an adult. One supportive relationship at school increases success in school over 30% and decreases difficulty in school over 30%.  You will also note that after, “one person,” the percentages do not change by more than a few percentage points.

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 9.59.11 AM (1)


One supportive relationship for every student is attainable, and must be a priority for all school leaders.

Action Item:

  1. Hang a picture of every student in your building in the gym during a back to school meeting.
  2. Leave space under the student picture for your staff to write items that they know about each student
  3. When you finish the activity, start a dialogue with your staff. What do we notice? Does every student possess a supportive relationship with at least on adult at our school?
  4. Create a shared plan to connect with every student and make sure every student has #oneperson.
  5. Be that #Oneperson

To the world, you might be just one person.  But to one person, you might be the world.