Maya Angelou is one of my favorite human beings to have ever walked the earth. It was one of my top bucket lists items to get to see her speak in person and I was thrilled to fulfill it at an ASCD conference in Chicago in 2013.
She did not disappoint.
As her introduction was read, she was nowhere to be seen until a riser carrying her wheelchair was lifted and she was rolled on stage to thunderous applause. For myself, and many others in attendance on that day, we didn’t just greet her with applause…I had this strange watery sensation in my eyes. I don’t cry easy. In fact, my son saw me cry for the first time last week and he is sixteen. Maya made me cry before she even spoke. I have rarely been so moved or emotional about just being in the same space with another person. The power of her authenticity and the weightiness of her sheer significance were almost overwhelming to me.
She opened by singing the line, “When it looked like the sun wouldn’t shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the cloud.” And then said, “Imagine that.”
Many people have asked me if you have to be a “cartwheel and somersault” type of educator to Teach Like a Pirate and to engage kids. That may be my style, but the answer is a resounding “NO!”
I saw Maya sit still in a chair in front of an audience of over 10,000 people and completely mesmerize us with the power of her words and masterful storytelling. She wove back and forth through stories from her life for 45 minutes and ended by bringing them full circle to demonstrate the power of a teacher in the life of a student. As she put it, educators, at their best and most empowering moments, are “rainbows in somebody’s cloud.”
Wow. When she ended…more tears. Words can move people…and people can move mountains. A little over a year later (May 28, 2014), I received news that Maya had passed away and that moment in time came flooding back. Don’t let anybody ever tell you that the ability to write well, tell captivating stories, and speak exceptionally can’t change the world. It absolutely can.
As it turns out, that conference was life changing for more reasons than just getting to hear one of my heroes. Shelley and I met George Couros there and we would go on to eventually publish his incredible book, The Innovator’s Mindset. I met Joe Clark, Joe Sanfelippo, Kathy Perret, Tom and Leah Whitford, and a whole host of others that I am now personally and professionally connected with.
It was also at #ASCD13 that Shelley and I met Jimmy Casas for the first time. Jimmy makes an impression because he is one of the truly authentic and genuine guys in this business…and he is a great connector of people. Those connections usually take place around food! He invited several of us to dinner at a restaurant that had deep significance in his family’s history and we enjoyed great Mexican food, great conversations, and great fellowship.
My relationship with Jimmy has grown over the years. I can still remember pacing back and forth across the room during a phone conversation with him as I relayed how angry I was at some stuff a hater had written about me. He shared that it was an indicator that I was making an impact. We chatted about how if you aren’t ruffling at least a few feathers, you probably aren’t doing much of significance. We swapped some stories and I hung up the phone feeling better and more willing to let the trolls stay under their bridges where they belong.
Now it has come full circle. We are honored to become the publisher of his amazing book, Start. Right. Now. Teach and Lead for Excellence, co-authored with the incredible Jeff Zoul and the unbelievably prolific, Todd Whitaker. This is the second book they have written together and it is already creating a buzz throughout social media. It is topnotch stuff!
The book is partly a riff on a John Maxwell quote, that leaders know the way, show the way, and go the way. They have fleshed out three hard hitting sections on that quote and added a fourth…grows each day. It would be hard for me to imagine anyone reading this book and not wanting to get better at whatever their role is in this mighty profession. It will inspire you.
One of my favorite features of the book is that at the end of each part there is a LEAD 4, TEACH 4, LEARN 4 section. They have found 4 powerful educators in leadership roles and 4 powerful educators in primarily teaching roles and had them contribute to the conversation. You will immediately be able to add many new names to your professional learning network. The LEARN4 section gives you 4 action steps, resources, or links that will help you move forward and go further in your pursuit of excellence.
You can’t ask for more…powerfully written chapters, 8 additional contributors to connect with and learn from in each one, and then multiple more ways to continue to improve. Get this book in the hands of your people!!
Thinking back to that ASCD conference and the connections I made, it reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Start. Right. Now., “The best in our profession intentionally surround themselves with the best.” Jimmy Casas, Jeff Zoul, and Todd Whitaker definitely represent the best of our profession. You can bring them right into your life through the pages of Start. Right. Now.
PS: Speaking of ASCD…Shelley and I will have a DBC, Inc booth at ASCD in Anaheim this coming weekend (March 25-27, 2017) and all of our books, including Start Right Now, will be on display and available. Come by and say hi if you are attending!!