I have spent much of my life watching professional sports. Whether on television or attending the game, I have marveled at the ability of the athletes as they showcase their talent on a daily/weekly basis. I spent much of my childhood imagining myself hitting the game winning home run for the New York Yankees, the buzzer beating jump shot to defeat Michael Jordan or throwing a Super Bowl winning touchdown pass for the New York Giants. While I have met professional athletes up close, I never really had the opportunity to talk with one for an extended period of time. This past week I met a former professional athlete who I appreciate not for his athletic ability but for why he was talking with my students at my school.
Chris Herren, a former Boston Celtic and college basketball star, visited PV School to share his story about how his career was derailed due to substance abuse and addiction. I have seen many speakers come to school and talk to students about the dangers of drugs. "Don't do drugs. It's bad for you." While the message is important, students have a hard time connecting to speakers who lecture about how bad drugs are. Chris was different. While he talked to the students about the importance of staying away from drugs, he was really invested in trying to help "just one." His message covered important middle school topics of bullying, self-harm, self-esteem, relationships, peer pressure, drinking, vaping and smoking. For an hour and half, you could hear a pin drop in the gym as the students hung on every word he said.
"Just one." All I kept thinking was I hope that Chris is right. This assembly would be a success if even "just one" learned something and thought about the decisions that they made when faced with peer pressure or feelings of self doubt. It would be a success if "just one" spread Chris's word with others. It would be a success if "just one" stood up for someone who was being bullied. It would be a success if "just one" chose to be kind to someone who needed a friend. It would be a success if "just one" made the decision to help a friend who was making poor choices. It would be a success if "just one" chose to make a healthy choice rather choosing to vape or smoke. All of those "just ones" can become "many" and Chris's message could spread like wildfire.
In the classroom and in our schools we have the opportunity to affect "just one" all the time. While Chris felt a calling to tell his story, teaching is also a calling. We are charged with educating the minds of tomorrow, sparking curiosity, forging relationships and helping them grow. Our responsibility to design lessons, create activities, develop goals, and monitor progress are difficult. However, with every moment in the classroom, there can be more than "just one" that you may make a difference in more than you did the day before. Our students deserve our very best. They deserve teachers and administrators who are willing to try new things, take risks with them, encourage them, push them beyond what they think they can do. It is hard work, but if we can change the course of "just one" student's life everyday, we are making strides to preparing them for a better future.
As educators we might not know what it feels like to hit a game winning shot or win a championship. But we do know what it means to work together as a team for a common goal......to do what is best for our students. Chris Herren's message of "just one" has a powerful meaning. Our influence on the lives of our students cannot be measured. We must do whatever it takes for our students because you never know who that "just one" will be. When students walk into your school or into your classroom, give them everything you have to give. Even though they may not always show it, they look to you for guidance, advice and inspiration. Our students are still choosing their path in life. Let us show them the way, encourage them to dream big and to know that it is never to late to give their very best. Let's turn "just one" into "every one." Thank you teachers for all that you do to influence our future. I am your biggest fan.
Below is the speech I gave at our annual Veterans Day Flag Ceremony. Thank you to the men and women who have served and continue to serve our country.
“What’s your favorite color?” It is a question that we have all been asked many times throughout our lives. It is usually one of those questions that you are asked on the first day of school when you are getting to know your classmates, or when you are talking with a younger sibling or cousin or for those of us who are a little older, a child or grandchild when they want to know more about you. The question, while really simplistic in nature, can have a really deep meaning. “What is your favorite color?” Take a second, think about it. When do you see your favorite color every day? Is it in the clothes that you wear? The color of your house? Your bedroom? Your favorite stuffed animal? Your car? Can you remember when you picked your favorite color? Why did you pick it? Has it changed? In 1942, Linda was a first grade student in a little one room school house in Idaho. She was one of four children raised by two loving parents, her father served in the Navy. One day she was asked by her teacher to name her favorite color and to write about it. Little did she know that her answer would end up having her in the Principal’s Office for a meeting with her parents.
Linda gave an answer that might surprise you. You see, Linda’s answer was one that we take for granted every single day. We can see her answer every morning before we enter PV School, every time we are in our cars driving down the highway, we can see her answer in every classroom, we can see her answer on the faces of the Veterans we are here to recognize today. You see, Linda ended up in the Principal’s office because she refused to change her answer when the teacher asked her to answer the question, “What is your favorite color.” Linda kept writing over and over again that her favorite color was red, white and blue.
Today, we are here to recognize and honor those who have dedicated their lives to the “Red, White and Blue.” The Flag that flies above our heads today represents more than just three colors. It symbolizes our past and those that fought and died in developing and protecting the freedoms and democracy that we have today. The Flag represents the present, honoring those that continue to serve and protect our country on land and overseas. The Flag represents the future, our hopes and dreams, it represents you, that stand before us as the future leaders of our country. Our Veterans have served and continue to serve “the Red, White and Blue” because they believe in what it stands for…..they believe in our future…..they believe in you.
Today you will hear from our veterans about their service to our country. I want you to pay attention, not just to what they are saying but how they are saying it. I want you to notice the passion, honor, conviction and pride in how they speak. For some, they have recently finished their terms of service while others served proudly many years ago. But for each one of them, they symbolize the colors, Red, White and Blue.
Colors have certain meanings. The color red can be defined by valor or strength. Our Veterans have demonstrated heroic courage, boldness and determination in the face of fear. The veterans that sit before you today have served in Vietnam, Korea, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan and peace keeping missions throughout the world. They fought proudly with their brothers and sisters against some of the world’s most dangerous enemies. We honor all those who have sacrificed their lives and paid the ultimate price so that we can live in freedom. Listen to their stories of valor today White is often defined using the words purity, safety and innocence. Our veterans fought to keep the country safe and ensure that those of us who would be born later on would be free from the experiences of war and conflict. Their mission to keep us safe lives in the hearts and minds of all that have served and continue to serve today.
The color blue, which happens to be my favorite color, is often defined by the words perseverance, trust and loyalty. I want you to listen today as the Veterans share their stories of how they had to persevere through sleepless nights, dangerous conditions, weeks and months away from their families, missing holidays, and family celebrations because they were loyal to our country.
Every morning we have the opportunity to stand outside PV and take a look at our flag that waves proudly in the front of the school. Every morning we have the opportunity to pledge allegiance to one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Let us not take these things for granted. Instead of playing on our cellphones outside of school or just going through the motions of saying the pledge, take a look at the flag and know that it waves for us. Remember that it it represents the millions of people that have served and continue to serve our country. As we consider the impact those individuals have had on the world, defending freedom and protecting democracy, we need to realize, that these veterans deserve more than just one day of recognition. They deserve to be recognized every day.
You are the future. The men and women of our military have served and are serving our country for you. They don’t know you but they are serving and protecting us so that we can maintain the same freedoms that they have had. So, I am challenging you to join them. Yes, I know you aren’t old enough to serve our country but you can serve. Serve your community, get involved in a service project, be a student tutor, read to elementary students, design bulletin boards around the school, donate food to a local food pantry, or even pick up a student’s books when the fall in the hallway. We all have roles to play to help continue to make this country, the greatest country in the world. Linda’s role was to answer the question, “What is your favorite color?” ….to this very day she responds with the same answer….Red, White and Blue….why, because she loves our flag and what it stands for…..the greatest country in the world. Thank you Veterans for representing the Red, White and Blue and for showing your favorite colors to all of us. Students, the next time someone asks you “What is your favorite color?.......maybe you might end up in the Principal’s office………. which isn’t such a bad thing…because I have a pretty good view of the flag from there. Thank you.
Richard M. Hayzler
A life long educator and current Principal of Pequannock Township High School in NJ, Rich is excited to share his ideas and thoughts about education and how we can change the world for our students and our staff.