Dare to change the world

On May 18, 2013, I attended an education “un-conference” called EdCamp in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the movement. At the Saturday conference, I met Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers), who spoke with passion about her believe in student genius. Many educators at the conference were excited about her ideas, but when challenged to implement the vision in their schools, many recoiled. They asked, “What about the standards?” “What is your business plan?” “What if my administration says no?” Perhaps because I am daring, bold, or simply because I like a challenge, I raised my hand and asked to those who doubted- “Why would anyone stand in the way of your students daring to change the world?” I said yes.

The rest of the weekend, I spoke with Angela many times in person and on the telephone. By Monday, I had enough confidence to bring Angela’s and my idea to a set of innovative teachers at the Downintown STEM Academy. These teacher always focus my ambition and provide checks of reality. After a few moments, they agreed we should give this a shot.

I followed by emailing the Headmaster of the school and the superintendent of the district, asking for support for our plan—I wanted Angela Maiers to come to my school for a two-day workshop in the last week of the school year, AFTER students had finished finals. The biggest fear was whether students would show up. They gave me the latitude to continue, and I put aside the doubt and proceeded.

I believe it was Thursday, May 23, that Angela Skyped with some students of mine to discuss the possibility of coming to the Downingtown STEM Academy. The group of about 30 students were very excited. A colleague of mine and I then planned out the two-day event on Friday, May 24. The dates are important because this happened very quickly.

Taking a pause—many times in this process I doubted it would work. Would students show up? Would all teachers support it? Would Angela’s visit be worthwhile? Would Angela be disappointed? Could I organize support from all stakeholders? Would I disappoint them? If I had stopped at any of these breaking points, none of this would have happened. Public education needs risk-takers. Breaking barriers and making school better for your students requires daring and risk-taking. It would have been easy to quit, but my growing network of support kept me going. Voices joined together and said, “Keep going.”

Angela came to my school on June 3 and 4, and still on my way to school on Tuesday, June 3, I had doubts. What if the students didn’t buy in to her vision?

I have a personal belief that students excel with less boundaries; they will use creative, curious, innovate, and investigative means to reach new plateaus of knowledge. Teachers should support these endeavors, not block them with standards, tests, and requirements in schools. Would students buy in to my vision? I had no proof.

Well, Angela has already posted her view of the two-day workshop. More posts are coming.  Below is the proof- in two short days, these are just a few of the organizations my with which my students will change the world.

Do not underestimate the innovation of your students. Do not dare to take risks. Do not say no because everyone else is. Believe you can make an impact and you will. You matter.

Bikes with Benefits (@BikesBenefits)- Supporting emergency medical relief to isolated portions of third world countries. Visit our Facebook page. [youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShvPMyZi-4o%5D

Brighter Days (@BrighterDaysOrg)- Raising money, raising awareness, saving lives. Taking suicide prevention to the next level. [youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA0udPIOBk8%5D

Cancer Matters


Lunchbox Notes (@YouMatterLBN)- Lunchbox Notes sets forth on a mission to create a world where smiles are genuine and happiness isn’t rare. A world where thoughts count and actions matter.

Need2Lead (@Need2Lead)- Providing inner city boys and girls, ages 11-15, with a friend and mentor who teaches what leadership truly is.


Valour Organization (@valour_org)- We’re setting out to change the world’s mentality toward mental illness. We are part of @AngelaMaiers #Choose2Matter [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2Yw7NObIIY%5D


15 thoughts on “Dare to change the world

  1. Jennifer Heymann June 9, 2013 / 11:19 pm

    One of the biggest obstacles we teachers place in our path of good teaching is ourselves. I am bothered each instance a teacher tries to claim new ideas won’t work in his/her school due to standards or a principal. Good ideas can be molded into any set of Essential Standards and with the assistance of administration. Too many teachers make too many excuses rather than making things happen. This article is good example of being proactive with students in mind.

    • Justin Staub June 10, 2013 / 9:19 am

      Jennifer, teachers need to trust their guts more. I agree, many of us quit before we try. We cannot do the best for our students if we aren’t willing to go for the gusto sometimes. Thank you for your comments.

      • Angela Redden (@AMRedden) June 30, 2014 / 3:32 pm

        If I had read this discussion four or more years ago, I would have agreed 100% with your line of thinking and with everything that you and Jennifer have said about teachers taking risks and making things happen. Having experienced the last 3 years of my teaching career, I have a different response. There is a visual that comes to mind. It is of my 5-year old son at swim lessons last week. His swim instructor–let’s call her Ms. Swim– had the students jumping into the pool from the side and using what they had learned about kicking to kick their way to the stairs. She was right there in the pool to catch them and give them a push as they kicked their way to safety. Even with her encouragement, my son was anxious and unsure. He bent his knees, reached his hands to the ground and threw his legs safely and gingerly into the water. This wasn’t exactly what Ms. Swim was hoping for, but she responded with excitement and cheered his attempt before pushing him to the safety of the stairs. When it was his turn to jump again, he was still anxious and unsure. This time, Ms. Swim encouraged him to jump but was firm with him when he started to bend his knees and reach toward the ground. She would not allow it. After a few attempts, he decided he needed to use the potty. This didn’t get him out of it though, when he returned, Ms. Swim told him to get at the back of the line. When his turn came around, with lots of encouragement, he bent down, put one hand on the ground and half jumped into the water. Again, Ms. Swim responded with excitement, cheered his attempt and pushed him to safety. On the way home that day, he told me that he couldn’t wait to go back the next day because he wanted to jump into the pool again and he wanted to just “run and jump right in!” I tell you this story to help you understand what happens when some teachers take a risk. It is scary. It may not be pretty the first time. It may not be pretty the second time, and they may get scared enough that they have to take a break from the pressure. With the proper encouragement and support from administration and colleagues, these teachers can continue like my son and very much like he did, end up jumping into the deep end without any reservations. Imagine though if Ms. Swim had been in the pool telling my son that he did it all wrong. Imagine if everytime he attempted to put his hands on the ground for safety, she told him he just needed to do it like the boy behind him. Even worse, what if, she gave up on him and told him to just go sit on the safety of the stairs? Would he be jumping into the deep end now and begging to do it again and again?

        It is exciting to see the wonderful things that happen when teachers take risks and those risks pay off. I look forward to the day when every district and every school understands the importance of encouraging teachers to be risk takers. Even more, I look forward to the day when every administrator knows how to support, encourage, and coach teachers when they are willing to jump into the water.

      • Justin Staub June 30, 2014 / 3:41 pm

        Thank you, Angela. I really like your description of challenging reluctant learners/swimmers. Having three young boys, I’ve seen the swim class scenario too. I’ve become a better teacher because of how my own children are challenged and learn at every age.

  2. plnaugle June 10, 2013 / 1:25 pm

    Ever since I met Angela (NECC09 in Washington, D.C.), I hear her voice in my head saying things like “you matter”. “choose to matter”, and “find your genius”. She is truly inspirational. Your students are so lucky to have had the opportunity to spend two days with her, and to be reminded that, “Yes, you can change the world”.

    • Justin Staub June 10, 2013 / 6:02 pm

      How has your professional approach changed since you met Angela? How have her words and her inspiration affected you? Acting on ideas is the hardest part of our job, but it is also the only way we will change education.

      • plnaugle July 1, 2013 / 3:15 pm

        One thing I have added to our classroom is time for my students to pursue their passions during the year. At the beginning of the year their write paper blogs about their passions which are then added to their online blogs. We end our year by inviting other classes to join our 10 Day Passion Challenge on Edmodo and share our passions with others via Skype or Google Hangouts. (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1bp8HeEHBNBzZqdE8_nq_EBXR2CXr-wzORq-gxZ_C50U/edit).

  3. Notions by Angie July 2, 2013 / 2:32 pm

    Dr. Staub,

    I am curious as to how you were able to engage your students to the point that all 300 of them felt like they could change the world at the end of the two days. I am not an educator, but I am a mom who is passionate about teaching my kids to live intentionally, have purpose, and role model change for the better. This summer, I am working with my kids and the kids of two other families to teach them self management and hopefully inspire them to live to their highest potential. The kids are enjoying it. I would be thrilled to help spread the message that both you and Angela shared at Downingtown STEM Academy to more of our youth!

    All my best,

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