Thank you, Mr. Scott
It’s been almost two weeks since Manny Scott took to the main stage at ASCD’s Empower18 Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, and here I am just now writing about it. In what was the most passionate speech that I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing, I still find myself continuing to process that Sunday afternoon’s keynote address inside the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
It’s been difficult to put into words all that I took away from Mr. Scott’s presentation. All I know is that I feel inspired beyond belief. I feel as though the tears I shed during the speech reaffirmed that I was always meant to teach. I know now, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was meant to help our country’s youth. While I always believed those things to be true, the emotions stirred in me thanks to the powerful words of Manny Scott justified those previously felt feelings of frustration, defeat, and heartbreak of a most demanding career.
Angela Duckworth, whose book detailing the importance of grit, defines the trait as “passion and sustained persistence applied toward the achievement of long-term goals.” As Mr. Scott began his speech by detailing the tribulations of a troubled childhood, it was vividly apparent that the human personification of grit was standing before those in attendance.
As a young child, he did not know his biological father. The man to come into his life, his stepfather, was addicted to crack cocaine. Scott’s mother simply tried to do the best she could with the hand she was dealt.
By the age of 11, Manny Scott had already become a user of both marijuana and alcohol. Between the 4th and 9th grade, he would miss anywhere between 60-90 days of school each year. In fact, his reading ability was so low, he was considered to be an English as a Second Language Student.
In high school, Manny lost his best friend, an honor roll student who had done all the right things in life. Yet, Mr. Scott still found himself standing over the lifeless body of a fallen friend. It was at that moment he felt as if all hope was lost. He dropped out of school. He found himself continually chased by police.
Manny Scott was on the verge of self-destruction.
Manny Rights the Ship
Scott’s life was in a tailspin. He was sinking fast. It wasn’t until his teachers helped him realize the potential that remained dormant inside of his mind and heart that Manny felt compelled to change his life. In one chance encounter, he was resolutely reminded that “his story didn’t have to be over.” He then told the audience that we, as educators, have the ability “to be someone’s best hope.”
Manny Scott has sure come a long way from his troubled past. When he first returned to school after dropping out, he made it to the Honor Roll. He went on to thrive in college. He’s since earned his Master’s Degree. Next on his academic agenda? Earning his Ph.D.
In addition, he has an incredibly loving and supportive family. His wife, whom he refers to as the “sugar in his kool-aid,” has been right by his side for the last 16 years in marriage. Together, they have 3 amazing children. He’s also gone on to earn his pilot’s license. In fact, he mentioned that he flew himself to Boston for this very speech.
Scott then transitioned by telling us that if he was able to make it, then every single child can make it in this world as well. Some just may need a bit more love and support than others. However, it’s possible to reach them and change their lives forever.
The question on everyone’s mind at the time? How can we best reach today’s youth?
The R.E.A.C.H. Approach
After demonstrating that it’s entirely possible for teachers to make a lasting impression on the lives of all students, Scott went on to outline his method for helping children find academic and social success in our schools. Using “reach” as an acronym, Mr. Scott delved into 5 ways to best serve today’s student.
While I’ll briefly touch upon the key points of each step, I highly recommend you purchase his latest book, Even On Your Worst Day You Can Be A Student’s Best Hope where you’ll truly be able to absorb Scott’s message.
- Create a welcoming, safe, and secure environment for all to earn their trust.
- Show students you want to learn WITH them.
- At one point, Manny Scott delivered an amazing line when he told teachers that if they “stop learning today, stop teaching tomorrow.”
- Remember that your normal is not everyone’s normal (HUMBLE YOURSELF!).
- Get on their level!
- Students need to “feel you before they hear you!”
- Teach what’s significant!
- Ask yourself…”Do ALL lives matter in my curriculum?”
- Remember that while all kids need grit, “some just need healing first.”
- Help students become “painfully aware of the imbalances in their lives.”
- Make it known that, regardless of the pain they’re going through now, they have a chance to do something special in this world.
- All kids need a reference! They need someone in their corner, helping them see their potential and perhaps helping them back up when they falter.
- “You might by the only reference they have!”
- Reach out your hand on empower your students to make decisions that’ll improve the quality of their lives.
- Walk with that student.
- Release them.
- Believe in that child until they can believe in themselves.
Heartbreaking Anecdotes and a Final Plea
Over the course of the powerful speech, Manny Scott shared some of the most heartbreaking stories that he’s heard from children all over the country. These anecdotes were simply tough to hear and reminder of the troubles that may be facing our students outside of school.
- Scott told the story of helping a young man who was grieving the loss of his father.The boy was ready to embrace the dangerous world of crime when Manny brought him to a cemetery. It was there that the two men talked at length. They cried together as Manny told the young man that he doesn’t want to bury another body. He asked the boy to look at the tombstone. He said that while we can’t control the start date and end date, we can control how we choose to live our lives in the middle.
- Upon hearing this story, I was immediately reminded of the “Live Your Dash” tattoo on my arm. It was after my Grandmother’s death and subsequent services that I was compelled to get the tattoo based on “The Dash Poem” by Linda Ellis. It was reminiscent of the story Manny told the crowd. Live life to the fullest while we can!
- Manny also shared the tear-inducing story of a young girl who approached him after a speech. The student pointed to her private parts and, with tears in her eyes, told Scott that the men in her life were hurting her. Yes, the very same men who should have been actively striving to provide this child with the tools needed to live life to the fullest were sexually assaulting her instead. Simply heartbreaking.
It was clear to all those witnessing Manny Scott speak of these horrific stories that he was a man weighed down by the troubling trend of students being continually physically and emotionally hurt. As tears flowed freely down his cheeks, Scott made one final plea to the educators in attendance after proclaiming that our students need us. He begged us all to renew our commitment to helping our children become the best they can be.
As I wrap up this review, I once again feel tears welling in my eyes. But these are not tears of sadness. They’re tears of happiness because I know that I’m where I’m supposed to be at this point in my life. I’m here to “REACH” each and every one of my students. I know this to be true because of the feelings elicited from hearing Scott’s keynote address.
I personally want to say thank you, Mr. Manny Scott.
I left the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center that day a changed educator. I was reminded that we need to stop measuring the things that aren’t important and focus on the positive gains that we can make with our students. Gains that are simply unable to be measured.
Thank you, Mr. Scott, for delivering a speech that’ll be remembered by all those lucky enough to be in attendance last Sunday.