Dawn Imada Chan

What Happens When You Believe

I was recently asked if I remember teachers or educators that made a difference in my life and learning and how they inspired me. Yes, for a while I was that "middle" kid. I was your student who came diligently every day to class, completes their work, and if given the choice, would have been perfectly happy blending into the background. I was eager about the world's possibilities (which you wouldn't have known unless you asked), but had little belief in myself that I would be a part of making a difference in it. I was the kid who had mastered the art of not being noticed, but not well enough to fool the untrained eyes of some of my teachers.

You, too, likely have had one of these teachers. The teachers who are passionate about their work and believe in the potential of each child, love their content area, but believe in the importance of making real connections with their students even more. They are the ones that make the most indelible impressions on your heart and their belief in you is what made you think differently about yourself so you could soar.

Fast forward many years later and I find myself an equally passionate educator who carries these moments and lessons from these inspiring teachers not just within me, but also in who I am and will become. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the many educators who have impacted my life at my various ages and stages of learning. I often wondered, what was it about them that made me want to follow their lead and listen to their words, even when they asked me to do things that were way out of my comfort zone? Was it their passion for learning and life? Was it their support and encouraging words? Or was it something deeper?

My reflections have led me to realize that these educators were individuals who not only exhibited all these qualities, but genuinely and truly embraced me, the whole me, warts and all. They were never disillusioned about my shortcomings and yet were very aware of how my strengths might help me find my own way. They knew me much more than I knew myself at the time and yet gave me the freedom to chart my own course. These were teachers who at their core valued and embraced the importance of relationships.

I didn’t know it at the time when I first started as a classroom teacher, but my former inspiring teachers really were the catalyst for why I became an educator and how I made relationships a priority in my own classroom. They modeled for me the way that teaching should be. So embedded was this experience, that when I became an administrator, relationships were something I continued to hold vitally important in my work within the school community.

Without a doubt society has becoming increasingly complex and our roles as educators have grown with these challenges. Yet, ask a student who has most influenced their life and without a doubt a former teacher is often likely one of the individuals to be named. As educators our belief and commitment to relationships and the whole child can make all the difference in the pathways explored and life’s journey of our students.

So educators, next year when you have a difficult day in your class or school, think back to that student, past or present, that you have created a meaningful connection with. Take great joy and be proud in knowing that your relationship and belief in them is what remains with them, because that is one life lesson that never gets outdated or old.

Dawn Imada Chan is a freelance education consultant from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and a 2012 ASCD Emerging Leader. She has taught in both the public and independent school systems in the United States and Canada. She was also a principal of a nonprofit, social justice-based school in Canada and will be returning to a school leadership role in the public system in the fall. Connect with Chan on Twitter @dawnchan.

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