They were floating in the water when I first saw them — the paintings of my three-year-old girl. Once a moment of pride and jubilation, now wading in the water that stretched from side to side of my home. It’s an image I’ll never forget and one of the most difficult moments of my life. A few hours earlier, I had just finished a keynote in New York, when I glanced at my phone. I had over a dozen missed calls from numbers I didn’t recognize. They turned out to be the types of calls you never want to receive. Frantically listening to the many voicemails, tears started to stream. My house, and everything in it, was under water.
The previous evening, in one of the coldest evenings in recent history, our neighbor’s fire sprinkler system completely burst, dumping 20 gallons of water, per second, into our newly finished home. So much effort. So much time. All gone. We lost it all, and I was heartbroken.
A few hours later, while standing in my home, one that resembled a disaster zone from a news clip, I received the six-month pictures of my baby boy. His smile radiated. His expressions were priceless. In that moment, I was taken away from the pain of only moments before. My tears were quickly replaced with a feeling of gratefulness and appreciation. As I stared at his smile and felt his happiness through his six-month pictures, I gained proper perspective. It was a clear reminder of what was most important. His beaming smile and the love of my little boy was worth far more than any house or the materials therein. Material things will come and go, but the smiles, love and innocence of my children are what deserve my full attention, not the material things that often consume much of my time and effort. I learned quickly that day how maintaining proper perspective was key.
Each morning, millions of students enter our schools, each painting their life story. These students aren’t concerned about school performance profiles, teacher-rating systems, state test data, common core, Race to the Top, etc. However, too often, these are the exact things that consume our mind as educators, even becoming our highest priorities and focus. I believe that our time, energy and focus often get placed on the wrong things. Of course these things are a part of what we do and have meaning, but are they what’s most important? Are they where we should spend the most time and energy as educators? When we begin to concern ourselves more with test scores than the hearts of the children sitting in front of us, we’ve lost our focus. When our students are viewed as numbers and data, and not as individuals, each with a variety of talents and abilities, we’ve lost proper perspective.
Standing in the water of a ruined house instantly brought my focus back to what was most important. My focus went from stuff and things, to people and relationships. What will it take for us in education? How can we get back to the core of why we do what we do? Focusing on children, their hearts, their stories, the whole child, and remembering that they are far more than data points is imperative. Maintaining proper perspective is key. We can never forget that the voices, the stories and the molding of each child, deserves only our very best and our full attention. Our focus must always remain on doing whatever it takes to meet the needs of the children that we serve, showing them that they have incredible value and potential, while pushing them to be their best. Everything else is secondary.
Tom Murray serves as the Director of Technology and Cyber Education for the Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, Pa. A former school principal, Murray is passionate about proper technology infusion and differentiated professional development. He was the 2012 recipient of the Blended Schools Network Leadership Award, named one of the top 16 “forward thinking EdTech leaders in the country,” named one of the “Top 100 influential voices in education” and has been featured in Tech & Learning Magazine’s Leadership Profile. Murray’s QCSD cyber- and blended-learning programs have been highlighted by Forbes.com, T.H.E. Journal, District Administration Magazine, Project Red, the Innosight Institute, iNACOL, and on Digital Learning Day 2013, among others. Murray serves on the advisory board for T.H.E. Journal and is a co-founder of #edtechchat. Connect with him on Twitter @thomascmurray or at www.thomascmurray.com.