Believe That Every Child Can Learn

Each week I post a “Friday Focus” for staff on my staff memo blog as a way to model professional reflection and hopefully inspire them each week. This week, I got a bit more personal than I ever have in the past, but I’ve learned from Regie Routman to “write what is in your heart.” Here is a cross-post from my staff blog from this week:


“Believe that every
child can learn, regardless of ethnicity, learning disabilities, emotional or behavior problems, or the economic situation of the family.” ~Ron Clark

I’m almost finished reading Ron Clark’s new book, The End of Molasses Classes: 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers. I’m sure that many of you have heard of Ron Clark, because he’s the author of the Essential 55 and was featured on Oprah several years ago. Or maybe you saw the movie “The Ron Clark Story” in which Matthew Perry played him as a teacher in an inner-city Harlem school. He is well known for working with disadvantaged students to get them engaged in school and become as successful as their (nondisadvantaged) peers.

#38 in this book is: “Believe that every child can learn, regardless of ethnicity, learning disabilities, emotional or behavior problems, or the economic situation of the family.”

Clark describes his experience of teaching “George” how to read in the 5th grade (after getting over the disbelief that he couldn’t read at this grade level). He came up with alternative methods and was patient and persistant with George until he made great progress and became a “decent” student. Several years later after George graduated and served in the Navy he came back and told Mr. Clark’s students, “Work really hard to be the individual that Mr. Clark sees in you. Even if you don’t see it in yourself, sometimes adults just know us a little better than we do.”

I can personally relate to this section of his book due to my experiences growing up. I grew up in a very dysfuntional home that is similiar to some of our most challenging students that, at times, don’t seem to have much of a future. When I share details of my past, people are often surprised and ask how I got to where I am now. I have often pondered that same question, because my sibblings were not as lucky as I. But as I reflect, I also know that my sibblings did not ever seem to have any positive school experiences….but I did. Despite moving around (because we were constantly being evicted) and attending 13 different schools, I was fortunate enough to have some great teachers along the way that saw my potential. I will never forget:
*One of my 3rd grade teachers (I don’t even recall her name because I went to 5 schools that year) that came to my house after I had been absent for several days to bring my schoolwork to me–thinking back, she knew my home situation and was probably just making sure I was safe.
*Mrs. McDevitt, my 5th grade teacher, who never punished me for not having my homework done (because I was babysitting my 3 younger sibblings), but let me come into her classroom early to get it done. I never needed help, just a quiet place to do it without one of the little ones coloring on it.
*Mr. Johnson, my 7th grade math teacher who pushed me to move into 8th Grade Algebra early when I never thought I was capable of it. (I will also never forget when my name was drawn in assembly for a reading contest and I got to shave half of his beard off!)
*Mrs. Staudt, my High School English Teacher who gave me extra time to complete my assignments when she knew that I was up late, because I had worked until midnight at McDonald’s for three nights in a row.

I have debated whether or not to share this with you, because of how personal it is, but still felt compelled to do so. If it were not for great teachers like you, I would not be where I am today. If we as adults don’t see the potential in every child and truly believe that every child can learn, then how can we expect them to have hope and see the potential in themselves? We have to look at them and see what we want them to become.

Photo Credit: CC License shared by David Thiel

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Larry Fliegelman

    Wow! This is awesome, PrincipalJ.

    You were so lucky to have a few teachers who cared about you. I know that you have students who are so lucky to have you as their principal.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Anonymous

    Great column. We all know so many children with similar experiences, it was inspiring to read the impact teachers can have on their futures. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Nancy C

    “Every Child can Learn!” and so true and we need to remember those words. The phrase reminds me of Angela Maiers’ “You Matter” video where she says every child is a genius..we just need to tell them…let them know we believe in them.

    You shared such a powerful and personal story. It shows you understand the importance of having teachers who believe in you…who see there may be circumstances beyond a child’s control and who will go out of their way to help that child learn. So glad you had those teachers who made the difference like you surely are in your district.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. henriksenlearning


    First of all, you are an amazing educator and leader. Teachers need to realize that there are many people around them who “beat the odds.” They need to know this so that they truly understand the difference they make each and every day for their students.

    We have very similar stories. I used to be ashamed of how I grew up. I used to hold my stories close to me. Like it was my little secret. I thought that people would judge me negatively because of it, like people had for much of my growing up. I now realize, however, that it was truly a gift I need to share so that others truly understand what is possible for every single child. We can not give up, we must believe and do our best to be difference-makers.

    Thank you for sharing your story.


    Thanks for being real by showing students/staff we are real human beings. It helps us create true connections and deepen engagement. You have a great story to hang your hat on. You beat the odds of that deck of cards! Inspiring!

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