I recently returned from a trip to Chicago where I attended the largest convening of Hope Street Group state teacher fellows ever assembled. Teachers from Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Hawaii all assembled for two days so that we could share ideas on how to better collect and disseminate teacher voice in our respective states. Other than spending a couple of days with some of the most energizing solutions-oriented teachers in the country, one of the highlights of my trip was listening to our keynote speaker, Allan Blue.
Mr. Blue has a strong liberal arts background and majored in English and theater when he was in college. After teaching both of these subjects at the high school and community college levels for a number of years, he landed a job in the technology field quite by accident. A friend of his offered him a job as the creative director of a brand-new website called relationships.com. Haven't heard of it? That's okay, because neither has anyone else. It was a big flop. However, that experience led to his position of co-founding PayPal and, eventually, LinkedIn.
When asked about his advice for high school seniors, Blue suggested that they get work-like experience--meaning either job experience or volunteer work. He also advised that seniors should focus on how they can help others without expecting anything in return. Having a genuine interest in the success of others not only improves the fabric of society, but it is also an excellent way to learn how to be successful yourself. His final piece of advice for them is to learn how the workplace functions. After all, in order to move up the career ladder and experience the American Dream, it's crucial to see that the ladder exists, has rungs on it, and is waiting to be climbed.
Blue also discussed that what makes Silicon Valley successful is the underlying culture of innovation where people aren’t afraid to try new things and to fail. This is coupled with a constant blending of different companies, where people frequently leave one company to join another, share ideas with each other, and improve the newly-formed company. “Innovation happens,” he said, “when you put talent, opportunity, and a safe place to fail together.”
The fundamental theme of Allen Blue’s personal experiences and his advice to others is that relationships matter. He got his big break in the technology field because a friend observed his creativity and thought it could be channeled to help his internet business. As a result, Mr. Blue is now worth tens of millions of dollars. His advice to high school seniors all centers around building relationships. Silicon Valley’s success is hinged upon people knowing and sharing ideas with each other with the common goal of continuous innovation.
The education field has much to learn from this. Teachers, school buildings, and even entire school systems notoriously function completely independent of each other. Case in point: Coffee County has three school districts and none of them collaborate with each other. They all share the common goal of educating the best that Coffee County has to offer; yet, the educators at each of these schools never share one in-service session and there’s no sharing of ideas, unless teachers reach out to each other on their own, which is a rare occurrence. The directors of these school systems have built relationships and are on friendly terms; it’s time for the same opportunity to be extended to teachers--at least, if Dr. McFall, Dr. Lawson, and Mr. Wilkerson are truly serious about providing the best opportunity for students to prosper. We are all part of Team Coffee County, and a lack of consolidation among the school systems should not prevent the unification of ideas and best practices.