“It’s not really an achievement gap. It’s a belief gap.” Those words of Dr. Steve Perry stuck with me. He spoke at the KnowledgeWorks’ Experience Conference. An educator and former Principal, Dr. Perry emotionally described the relationship with a former student and the powerful lesson he learned from him.
“You don’t like me,” exclaimed the young man, walking away from yet another encounter with his principal. Taken back with guilt, Dr. Perry walked towards him, knowing the young man knew what he didn’t want to admit – he didn’t like him.
What Dr. Perry realized at that moment, was that that young man represented a past. A past that Dr. Perry soon wanted to squash as it was filled with regret, disappointment and his own feelings of resentment for kids, folks in his community that was the opposite of what he strived for every day. A perseverance, resilience and determination that he didn’t see in this young man, or more perhaps, couldn’t see because of his own background and filter in which he looked upon this young man.
An educator, this student’s principal, Dr. Perry said what he needed to. “Man, I do like you.” And from that day forward, Dr. Perry worked harder to make a connection, to understand what was going on in that young man’s world and to help provide support, connections, and understanding as this young man navigated his remaining time at school, showing him just how much he did care – how much he believed in him. And that young man did the same. Step by step, he showed interest, respect towards his fellow classmates and teachers. He worked harder and he graduated. He is now a math teacher and football coach at Dr. Perry’s school.
The Power in Belief
Over the last few weeks, I have proudly watched a former colleague and now Principal of Carroll Magnet Middle School of the Wake County Public School System in Raleigh, NC, be featured in People Magazine, NBC Nightly News, and our local news outlets lifting up her unique approach. She’s visiting every single one of her students – making a “house call.”
And while home visits aren’t new, the power of belief can begin with these kinds of actions. For this principal, it’s been an opportunity to get to know her students and families, to engage them in their comfort zone, and to bridge any cultural gaps that might exist. It’s had a lasting effect.
“To have Ms. McWilliams get to know us on a personal level empowers (my daughter) to do better in school because she feels that much more supported.”
“She’s helped me to be me. I do have a potential.”
Not only do parents believe that the school cares and that the principal and staff together, want to help their child(ren) to become more, but so do the students. Students want to know they are liked and supported. That someone is proud of them, and that someone believes in them. For it is the power in belief that a child can see themselves in the future, imagine the possibilities, and have the resilience and perseverance to go beyond.