Uniting Around Shared Commitments

By Dr. Michael Johnson, Commissioner, Alaska Department of Education & Early Development

The past couple of weeks have been a blast. Graduation season comes with invites to attend those special ceremonies that celebrate milestones in the lives of our students. I had the pleasure of participating in several fun events across the state. Graduation is the most optimistic event of the year in our communities, and it was inspiring to witness our students celebrate their own futures.

Whether it is a graduation, promotion, field day, or just the conclusion of one year and the anticipation of the next – whatever the gathering, nobody celebrates the arrival of summer like Alaskans!

For most everyone involved in our system of public education, I hope the last year included an introduction to the Alaska Education Challenge’s “call to action.” Dozens of school boards across the state have adopted three shared commitments for improving educational experiences for all of our students. It is exciting to see how unity creates energy and momentum.

The Alaska’s Education Challenge call-to-action starts with three shared commitments:

  1. Increase Student Success;
  2. Cultivate Safety and Well-being; and
  3. Support Responsible and Reflective Learners

With the arrival of summer comes a unique opportunity to enjoy a pause in the daily grind and spend some extra time thinking and pondering lessons learned and goals yet to be achieved. The three commitments provide a very useful framework for this reflection that should take place during the refreshment and restoration of an Alaskan summer.

First, what will each of us do this summer to increase our own learning? I have a stack of books to read. I’m also looking forward to attending a conference that includes an agenda full of learning opportunities. What’s your plan? Is it journaling in order to process a challenging school year? Is it taking a class? Is it an extended visit with a friend to listen, learn, and share together ideas for building a stronger team? The important thing is to be purposeful to increase your own learning success.

The second commitment is one that we all neglect far too often. School boards have an important responsibility in modeling and communicating the importance of cultivating safety and well-being. Summers in Alaska can hold many dangers that correspond to the adventures we undertake. Let’s all be purposeful in our vocal reminders to be safe, especially to our youth. But, let’s not just be vocal, let’s also be exemplary. Many of you have worked excessively long hours over the course of the school year. Summer is a time for you to focus on your own well-being. We all need rest. Our students need to see what cultivating safety and well-being looks like in our lives. Let’s show them this summer.

Last, and maybe foundational to the first two commitments, is our duty to support responsible and reflective learners. For board members and educators, the school year often does not make space for reflection. For our students, summer is a time to test their sense of responsibility. Let’s not arrive in August without the benefit of a renewed sense of responsibility that can only come from careful and wise reflection.

If we are going to improve our system of public education, it will start with a call-to-action that unites us around shared commitments. If we are going to share three common commitments, it will start with each of us applying those commitments in our own lives. I hope summer gives you an opportunity to do just that.

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The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association of Alaska School Boards. AASB welcomes diverse perspectives and civil discourse. To submit a Guest Column for consideration, see our Guest Column Guidelines and email your 400-1000 word submission HERE.