Kevin Carroll plays a lot of roles. He was one of ISTE's 2014 keynote speakers. He is the author of the Red Rubber Ball series of books. He is an agent for social change and an evangelist for physical and creative play. And he would like to apply to be your CEO.
According to Carroll, CEO stands for "chief encouragement officer" — someone who offers support for following your dreams and holds you accountable when your enthusiasm or faith starts to flag. Carroll's CEO was a neighbor he called Miss Lane, and he credits her with turning his life around in his youth. When Miss Lane died last year, he took up her mantle and made it his personal mission to become a CEO for others.
And it's not just talk. Carroll lives his message. A lifelong lover of reading, he teamed up with the Gates Foundation to put computers in every public library in the United States, and he gets a library card in every city he visits. He speaks at schools around the world because he believes that educators have more power than anyone else to shape the next generation. And at ISTE, he asked for a personal meeting with the ISTE Emerging Leaders — young educators already accomplish amazing things in their classrooms — so that he could offer his services to them as their personal CEO. As part of this no-strings-attached offer, the young educators can call, text or email him anytime for advice, support and resources to fuel their personal passion projects. He will even Skype with their students.
Carroll took questions from the Emerging Leaders and offered words of advice that he hopes will reach all educators:
Connect, connect, connect.
As social animals, we are all hardwired to make connections. That's a good thing, because none of us can do it all on our own. "Get access to people like me," he recommends. "Build that network around you. There are lots of things I can help support you with, because sometimes you just need that."
Pay it forward.
It's an equation: You get what you need from others, and when you have the chance, you give back to those in need without expecting anything in return. For educators, the beneficiaries of your gifts are often your students. "You're the next the wave, the next CEOs," Carroll told the young educators. "You might never get to hear the story of the successes," but you can trust that you are making a difference.
Consciously choose where to put your energy.
Because it is your responsibility to give unconditionally, you have to know how to fill your own bucket.
"Your energy has got to be good, because it requires a lot of energy," Carroll says. "You should know what replenishes your energy, and you should keep it readily available, because you're going to need it."
Sustaining your energy requires finding clarity, maintaining discipline and keeping a laser focus on what Carroll calls "what you are all about." For him, that's "books, balls and betterment." So look inside, find your true gifts and passions, and say no to the many distractions that will get in the way of your dreams, whether that's an unfulfilling job or a night zoning out in front of the TV.
You don't have to give up what you enjoy, however. In fact, Carroll says you must find the things that sustain you. For him, it's playing his cello, eating dark-chocolate sea-salt caramels and doing exercises that make him sweat and help him be present, like yoga and running.
Use stories to reach others.
We all have something that will reach us — even the difficult administrator who doesn't want to let you try something new, the legislator who wants to deny funding for education and the child who acts out in class. Finding the key to their hearts, Carroll insists, is as simple as asking for their story. Find out what matters to them and be resourceful enough to ensure your mutual needs are met. "Every single one of us has a story: crucibles, adversity, challenges, obstacles," he says. "You have to find a way to appeal to that person who has decision-making power. If you can appeal to their human part, I know there's a way. Find out what sparks them."
Take responsibility for inspiring your students .
As an educator, it is your job to find and feed your students' passions. "We have to ask them, 'What are you inspired by? What are you passionate about?''" Carroll says. "And when you know what inspires them, you can sprinkle a little magic dust on it. You're going to inspire our makers, our dreamers, our doers. And they're going to be dynamic."
Be a fighter, not a victim .
Yes, teaching is hard. Life is hard. "You could give up, but that's the easy way out," Carroll says. "I always say obstacles can become opportunities. It's just in the way you look at it. And that's a choice we have every single day. We can fight for what we want, or we can surrender to, 'Oh, that's just the way we do things.'"
If you heard Carroll's keynote, you know that one of the things he is all about is physicality. When he was young, "taking it out on the ball" was what saved him, because when he was done exercising, "all the worry swirling in my head was gone. The only thing I could hear is my heavy breathing."
That's why he's a supporter of STEAM, where the A stands for both art and activity. If your students can't sit still, don't punish them — give them an outlet. Let them play, and that will help them learn.
When Carroll installed a 15-foot-tall red rubber ball in various locations throughout his hometown of Portland, Oregon, he observed that many adults didn't even notice it. Unforunately, when we're not in the moment, we miss the things that could light us up.
Your students need your presence too. Don't just go through the motions. They will be able to tell, and you'll lose their trust, respect and attention. "It's tribal in there!" he says of the classroom. "They can smell fear, can't they? It's always on the edge of chaos. You have to own it."
Use technology as a means, not an end.
Carroll thinks that technology has vast potential — but it's all about the humans who use it. Your students, he says, "are going to take all this technology and breakthroughs and things we have no idea are coming, and they are going to find ways to advance humanity with it," Carroll said. "It's not going to trump us, though. We're the engine and the fuel. It's just there to amplify our humanity."
Carroll's message clearly resonated with the Emerging Leaders. Young Educator Network scholarship recipient Abby Hernandez, for one, plans to take Carroll up on his offer to contact him for support and advice.
The English as a second language teacher from Woodstock, Georgia, has a dream of partnering on a book about the Mexican immigration experience among students. "A lot of teachers have a subconscious bias, mainly about illegal immigration, against Hispanic students that really affects them," she says. "People don't understand the dangers and the trials their families have to go through. I've heard people say, 'They don't have a right to be here.' Making them aware of what their students have to go through would help. It's a big dream."
She hopes Carroll can help her make that dream a reality, and she is eager to pay it forward.