Jul 26, 2013

The Seventh Annual Inspirations List: 2013

Though this years list of of heroes developed gradually over the course of the year, each individual name came to me quickly. Three I know well, two I've never met. But all five I  instantly knew would make this years list.

It's a wide-ranging group, this quintet of inspirational people in my life.  From a world-class surfer to a world-class teacher, from a working mom to a standout student to gregarious gentleman in many ways they couldn't be more different from each other.  But one thing these four men and one woman have in common:  they have inspired me, motivated me, and made my life brighter and--if I can rise to their example--better as well.

As always each person on this list will be invited to attend the annual Heroes Reception that my students and I will be hosting early next year.  They will be joined by up to 95 other inspirational individuals nominated by my students as their heroes at an elegant evening in honor of the heroes among us.

My heroes for 2013 are:

Garrett McNamara
Dr. Todd Whitaker
Tasheet Wallang
Marc Lavalas
Heather Rice

Garrett McNamara
I'm inspired by his search for the next big wave

They say there is a time for everything.  But for a guy like Garrett McNamara the timeline so many others are on doesn't apply.  In a week, I'll be forty and for many people, that number is the pinnacle--after that you're "over the hill."  The body isn't what it once was.  It's too late to change. The time to act is when you're young and blah, blah, blah. I even found myself wondering if there was still time left for me to do great things in my life.  And then I saw this picture in Time magazine:

I was so struck by this dramatic image of man surfing a record-breaking 100 ft wave that I decided to do a little research on the insane surfer tackling this monster.  I expected to find some dude in his mid-twenties and instead I found Garrett McNamara, 45 years old and one of the top big wave surfers in the world.  This is a guy five or six years older than me and far from over the hill--instead, he's still climbing, still hungry for that peak that no one else has summitted.  Far from in the twilight of his career, McNamara is on the hunt for new accomplishments, bigger waves, the outer limits of what can be done on a board in the midst of the sea at its most powerful.  In Garrett McNamara I see what I want to be as I enter the fourth decade of my life: passionate, dedicated, not wrapping it up but just getting started.  If there is a time for everything, then right now is the time to catch the biggest wave yet.

Todd Whitaker
I'm inspired by his compassionate, common-sense approach to teaching

"How did I never think of this when I've known this all along?"  I have that feeling a lot when I read Dr. Todd Whitaker's books or hear him speak.  The man is a common sense genius.  Treat people with respect and decency.  The goal is to get students to learn and grow, and in the context of classroom management, to change bad behavior.  All obvious right?  What's not so obvious is how many things we teachers do in our classrooms everyday that are actually antithetical to those goals, and that's where Dr. Whitaker's genius comes in.  In his books including "What Great Teachers Do Differently" and "What Great Principals Do Differently" as well as his seminars, Whitaker breaks down common classroom practices that are often doing the opposite of what we intend,  ideas like "start with the positive when delivering bad news" or "lectures are a poor instructional strategy".  Even better he shows what the very best teachers are doing that makes a difference.  And the best thing about all of this is that he delivers his lessons with such humor, humility, and respect that you're not just motivated to change but inspired to believe that you can.  I find many books by teaching gurus to be actually a little overwhelming and even depressing: "How can I ever do all of this?" I find myself thinking.  But every time I pick up a Whitaker book, I put it down feeling inspired and encouraged that I can really do this.  I can be more than good teacher, I can be a great one.

Tasheet Wallang
I'm inspired by his transformation

Tasheet has always been an amazing young man.  It just took him--and a lot of the people around him--a little while to figure that out. Tasheet had about as rough a start as any kid I've ever seen when he arrived at CAA midway through his fifth grade year.  Peers, teachers, principal, parents--he seemed to clash with them all and there were many that would have dismissed not just Tasheet, but his entire class, who as a group were infamous in our school.  But those people would have been wrong.  This rough-around-the-edges, rowdy group transformed themselves in their final year at CAA becoming a success story like nothing I've ever seen outside the movies.  And Tasheet led the way.

My favorite thing this past year was to watch Tasheet lead in our morning worship.  This guy, who might later that day be reprimanded for being too loud in the hallway or get involved in another spat with the class president, was, for the moment, transformed.  He spoke with ease and confidence, and often at length, about his real experience as a struggling, growing Christian.  He preached a gospel we saw being lived out, warts and all, everyday.  In Tasheet I saw myself--and all of us: far from perfect, still prone to fall, but still growing and transforming nonetheless by the grace of God.  I often privately referred to my class this year as the twelve disciples (for most of the year there were actually twelve), and among them, Tasheet is like Peter at the end of the gospels, and just as Acts is about to get started, with the best still to come.

Marc Lavalas
I'm inspired by his good cheer

Marc always seems happy to see you, ready with a handshake and a hug, if you'll let him. His positive attitude and joyful approach to life is unforced and genuine, and that makes him a pleasure to be around. I've known Marc for four years and in that time I've never known him to have an unkind word to say about anyone, never known him to get negative or gossip, never known him to complain. He has a ready smile, a natural laugh, and a welcoming spirit.  Marc seems to have taken Jesus at His word, "that My joy may be in you and your joy may be full."   As a result, I find that not only does he always seem happy to see me, I'm always gladdened to see him.

Heather Rice
I'm inspired by her humor and honesty.
Photo Credit: Bryan Storey

I don't know how she does it.  When I say that I don't mean, I don't know Heather Rice manages to be wildly successful  photographer and wrangle three energetic boys (though I don't know how she does that either).  There are many women who manage a similar balancing act though few do it with the candid humor and unvarnished grace that Heather does.   But what amazes me about Heather is her ability to be so frank about the trials and triumphs of daily life and yet somehow remain so funny, encouraging, and just plain enjoyable.  I've never met anyone who could turn a gripe into a laugh-out-loud anecdote that improbably leaves me feeling a little brighter.  Heather is the one exception to my rule about telling it like it is, and I think that's because she has a genuine love and compassion for others, she doesn't take herself too seriously, she loves to laugh, and she's made it a point to live her life to the fullest.  I've known Heather Rice for more than twenty years and I've been pleased that our casual acquaintance in high school has developed into a lifelong friendship. I may not know how she does it, but I'm just glad she's doing it and sharing her journey with us.

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