Episode 86: The Source for Positive Change

Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you had more education? In this episode Jimmy interviews Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters about the role education, formal and informal, plays in the lives of people.

Episode Keys

  • Why lifetime learning is needed to truly stay ahead of the marketplace for your career.
  • How changing the approach to teaching can bring about more positive changes to students.
  • When you should consider learning new skills and what the outcomes mean to your life.
  • Who needs a mentor and the power unleashed by using a mentor in your life.

Podcast Transcript

Good morning! Oh you are in for a treat today my friends. Across this great globe we live in today, there is one fundamental tool that if you can get this tool mastered, if you can participate in the lifetime engagement of this one tool that we’re going to discuss today, you can change not your life only, but the lives of everyone you touch. Hey, good morning this is Jimmy Williams with Live a Life by Design your Monday morning moments of motivation are just after this introduction.

You know it’s been truly our pleasure to bring you some of the greatest guests that you will have on a podcast. They are passionate about their areas of expertise. These are areas that as your lowly co host, I just love to talk about, because these are my passions as well. You know, I have this saying in life, and you may have heard it many times on this podcast, but I would rather calm down a fanatic, than warm up a corpse. So thank you for being with us today. This guest today has been a lifelong friend of mine. I’ve known his family, I’ve known him. I’ve watched him become such a man of character, leadership in his profession. I don’t want to do anything that would take away from our discussion, so I’m going to leave it at that. But I do want to say a couple of things on his bio that I think is impressive, not just to me, but I know you will find this as well.

This guest today is the current Oklahoma Secretary of Education for Gov. Kevin Stitt. Now that in itself should tell you he knows what he’s doing. But he also has played a role in other educational avenues, such as teaching at the public school level, teaching AP History courses. He even had the one idea that if he involved your humble co host, in some of his learning by presenting to his History Club, a WWII if you will play, regarding the two leaders of the European faction, Sir Churchill and the illustrious Adolf Hitler. That we could educate these children. We’re gonna talk a little bit about that in our interview. I think I may have scared his History Club. We’ll come back to that in a moment. Ladies and gentleman, it is my honor to introduce to you, my good friend Secretary Ryan Walters. Good morning, Ryan!

RW: Good morning, thank you so much for having me and thanks for that introduction there. I’m excited to be on this morning.

JW: I’ve got to tell you friend, not nearly excited as we are. I’ve got to tell you, you’ve got to first help me with some things, you know. First of all, I know you’re a younger gentleman in your 30s, but don’t you still require some sleep?

RW: Hey, you know, there’s a lot going on right now, so I’m excited to be involved in the education space. There’s just so many moving parts. And there’s so much going on. So, you know, I get some sleep. I get some sleep sometimes.

JW: So, let me if I could, folks, for our subscribers and listeners, let me just give you a very brief thumbnail sketch of his bio. Ryan has taught eight years as a high school history teacher in McAlester High School, that’s here in Oklahoma, and during his time there he taught Advanced Placement courses in World History, US History, and US Government. And then, if that didn’t happen to top off his day, he’s the current CEO of Every Kid Counts Oklahoma. And simultaneously teaches AP courses in US History at Millwood High School and McAlester High School in a pilot course through the Oklahoma Supplemental Online Course Program. And as CEO of Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, Ryan is empowering teachers, parents and community leaders to improve Oklahoma’s education system for all students. Wow, Ryan, I’m tired just reading all of that. Wow.

RW: Yes, you know, I mean, so with the organization, you know, what we’re really doing is a lot of parent advocacy. Teacher, educator advocacy, and community leaders to just get more the way we look at it is, you’ve got these three groups, right? You’ve got teachers that are there on the ground. They’re working the classrooms, they understand what it means to educate students. They get the day to day of it. Parents, they have, who knows the students better than their parents? The parents are the aspirations of their child. They know what works with their child. They know the unique individual needs of their child. And community leaders and business leaders, on the tail end of it, they see the end product. And they know what they want from the education system, and so what we’ve been working on with Every Kid Counts Oklahoma is bring those three together and creating this voice of how do we improve our schools? How do we empower educators? How do we do all this? And so, we’ve really enjoyed our work there with those groups.

JW: Man, I tell you, that is exciting stuff. And I have seen it here on ground zero in our state and it is making great strides in the educational system of our state. I want to give you a quick story, Ryan, you may not know this, but I’m a little bit older than you. I’m about the age of your dad. And that’s very young folks, if you’re listening, very very young by the way. What I want to say to you is Mrs. Smith. Now if I say Mrs. Smith to you without context you’re not going to know what I really mean, are you? Right?

RW: No, sir.

JW: So, I’m gonna give you a hint of what Mrs. Smith did for me and my life. Picture this now, this would have been 1971. Now I know what you’re saying, that’s a long time ago. But in 1971 Mrs. Smith was my first grade teacher at a small public school, class A school in Leflore County Oklahoma. Very, very small town called Cameron, Oklahoma. Mrs. Smith that day wrote on the chalkboard. I got ya there, chalkboard. I bet you’ve got that smartboard and all that good stuff? Right?

RW: That’s right, that’s right.

JW: So this is like history man. This is in the making here. So Mrs. Smith wrote on the board, lifetime goals. Those two words. In the first grade, I really didn’t grasp what she meant until she came up to me and she said you can be anything in life you want to be if you’ll work hard to get there and stay educated. That was powerful to me. Isn’t that what you’re really doing for the state of Oklahoma? Importance of education on our future?

RW: That’s it. I mean, you know, so, I think obviously a wonderful teacher there. And you know, I think every child in Oklahoma needs a teacher like that. Every child needs that person that says, listen to me, you’re good enough. You’re capable, you can follow, you’re life is an open book. I love working with young people because young people. Once you get them on fire and you get them to realize the power that they have to make those decisions in their life on what path they go down, it’s electric. You know, what breaks my heart is to see students that get into despair. You see the depression rates. You see teen suicides. And it is just such an incredible heartbreaking statistic, because you think about you have your whole life in front of you and to have teachers that get in there with students that empower them in that way and talk to them about you can literally, with hard work, and again we’re firm believers in high expectations on students. Hey students, we’re gonna hold you to this bar because we know you can do it. There’s power in that. The best teachers I had, the best coaches I had held me to a really high standard. And there were times where I thought, I can’t do that. You’re asking way too much of me. And I look back and go, thank goodness that they held me to that and it was because they cared about me. They truly cared about me, and so, what a great story there, Jimmy, we hear stories like that across the state and it just warms your heart to hear these teachers that are willing to tell students the hope that’s in front of them and what they can do with their lives. It’s such an empowering message.

JW: Oh, absolutely. So, I’ve got to tell you, Ryan, I know you’re a prolific lifetime learner as I, and one of my most favorite quotes about the power of education comes from, of course, President Nelson Mandela. You know a gentleman that spent 20 plus years of his professional life in prison for his beliefs in freedom. This is powerful folks, he says, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Don’t you agree with that?

RW: Absolutely. I don’t think, you know, I don’t think there’s anything, you know, we talk about a lot of issues and society. I think so much of it depends on, you know, the studies have shown education, with a good proper education, it’s such an empowering tool. You talk about solving so much of our issues with poverty. Criminal justice reform. We look at health issues. All the studies show that again, with reading proficiency, math proficiency, and it even goes beyond that. Again, there’s a lot of research that’s going into the power of hope. What is hope? How do you get hope in young people? And you just look at your life expectancy goes up. You’re much more willing to not find yourself in poverty. You’re much more willing to end up in a family dynamic with a good educational background. And so, I again, it’s hard to overstate the power of education in society and its impact on, you know, our future. You really, I don’t know that you can overstate it.

JW: You know, as I said just a moment ago, I’m a lifetime learner. I felt as though if I could learn and continue to grow as a person through wisdom and knowledge and making those types of relationships with the educational world that I had an opportunity to seek, as Mrs. Smith said, whatever I dreamed in life. And I’d like for us, today, to focus on a couple of areas of what you’re doing with Every Kid Counts. Let’s talk about what’s the typical child, now of course we’re not going to mention any names, but what’s the typical demographic of a child that you see facing challenges in our state and what can we do as citizens of the world to help the children and wherever they may be situated as listeners today?

RW: Yea, let me, I’ll start with, you know, I think that it’s, when we look around the state and we, you know, look at the student population and meet students from across the state. Of course you see the generational poverty and you see students that have a difficult time getting out of it. And don’t see a path out of it. And don’t think college or certain careers are for them. Or think this is, again, that they’re a lot, that they’re not going to be able to jump out of this. And so you’ve got that as a major issue initially, and that’s where I think that those high expectations are very important. Regardless of background. Again, I see coaches that do a great job at this, right? You see coaches and some of our best sports teams, they’re not coming to the most affluent areas. You know, they get in there and they’re great, they’re motivational. They usually have some kind of character dynamic. You know, I love studying good coaches, it’s just like studying good military leaders, right? There’s such an overlap there.That they say, hey, you know, it’s about building a culture. It’s about building, you know, if I can get you to buy into teamwork, if I can get, and I’m a former basketball coach, right, so if I can get you to buy into teamwork. If I can get you to putting others before you. If I can get you to buy into doing the right thing. If I can get you to buy into doing what’s hard because guess what, sometimes what most pays off and what’s the best thing for us as a team is hard work. And it requires some self sacrifice from you and dedication. If I get you there, the xs and os, that’ll all take care of itself. And you see coaches that do this, that are able to really get in there with students in poverty. With these students that sometimes have a hard time seeing that motivation. Because for them, they’re going, look I don’t know, I don’t know if I see a path out. You know, and so I think that that’s something that we see a lot. And I’ll say another point and I mentioned this earlier. One of the, you hear a lot about sometimes students that are frustrated with school that are behavior problems, and again, you know, you look at that and you peel that back a little bit about, you know, that’s a manifestation of a lot of frustrations there that go on at home. That could go on at school. I also get really concerned about student apathy. You know, a lot of times I see as a teacher, I would have the student that would come in angry and come in frustrated and over time I could talk to them, work with them, and we could, which you know, a lot of times some of the students that were really tough to reach was the student that was super disengaged. You know, didn’t, what does this matter to me? How does this make a difference to me? And we’ve got to win them over. You know, we’ve got to make sure that students see the impact education can have on their individual life. And again, this isn’t, and again, I know I’m preaching to a student of history here, so I know that you understand that at a great level, but when we get young people to realize this is not some theory that doesn’t apply to your life, this is information that you can utilize to live a more fulfilling life. I think that’s where you start seeing, you can turn the corner with these students. But those are broadly speaking the concerns of students in poverty. The concerns of students that don’t see education as “for them” or impactful to them. Those are some of the things that I think are some of those barriers that we’ve got to figure out ways around, get the most out of our students.

JW: No absolutely, agree with all of that. And one thing I can suggest too, you recommended something about a student of history, and now I’m not nearly to your level my friend, but I’ve got to be honest with you. I love to read, study history. And let’s talk a little bit about the fun things that we do with education that keep children engaged. You talk about that lack of engagement. Let’s talk a little bit about how eloquently you quoted Sir Winston Churchill as, of course, being the victor of the European Campaign, along with the allies. Did any of your kids in that history club like have to need counseling after I got through with my Adolf Hitler discussion?

RW: Oh boy, that was, that was quite an event. So right, so I kind of get up and gave the, you know, and again, this was something that to take it away from just a textbook reading or just a general overview, you know, this was an event that we did that I stepped into the role of this is what was going on in Winston Churchill’s head. And all of these cabinet meetings, when he’s in his war cabinet, when they’re looking at what the Germans are doing. When they’re talking through how do we move forward. What does this look like, especially when it looks like the deck is stacked against you. What was that mindset? And I, and Jimmy was telling us, again from the other side, you know, how, what is, how is Hitler continuing to keep his population motivated. What is his, you know, driving force here, you know, because again, those two I think gave us a great example and this is why, you know, you and I collaborated on this. For young people to see. And I love the dichotomy between those two men. Both of them had fathers that weren’t engaged in their life. And it bothered them for the rest of their life. And to me it’s always great, I love to kind of highlight that, so both of them as youths were troubled by that fact. Right? And I see that a lot today, right? Students in homes where the father is absent. And you can see young men, you can just see it all over them. I mean, as a coach, it really has a terrible impact on young people to not have the male mentor. And you see them, both of them, and one of them decided that he was going to go on and try to work through the best in people. And wanted to further on his family’s name and had pride in his family, and had pride in his country. And then the other guy decided to play on the worst of people. Decided to play into hatred. To play into fear. And to do this for this selfish gain and again, the paths that these two men take when faced with a somewhat similar situation. I think it was a great case study. And I think that we put students in the shoes, and again, you were a great actor that day. So that also helped. But it really did, you know, we tried to get students into that mindset of going, this isn’t just something in a text. Something that’s completely unrelatable, you know? These are decisions that human beings, just like you and I made. And you see the course that they played in history and the different paths that those two men chose.

JW: And the point of all of this discussion, for our listeners, was the fact that education. If you think about the headmaster of the school of which at that time, very elitist Churchill. His father was serving as a prominent politician. His own headmaster calls his father in, Churchill’s father, and says this boy will never learn anything. This same man became an artist. A sculptor. He became a world leader. He became knighted by the Queen of England. He also became, if you think about it, and author of volumes of books. So for someone that said they can’t learn. And this is what I want to challenge you with today, Mr. Secretary is how can we get to each child that learns differently when we have limited resources? What do we need to empower our teachers, our professors, our instructors in some way to help reach everyone at their level?

RW: That’s a great question. And that’s where I think we’ve got to ask those questions. I think we’ve got to be, you know, I think there’s some times, in everything in life, but I see in education a ton that we do things a certain way because we’ve done them a certain way. And there’s not a great explanation as to things. I mean, you know, just simply took, you look at the class hours and you look at our class schedule. Well this goes back to the early 1800, why you have summers off, well it was for harvest. I mean, go back to the early 1800s, now I’m not, again, you know, hey if we want to have summers off and everything I’m not saying that we don’t, but what I’m saying is you just look at so much of the structure of education that we’ve done it for a long time. We’ve done it a certain way and we need to start asking some questions and I think your premise right there is the right one. What is best for students? You know, what can we do to grow student learning. Grow student engagement. Because so much of today, the information is out there. You know, I made a shift as a teacher my second year, you know I started off, just like hey, I’m going to walk in everyday and I’m going to lecture to students for 45 minutes. I’m a history guy, I love it. I could talk it all the time, anybody that’s been around me knows, hey, if you get me sidetracked on, you know Civil War, Winston Churchill or European History, there you go. I’m off and running. But, you know, I got about halfway through the year and I’m going some kids love it. Some kids hate listening to me talk all day. Some kids are with me for 20 minutes and they’re not. And so I really began as a teacher to say, look, I’ve got to do this in different ways. I’ve got to really engage. I’ve got to get groups working together. I’ve got to get them talking. I’ve got to get them engaged. I’ve got to get them involved. I’ve got to get them moving around. I’ve got to get them looking at this from different angles that might appeal to them in different ways. And it took me taking this kind of critical view of myself to say, look, I’ve got to do better. And I’ve, and it’s not a, you know, and when I say this about the broader education system, it’s not I don’t mean that to sound like an attack or anything like that. I mean that to say, what’s most important is our young people. That’s the whole reason we have an education system. It is for our young people. And so what is best for them? And I think that we’ve got to take looks at how do we train teachers. What does the school day look like? What is the curriculum look like? How do we judge student learning? You know, assessment tools. I think this is a constant conversation. You know, because again, they talk about you know, it matters what you measure because what you measure is going to be, of course, kids, it always kind of drove me crazy, but you’ve got to remember, three days in guess what I get, is this going to be on the test? Am I going to need to know this? Well, guess what, if the answer is no you can imagine what that means for that student. So you have to constantly be, you’ve got to assess correctly. We’ve got to look at that. We need to look at how do we make sure that, again, we have students, every student is different. Every student is unique. Every student has unique talents. Unique skill set. At the same time I think there’s certain things we need. Students have to know. I think there’s this baseline of standards they need to know. But we don’t want that to be a ceiling. We want that to be a baseline and we have got to continue to look at the way we assess. Look at the way we train teachers, look at the way our schools are designed. Look at the way our learning, our content curriculum is designed to ensure. But yeah, you know, and you’re gonna hear me talk a lot about reading proficiency and math proficiency. But you know what? I view that as a baseline. That’s not an end goal. That is, we’ve got to get our students there so that they’re going above and beyond and leaping beyond that. And I think that those are some of the conversations we’re really interested in having. And I think the education community is interested in having them. I think broader society, parents, you know they get excited about what their, they get, that’s their son or daughter. You know, they want the world to be open to them. They don’t want a minimum. They want to blow the top off the ceiling. And I think education is prime for that, for that type of reform, for those types of ideas. So that’s kind of where I see that headed.

JW: You know, the key thing about all of this is is the initiative, the understanding and it goes back to that communication between the teacher, instructor, professor, and student sitting in those seats. To that lack of engagement, you said, is one that we have to overcome truly through the creativity of the person transmitting that education to the listener, right? So we can’t just come up and say, you know, I’m not going to say where this happened, but in one of my undergrad courses, I’ve got a masters in law taxation, but in one of my undergrad courses, the professor came in. It was a common course you had to take, came in and simply said, if it’s in the book it’ll be on the exam. You need to read the book. That was the engagement. And I looked at him, and I’m thinking, oh wow, is this how this works in college, my freshman year, I mean, is this how this works? I came from a high school, very small, engaged with us. I mean, the teachers took an actual interest in the child. So this professor came out and said that, and so I just went, naive, I went to his office immediately after class, and I said, “Professor So and So, I need to understand what do you mean if it’s in the book it’s on the test? Are you going to give us something like your syllabus? Do we get something to know what this is about?” He said, “Oh yea, we’ll get that next. He said my first day I just want to shock everyone. You guys are freshman.” And I like what he did in a way and I dislike what he did in a way cause not everyone in that class of 75 people went to see him. Just me. No one else got up and go, what does this mean? And so, you know, at the end of the day too, I love what you said about lifetime education. If I can talk about one thing, it’s lifetime education. Now you and I, and this is not a promotion, they don’t endorse me, I don’t ask for any money from them, but I am a big fan and as you are, The Great Courses. This is such a great platform for people that are, if you will, I’ve read all I’m gonna read cause I’ve got a bachelor’s degree. I’ve got news for you folks. This world is more challenging. It needs you to be at your utmost and your greatest. Get online, they’ve even got some opportunities to take free courses on there if you wish to try them out. Get some kind of, a week or two, listen to them. Make some difference. I love, I’m gonna give you one of my quotes though, Mr. Secretary, it’s by Maya Angelou. This lady had been, again, just like President Nelson Mandela, put through a life altering event all of her life. Did not have money, was not born into money, but she seized the opportunity through education to become greater than what she could have become. She says, “Education is a process that goes on ’til death”, man, I love that, “The moment you see someone who knows she has found the one true way and can call all the others false, then you know you’re in the company of an ignoramus”. Her words, not mine. So, let’s talk a little bit about, what do you see as your vision, and your role as a secretary, as an advisor to the Chief Executive officer of our state. What do you see as your role for Governor Stitt?

RW: Yes, sir, that’s a great question. You know, and so, you know working with the Governor has been great. You know, I mentioned earlier what’s best for kids. You know one of my first policy meetings with him, I had some proposals for him. You know, he looks at me afterwards and the first question he said is, is that what’s best for kids? And I said, you know, yes sir, let me kind of go over it. He goes, I just want to be very clear, do you think that’s the best that we can do for our students? And he has said that multiple times and I just love that approach. That’s been and that’s his heart. That’s where his, that’s his mindset on education that he wants to be very direct and very deliberate about is this the best answer. If it’s not, go back to the drawing board and give me a better one. But I want to know, is this, in your opinion, is this as good as what we can do with this legislation, with this policy or what not. But yea, so as Secretary of Education, I’m his top education advisor, so I get to help the Governor there develop those policies and bring about, you know, a vision for Oklahoma. It’s also a cabinet level position. So there’s this other interesting dynamic, is I’m in a cabinet with the Secretary of Workforce, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Health and Services. And so we get to sit there and it’s great too because while I’m, you know, in my lane here in education, I’m also part of a broader we’ve got, a you know, multiple working acting groups. But, you know, I get to sit there and bend Secretary Arthur’s ear on agriculture and what are we doing in child nutrition, and what can we be doing better? I get to talk to the Secretary of Workforce about that collaboration and that ensuring, and your point earlier about education being kind of this board, it can help in all these areas. Getting all of these individuals into a room and talking about how these different sectors interact and how they affect each other and how you can work together. Has been a tremendous thing to be a part of. I’ve really enjoyed that. And again the Governor’s vision on education is that again, he is a firm believer that there’s nothing holding Oklahoma back from being top 10 in all these categories. And we want to be a top 10 state in education. We want to knock the top off in education. And so we want to take looks at how do we, you know, again, is the way we fund education, can it be can that be improved? Is the way that we have policies surrounding schools, do we have barriers in place for teachers and administrators that need to go? Do we have good transparency so that students parents can see how they’re doing? See how their schools are doing? Is this data good for schools? You know, that’s something else that, you know, we’ve really been talking about lately is we take assessments. We have these standards. Do teachers feel like those assessments and data points are something that’s actionable for them? Can they take that and improve their instruction based upon them? Cause if they can’t, that’s a problem. And so that’s one of the data pieces we’ve been looking at is, are these really reflective and actionable for lawmakers and policy makers, but also for teachers, for school leaders? So those are some of the categories that we’re going to be engaged on. And we’ve got, you know, again, we’ve got big aspirations. We want Oklahoma to be the best in education. I mean, we are, no apologies about that. We’re gonna do what we think, meeting with all of these different leaders. All of these different thought partners. All of these different people in these areas and we are bound and determined to get there.

JW: Outstanding. You’ve got my support. I can assure you of that. Let me ask a very different type of question for you today. Who’s one of your mentors you can provide us today and why are they a mentor and I love this phrase, but here it goes, how did they impact you to become the leader you are today?

RW: So, now that’s a great question. I have, I have several mentors. I’ve got, you know, I’ve got parents that really have always grounded me. They’ve always encouraged me. They’ve always told me, you know, that when I came home in 10th grade, I had this amazing history teacher in 10th grade, that just a switch flipped for me. I mean it was one of those moments where I had, his name was Mr. Horne, he was a US History teacher at McAlester, he passed away a few years ago. Instantly, I’m talking within a week, it just, the way that he described events and the way that he described individuals and made it so practical. It honestly, it did, it took me and opened up the world for me where I began to say, I know people like that. Wait a second. Like I’ve seen things like this play out and I started understanding that through the study of history I can literally understand the world around me, I have a playbook. I can better anticipate what’s gonna happen next because so many of these same issues have played out over time. It was just like this lightbulb moment that I’ve never been able to turn off ever since, right? So, instantly when I came home and was telling my parents how excited I was about history and how I wanted to be a teacher, from the day one I mean it was, go do it! This would be, you would be great, you’d be amazing, now you need to do this and this and this. But they’ve always been incredibly encouraging. You know, of course talk to them daily, and they’ve just been incredible in my life. I also, you know, very, very close to my grandfather. My grandfather served in the Navy. My grandfather is one of these people that just has this incredible perspective. He was a student of history. Mr. Horne turned me on to wanting to be a history teacher. But that love of history, my grandfather would sit around and tell me these stories. And would talk to me about presidents and about things that he had seen. And it just always impacted me to see his thought making, his decision making process in the military. As someone who worked with young people and he always talked to me about, listen, you know, when you’re dealing with young people you have to command respect. Don’t demand it. You know, you’ve got to be the person there that is the true leader that they want to follow you. You know, there is the strict discipline, right? He was in the military, he made that very clear to me, but he also wanted me to realize that it’s a leadership thing. It’s really about the way that you’re commanding them. That’s really where that respect is fostered. So, so much of, those are my, you know, the people that have really been mentors to me. I’ve had several school leaders and teachers that I’ve worked with at McAlester. There were, that have been incredibly impactful to me as well there. So the mentors, those are some of the mentors, you know. You know, one of the things about, I know again you and I keep coming back to history. But I’m often, you know, when I look at Truman’s quote that he said his closest advisor was Plutarch. You know.

JW: Absolutely.

RW: Isn’t that great? He said he’d go to his cabinet and they wouldn’t have an answer for him, so he’d go and read this, you know, Plutarch, Exemplary Lives is an incredible history book. Where in he took the best and worst Romans and compared them to the best and worst Greeks and said look, you can know, kind of like, these different art types and these different types of individuals and you can really learn a lot about people through studying people. Shockingly, right?

JW: Right.

RW: And you know, and to your point, I get on The Great Courses. I read a lot of history, I still do. And it’s always amazing to me of how many times, it’s strange, but I know as history people we get that. But you read somebody and you identify with them. And you see their struggle and you see the issues they’re facing. And it becomes an interesting dynamic that I feel like I can open up a book and I’ve got an advisor. And so those are, you know, got my real life mentors, but you know saying that always makes me think about, you know being engaged in history and being an active reader. It really does help in that perspective.

JW: So, you’re gonna laugh, Ryan, I know you and I share, as you said we’re talking about history today, but we share a love and affection for the Civil War era, the 1861-65 area, and I don’t know that I can see behind you clearly enough, but I believe that’s my favorite president behind you of historic nature. Is that President Abraham Lincoln sitting in his chair in the memorial? Yea.

RW: Yes, sir.

JW: So, let me tell you what I learned from him, and you’re gonna laugh, but he came up a very poor boy in Kentucky, right? And at the end of the day, his father said you don’t have time for education. I need you to “build fences” or haul wood or work, basically so he would actually, it almost sounds terrible like servitude. But he would actually take his son Abraham Lincoln and loan him to other farmers to earn money for the family. That’s how destitute they were. Abraham Lincoln then saw the value of education on his own. What can we do to instill that Abraham Lincoln initiative in children today of wanting to “read by the only light he had”. The fireplace. The only book he had, the bible. Whatever he could get his hands on. He taught himself to read. He taught himself to write, he taught himself to speak. And he became the 16th President of this country, man, how can I help sow those seeds with you as a citizen in the students’ lives today?

RW: That’s a great question, you know, and one of the things that I think has been really interesting in education that is, I always love when I read studies and I go, I’m glad they did a study on that, but I kind of feel like my grandfather told me that like 20 years ago. I mean, that’s kind of, you know, one of these things that’s been interesting in kind of the educational academia has been this concept of grit. Angela Duckworth is a researcher out of the University of Pennsylvania and there the concept of, hey I’ve done these studies and you know what, I think more than based on IQ, more than some standardized tests at a certain level, you know what is the best, kind of like, test or ability to understand how students can be successful, it’s this thing called grit. And she said that’s her prolonged determination over time. That it’s not just this, and she has a grit test and everything else. But you know, again, there’s an old Churchill quote about that as well. Where is talks about, hey you want to talk about a measure for success. It’s this prolonged engagement. It is this perseverance that goes over time, more than intelligence. More than anything else. You’ve got to keep going, you’ve got to keep the fight prolonged. And I see sometimes, and your point with Lincoln, in young people it’s this, kind of we all fall guilty of this, the instant gratification, where hey, you know, and I have that and I have those conversations. I still teach the history courses here to high school students and you know, and I get that from students sometimes. Well, I studied last night and I still didn’t do well. And I go, well, ok, did you just study last night? Yeah, well I just studied last night. Ok, well, let’s study more than that. Let’s talk through it. You know, let’s look at what you’re doing. And you know what, it’s probably not going to just be this easy to turn a switch. Right? You know? Hey, you know it is for some people, but for most of us, you know, we’ve got to work at it, you know. We’ve got to sit here and I think that young people today. I think that we’ve got to continue to preach that hard work. That things pay off and a lot of times the things that really pay off, they take a while, right? It’s not this instant, it’s not that it happens tomorrow, but these really aspirational things that you can do. You can do them, but now let’s also be clear. Cause sometimes they think we say the first part of the message, but we don’t say the second part. We say you can do anything, but then we don’t give them the genuine path or expectations on what it means to get there. And you know I love, I love being the motivator with students. I love talking to them about what they can do. You know, it’s not as fun saying, I’m sorry you’ve got to do better than this. I’m sorry, this is the expectation, and you weren’t there. You can do better. You know? That’s not a fun conversation to have with young people. But it’s a necessary one. And it’s necessary because I was that kid. I was the kid that was gonna, you know, I was gonna, if you didn’t engage me and you didn’t get me super motivated. I probably wasn’t going to work really hard. That was just kind of my personality. But now, if you got me. If you won me over and if I believed in you and I believed in what you were doing I’d run through a wall for you. And you see that about, again, I say that about me. That’s young people in general. If you can get them, and they get it that you care. But they also get why what you’re doing is important to them. I think it makes all the difference in the world. And I think, you know, we talk about this with teachers. But it’s just people in the community. You know, I do, I, I’m, I do, I worry a lot about young people and the dynamic today. Compared to where it was. You know, I think that, you know, you talk about, you know, just boy scouts, you talk about students being involved in sports. Students have mentors all over town. You know, that it was that they were in school. I’m not saying this isn’t gone today, but you have more and more students that, you know they play video games all day, and again, I’m not like an anti video game person. I’m really not, but there’s the isolation that concerns me. There’s the lack of, you now, you see sports programs and things like that that students aren’t as engaged in. So you think, ok, are they getting these role models in the community, where they want to be that role model right? Where they go, this is great, you know, these are people in town that care about me. That wants me engaged that are, I always look at, you know all these parents that are volunteer coaches. What a great thing, right? You’re volunteering to be with young people. You’re talking to, you’re getting to do these life lessons. That’s my favorite part. My favorite part about coaching, and I love kind of the intense moments. I did. You know, I really, um, miss that sometimes, but you know what I miss a lot more than that? Is being able to talk to young people about life. You know, just being able to go, this is hard. We lost. It’s heartbreaking, you know, we thought we were gonna win, you know, we thought, our season was going to continue.

JW: Right.

RW: But you know, what’s really important is that we have each other’s back. What’s really important is all the lessons that we learned here. That hard work does pay off. That you know what, when I tell you I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. And you know, that’s one of those things that as I got a little more age and the coaching. And I know at first, I was like, it kind of sounds weird, but I’d tell the kids I loved them all the time. You know I never knew, and I never knew when it would be, you never knew. That I’ve had students that aren’t with us anymore. And you never know do they hear that? Do they hear that? And I think to have community leaders that are engaged in young people, they see when people are genuine. I mean, you know, I’m, I’ll brag on you. I mean, like, our love, our history club loves when you come around because you’re so genuine, they knew. Like, he cares about us. He’s excited about this. I think it makes all the difference for young people and I think again, when I hear stories about depression and you hear things like that. It’s so heartbreaking and it can make all the difference for adults to go to them and say, you know, you matter, you’re important. You’re important to me, that’s why I’m here. And just your time shows their importance. That you’re willing to do that for them. So, that’s one of those things that I think, as communities we want to continue to do. Is to let young people feel that you are so important to us. We can be a mentor to you. Your life has this tremendous value, I just think the impact of that is really hard to even quantify or think about that, but you know you love those communities that are able to do that and surround their young people.

JW: Oh man that is, I’m getting some goosebumps over here Ryan, cause that’s some powerful information. Powerful story as well. I’m gonna bring this around, I know you’ve got valuable things you’ve got to do today as well, we don’t want to take too much advantage of your kindness. Just tell me the one last thing. If you could leave our listeners with one statement today of advice about education, leadership, leaving a legacy, whatever, what would that one statement of advice be today?

RW: Oh, boy. If I could leave you with one thing, and that is one person can absolutely make a difference. As a matter of fact, if history tells us anything is that people make a difference. That people can have a genuine impact on the world around them. But you now, your impact is really immeasurable. And I would tell students and I think as a leader as someone that’s I’m thankful that God’s given me the opportunity to be in this position, you know, I’m just a vessel that he’s using. I’m glad that he’s using me and I want to be responsible for the opportunity I’ve been given. But we can make a difference. Individuals have always made a difference. And by the way, that means, you know, as a teacher that means as a community leader. That means as a husband or a wife. That means, the difference that we make in this world, is unbelievable what that impact can be. One person can change the world. Cause that’s how it happens, number one. But you can change the world around you so quickly and the power of the individual is something that never ceases to amaze me. Is that one person, and we, you know, right now, there’s only this one moment that we have. You and I are sharing this moment together, and in life, how many of these moments do we have? And we have so many opportunities to have these tremendous impacts on people. And I would just encourage, you know, again, I’ve been very lucky and very thankful that really amazing people have entrusted me with some leadership responsibility. But I would just encourage everyone to, you know, that’s something that’s meant a lot to me. Is to just try to say, what can I do in this moment to try to help somebody or try to have an impact and I think that you see it all the time and you see it when people do it to you and what a difference some conversations can make in your life. There’s certain conversations, I was just recalling one the other night that I could remember something that someone said to me when I was 13 years old. I could remember it just like it was yesterday. It made a difference. It stood out to me. It made me realize maybe I can do this. I mean, those moments we have, you know, a finite supply of them. Right? We only have so much time in this world, and to take advantage of as many of those as possible.

JW: You know, you are going to be the Mrs. Smith of the 2020 era that I had in 1971 to someone’s life. And I’m not teasing. I think you’re gonna be that person that they’re gonna look back in 20 years and what I want our teachers and educators, administrators to listen to when I say this. When they’re listening to this podcast, you’d never know the fruits of your labor because you planted that seed today. Mrs. Smith, she’s been deceased now for many years, of course, but what I want to say is, if I could see her today I would say you don’t know the fire you started in 1971. You teachers have the power, just like Churchill versus Hitler. You have the power to grow and engage, or you have the power to cause the opposite. I encourage everyone listening today. Thank you for joining us this few moments, and thank you, Secretary Walters for your time today. I know you’re very busy. I appreciate you being here. This has been exciting for me to share a few moments of this day with you. And I know our listeners will be better for it. So, I trust you’ll have a great day. Thank you for joining us.

RW: Thank you so much for having me, again, thank you for all you’re doing, Jimmy. I love the podcast. I love the encouragement. I love the motivation. Again, I love the context you provide to these conversations. Thank you so much for having me on today.

JW: It’s truly my pleasure. Best of luck, and hey if you see the Governor, would you tell him Jimmy said hello.

RW: I absolutely will. Yes, sir.

JW: Thank you friend. Can you not just feel the passion that Ryan has about his role in shaping the lives of students? You can do the same thing in your world. As he said, it’s only that one person that causes the spark of change to make the world a better place. The challenge this week, for all of our listeners, is I want you to focus on the areas of life that you wish to improve and concentrate your efforts to obtaining the resources necessary to empower you to not just reach your goals, but to seize your dreams. You can do it! Don’t allow yourself to live in mediocrity. You were designed for greatness. Go ahead, live your life by design.

Let Us Hear From You

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Related Blogs

See More