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By Craig McKinney, AVID Staff Developer

On the morning of Thursday, June 18, I woke up and readied myself for the third and final day of presenting the English Language Arts: Writing and Speaking strand at the first AVID Summer Institute of the season in Dallas. With the arrival of Hurricane (downgraded to Tropical Storm) Bill in Texas, the news had been filled for days with cataclysmic warnings of torrential rains, high water, and travel difficulties. On this morning, when I clicked on the TV for a few minutes to see if Bill had more in store for us, I was jolted by the horrifying news of the mass shootings of nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. Not having much time to watch because I had to get to my presentation room, I turned off the television and turned on my “AVID smile.”

All day long, the events lurked in the back of my mind as I stood in front of a roomful of outstanding educators and did my best to inspire them to be the difference in the lives of their students. My participants, as always, were an inspirational group of teachers—the type of teachers that any parent would love to have instructing their kids.

The day was a great one—so much so that I didn’t have time to process the events in Charleston until later that evening. My first reaction was disbelief, followed by anger. As I scanned my Facebook feed and saw sentiments of friends and friends-of-friends, I saw that all of us were searching for answers—trying to make meaning out of something unfathomable.

Throughout all of this, I kept coming back to some words written by a young girl facing impossible-to-understand hatred and cruelty decades ago: "…In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death." This simple wisdom from Anne Frank reminded me to try to see the good in the midst of seeming hopelessness.

I was reminded of the AVID Summer Institute General Session on Wednesday afternoon, just hours before the violence erupted at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. While a young man in Charleston plotted unspeakable cruelty, I sat in a room with 3,000 educators committed to changing the trajectories of students’ lives. The enthusiastic crowd listened raptly to the three stories shared by the speakers: a teacher who found new purpose in her career as she entered the sometimes-frightening world of the AVID Elective and discovered how her path changed as she nurtured her students to success; a young woman who overcame the tragic death of her mother and stumbled into AVID, which redirected her life and helped her become a confident, determined scholar headed to college with $100,000 in scholarships to become a doctor who will set up clinics globally to help those without access to quality health care; and an incoming senior who found in AVID a way to dig himself out of a pit of anger and despair. Each of these personal stories brought a tear to my eye, literally. (Don’t sit next to me at an AVID General Session unless you’re comfortable with watching a grown man cry.) More importantly, though, they reminded me of the power of AVID and the power of AVID educators.

On the day of our staff developer training prior to Summer Institute, we pondered the idea of heartbeats—how each of us touches the heartbeats of others who we encounter. In the life of a teacher, we come in contact with thousands of heartbeats. In the next year alone, that ballroom full of educators will probably reach close to 500,000 heartbeats. And the way that attending AVID Summer Institute touched their heartbeats will spread to the half a million heartbeats that they will encounter. That gives me cause for hope.

We live in a world of negativity. Violence and hatred seem to hide behind every corner. It’s easy to bog down in the gloom and forget the power of kindness. AVID is about kindness. AVID is about loving students who may not outwardly be loveable and helping them learn to love themselves. AVID is about finding hope in despair.

Sometimes it’s easy as a staff developer in a curriculum strand to focus on the countless worthwhile strategies that teachers can employ to help students succeed. What we sometimes forget is that teaching is about the students—their lives, their heartbeats.

Knowing that I had just spent three days with thousands of teachers committed to the notion that lives matter—black lives, brown lives, white lives, gay lives, transgender lives, homeless lives, non-English-speaking lives, ALL lives—and accepting every student who walks into their classroom, believing in them, and making them believe in themselves helped me to find hope in despair.

I’m grateful for the people I’ve encountered through AVID who have touched my heartbeat and who touch the heartbeats of others who will, in turn, touch countless other heartbeats.

Instead of dwelling on the negative, let's turn this tragedy into an opportunity to spread the message of hope, inclusion, and love. Our world needs us to change some lives and touch some heartbeats right now.


Craig McKinney teaches Humanities at Shepton High School in Plano, Texas. A Dallas-area native, Craig attended Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where he received degrees in English and Sociology. He earned his master’s degree at the University of North Texas. During his 22-year teaching career at Shepton, Craig has taught English, Humanities, Latin, and the AVID Elective. As part of his contribution to Shepton’s AVID site team, Craig spreads AVID strategies schoolwide through staff in-services and by writing a weekly Wednesday WICOR email. When he’s not teaching ninth and tenth graders, Craig works as an AVID staff developer. He also bakes a mean loaf of sourdough bread, serves as an officer of his university’s local alumni association, and loves herb gardening, attending cultural events, and playing board games.

For more on AVID, visit http://avid.org/what-is-avid.ashx.

Want to read more blogs from Craig? Check these out!

How We Do This All Day Long
10 Painless Ways to Manage the Kinetic Energy in Your Classroom

10 Ways to Infuse Your Final Exam Reviews With WICOR
Do Your Students Know How To Ask Questions?
Loaded Questions
Your Teacher WICOR Summer Homework
A Brain-Based Paradigm Shift
In the Classroom: Setting House Rules
Giving Thanks: A Reminder

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Reader Comments (1)

Wow . . . Thank you for these words, Craig.

July 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Froess

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