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Aaron Manfull’s Speech Accepting the 2011 Dow Jones News Fund Teacher of the Year Honor

The following is a transcripts of the speech that Aaron Manfull gave when launching theNext26.com and accepting the 2011 Dow Jones News Fund Journalism Teacher of Year honor. You can click through to slideshare.net if you’d like to see the script synced up with the actual slides. 

It’s great to be here. I was humbled when I got the call from Dow Jones. Thanks to Linda for that kind introduction, thanks to the Dow Jones News Fund for this honor and for JEA and NSPA for allowing me to speak for a few minutes today.I do have a point today, this isn’t going to just all be about me – if you know me you know that is about the last thing I want to come up and talk about, but in order to tie it all together I need to start back at the beginning.

Now, I’m not going to be able to give a shoutout to everyone who has helped me along the way. There are too many of you. Just know that if you and I have crossed paths, like a good pickpocket, I’ve taken something from you and I’m more appreciative than you know.

As I was preparing for today, I learned something about myself. I’m just a big mooch. Seriously. For years people have joked about my mooching ability. My best friend when I was teaching back in Iowa gave me a movie poster that looked like this when I left. I thought he was just trying to be funny — but looking at things now, he was dead-on. Let me illustrate this conclusion I’ve come to with a few things I like to call MoochPoints.

I was a mooch way back in high school. I guess I had a leg up on others growing up in Iowa going through scholastic journalism. In high school, names like Dick Johns, Gary Lindsday, Jack Kennedy, Ann Visser, Vanessa Shelton and Merle Dielman were household names…literally.

My mother, to whom I credit the incredible foundation that was laid for me, was (and still is) a great journalism adviser from Washington, Iowa. She advised yearbook and newspaper for 21 years and was the person who made me understand what a great job and life this could be. From her I’ve mooched everything from how to write good interview questions to tips on effectively balancing work and family. My MoochPoints from her alone could keep us here through Tuesday.

I actually come from a family of journalists. My sister was a professional covering everything from Hawkeye football for the Des Moines Register to the Texans for the Houston Chronicle. She is in her third year of advising high school journalism down in Houston. She’s an amazing writer and I’ve taken numerous stories she’s written and used them in my classroom to teach students what a good story should look like.

My dad, while not a journalist or journalism adviser, plays an equally important role in the media ecosystem — he reads the newspaper — and heaven knows we all need as many readers as we can get. While my dad may not be in the actual news business per say, I’ve watched him closely through the years. I’ve seen how hard he works at his job to be good at it and how he helps those around him. I could never be the businessman he is, I didn’t get that gene, but I take what makes him successful and apply it to my life daily.

When I got married, it was only natural I gravitated to someone in the journalism field as well. Kate, my wife, my co-adviser, my best friend – the list could go on – is herself a graphic designer, marketing specialist. If you’re going to do this job and have a family, you need someone who is a willing, supportive partner. I can’t imagine a better one than Kate. She’s the one who has really pushed me to take that solid foundation I had and take it to the next level. She is someone who is committed not only to see me succeed, but my students as well.

I would not be here today without the support or the lessons I’ve taken from these four. They aren’t the only one’s I’ve borrowed liberally from though.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with Beth Phillips for the last few years. As assistant adviser at North, she’s helped the program expand and gives the staffs another option to bounce ideas off. From Beth, I mostly Mooch her time and she’s my daily sound board as I constantly work to tweak things in the room to make it run better.

My principal is even here today. Yah, she’s that principal. She’s the real deal. One who cares about students and her staff. Dr. Darlene Jones. I don’t even want to know how many IOUs I’ve given to her since Day one on the job. What I can tell you though is that we all dream of the type of principal we want to work with. One who has high standards and pushes those around her to want to be their best. She is truly that principal and someone I consider to be a great friend.

Dr. Jones wasn’t the only one who gave me a shot when she hired me, I remember checking my answering machine in 2005. There was a message from Linda Putney asking me if I’d come teach the Advisers Institute in Manhattan, Kansas, with Jack Kennedy. I would have been thrilled to take a class from Jack back then – heck, I’d be thrilled to take one now with him. I actually had to call Linda and tell her the message didn’t come through clearly to get her to repeat that she wanted me to actually teach with Jack. I said yes. He was very polite and said I was a big help that week – I remember it a bit differently – I just remember mooching the hell out of everything he was saying.

I student taught in Iowa with Gary Lindsay. I mooched a lot there too. While Gary taught me many lessons, the one I carry with me daily follows his personal philosophy: “This too shall pass.” He never got too worked up. Didn’t seem to show stress in the room and knew that ups and downs were part of the game and staying even was the way to go if you were in it for the long haul. It’s one of the MoochPoints I’m most thankful for.

Gary believed in me from the start and I’ve appreciated that confidence ever since. It’s much of what I’ve felt the last couple years from Mark Newton and Steve O’Donoghue who I’ve worked closely with as a part of ThinkSJI. They reinforced my belief that you should give someone a shot to step up.

And I would be remise if I didn’t mention those who I’ve learned the most from – the students who I’ve crossed paths with the last 14 years – a few of whom are able to be here today. They’ve taught me you can find a job that’s easy to get up for each day. I watch them all the time to see how they lead, to see how they teach and to see how they work with one another and I mooch a little bit of what I see them doing to make myself and the program better. Those lessons have also helped me be a better father to my two kids. Kane and Michaela are in Iowa today mooching off their other grandparents – yes, mooching is a learned behavior.

It’s all these experiences and people that I’ve encountered over the last 20 years that have shaped me into who I am. I love learning. I’m constantly dissecting the whys and trying to figure out the hows. I think it’s this constant mooching that has helped make me an effective teacher in the classroom most days.

While students are my focus, I have worked to add to that in recent years to try and pay forward some of that mooching tab I wracked up. It’s been my mission with JEADigitalMedia.org and it’s why I believe so heavily in the idea behind ThinkSJI and what we’ve been working on. I won’t get into it all here, you can find out more about it at ThinkSJI.org, but the idea is to try and get local advisers to connect with one another to lend a hand or ask for one. I was fortunate. I wasn’t too proud to mooch or ask a million questions of those around me. I knew where to go for help and had a solid background of knowledge to build on.

If you’re an adviser working to keep your head above water, you need to know there is a great network of advisers out there willing to help and you just need to ask. Odds are, you will find a willing partner who is more than happy to lend a hand. If you can’t, find me and I’ll connect you.

If you’re a veteran adviser, you should be proactive in seeking out those around you and lending a hand. Send an email, offer to drop by the school to introduce yourself, send them a handout or lesson, ask them if there’s anything they need – then follow through with help.

Your action – or inaction – will have an effect on those programs close to you and we are all safer and stronger if those around us are safe and strong.

We’ve all been given something along they way, don’t we owe it to give back a bit? I don’t know about you, but I’ll be paying forward my IOUs well into retirement — and I’ll never be able to make good on all I’ve mooched from my mom or Kate.

Paying forward all these MoochPoints is tough. Believe me, I get it. It’s adding another thing to our already full plates. We don’t feel we have time to help. We don’t feel like we even know enough about how to ask for help. Or maybe we just don’t know how to start the conversation.

Sometimes, all we need is a spark.

That’s why today, I’m offering to provide a spark. I’ve decided to create a spark that opens dialogue, discussion – and hopefully action by us all, and it’s something that I plan to continue for some time as a side project – because it’s just that important. The idea is pretty simple. Take a challenge. Stick with it for an appropriate amount of time. Put yourself and others in a better place.

I call it The Next 26.

As I said, it’s a fairly simple concept with roots that I’ve mooched from a variety of places and just put a different slant on. I plan to issue a series of challenges in increments of 26. These challenges might last 26 weeks, 26 days, 26 hours, 26 minutes or even 26 seconds. I have two goals for these challenges: 1) connect advisers locally by giving them something to begin a conversation with and 2) help scholastic journalism.

As I was trying to figure out how to issue these challenges, I decided to do what I know best. I built a website. Let me introduce to you, thenext26.com.

I’ve already archived a 26-day challenge on the site. When I said I mooched this idea from many places, the deepest root actually comes from a challenge I created years ago. You see, early on I trained my editors poorly. I won’t get into the specifics here, just know I had very high expectations for them and did little to actually help them be the leaders I knew they could be. To fix my problem I created a series of email editor tips. The tips ranged from advice on dealing with me and the staff, to managing the room and leading by example. I emailed editors these tips every day the first five to six weeks of school. The tips worked. They worked so well I actually created a presentation about them and started sharing the idea at conferences and workshops throughout the country.

Since then, I’ve actually shared those tips with dozens of advisers and hundreds of students throughout the country. The tips were the first things I thought of when I came up with this idea and they were the first things I placed on the site when I built it. On thenext26.com you can find a page with some of the rationale behind my tips, as well as 26 tips you could use to put your editors in a better place. Use the tips to train editors this spring for next year. Use the tips to train your editors next fall at the beginning of school. Heck, maybe you need to head home, hit the reset button, and give your editors a little training for the next 26 days. On the page, I’ve included 26 tips, and I’ve even shared three of the tips in full that I use so you can see what the style looks like. I didn’t share them all because most have my distinctive voice to them and won’t help you too much unless you are a big fan of Star Wars and the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Use them. Share them. Start a conversation.

I didn’t want to stop there though. So, today I’m going to issue a new challenge. It deals with recruiting for our programs, something we all will be thinking about in the coming weeks, if we aren’t thinking about it already. The old idea of “If you build it, they will come” does not apply to our programs anymore. Each year we are competing with things like increased graduation requirements, AP classes that draw kids in droves and slashed funding for elective programs. We have to fight for every student we get in our room. It’s also 2011, simply putting flyers up around the halls isn’t going to cut it either. We need to take a multifaceted, multilayered approach to keep our programs strong and programs around us strong.

So, for the next 26 days I will be sharing 26 different ideas on things we can do to bring students into our programs. The first one has already been posted today.

Now, I want to make it very clear, I am just the one staring the conversation. This site is not just about me. If you know me, I hope you know that’s a complete 180 on how I do things. I’m not claiming to have the best editor tips or the best ideas for recruiting. I’m just claiming to have some ideas that I hope start a discussion and helps others.

I’ll start the conversation, but I’m expecting you all continue that discussion and bring it to life. Add your best tips for editors in the comments section on that page. On the recruiting page, offer your tips for getting students into your program. We’re not competing with one another here in some sort of contest, we are competing here for the survival of our programs and those programs around us.

If we want to keep our programs strong, we need to make sure programs everywhere are strong. While individually it would be a daunting task, together, we can make a difference. We owe it to those who have helped us get here to help those around us.

I challenge you to follow me for the next 26 days as I share ideas on recruiting for next year. I challenge you to share your ideas on the blog to add to the conversation. I challenge you to reach out to someone in your community or a neighboring one and use the challenge to begin a dialogue that could help you both in the long run. Use The Next 26 as conversation starter.

Use it as YOUR spark.

Ask for help. Be a Mooch.

Seek out others. Pay forward some of those MoochPoint IOUs.

I hope you take the challenge and I look forward to continuing this conversation The Next 26 – and the 26 beyond that.

4 thoughts on “Aaron Manfull’s Speech Accepting the 2011 Dow Jones News Fund Teacher of the Year Honor

Jennifer Schadt McCoyPosted on  4:43 am - Nov 22, 2011

Excellently spoken. Congratulations Aaron. Glad to see you have made a staple on society. I know your students are proud of you too. Tell your mom hello for me. Although I am not a jounalist, I will pass this one to my son and his high school. Best wishes to you and your family.

Northwest Scholastic Press : Aaron Manfull’s speech accepting the 2011 Dow Jones Newspaper Fund Teacher of the Year HonorPosted on  10:51 pm - Apr 5, 2012

[…] Editor’s note: You can view the slideshow that accompanied Aaron’s speech at http://thenext26.com/aaron-manfulls-speech-accepting-the-2011-dow-jones-news-fund-teacher-of-the-yea…) […]

Starr SacksteinPosted on  11:19 am - Jun 11, 2012

I was extremely moved when I heard you present this speech and now as the year wraps up and I re-read it here, I’m reminded of how much of a community is fostered in scholastic journalism. Each of our successes are shared as are our challenges… all opportunities to learn, progress and recycle, making us all stronger teachers and students.

On Resources and Leadership | European ScholasticJournalismPosted on  10:13 am - Feb 13, 2013

[…] session was with Aaron Manfull, the 2011 Dow Jones News Fund Teacher of the Year and a teacher/adviser at Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles, MO. Manfull had made the […]

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