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Scharenbroich Cheers on School Leaders

Emmy Award-winning speaker Mark Scharenbroich spoke about the connections that move people at the second general session of the 2009 Conference. Rick Schmitt, IASA president, presided over the second session, which included introduction of Edward F. Rafferty, superintendent of Schaumburg CCSD 54, as the 2010 Superintendent of the Year.

Scharenbroich stressed the need everyone has to feel connected to others, using a story from his own experience about Harley-Davidson motorcycles to show how people need to hear compliments. He used this as an object lesson for school leaders in their efforts to build learning communities where children feel connected.

He noted that education research shows there is an incredible impact upon student achievement simply from getting school leaders to make a personal connection with each and every student at school.

"It's all about making strong, meaningful connections," he said.

Noting that today's kids have a wide array of abilities and needs, he suggested: "Our best and brightest are better than we ever hoped to have been. But today's troubled high school kids are so much more troubled than anyone we ever knew."

Thus, he explained, "Our kids today need great leadership."

Scharenbroich clarified his central point by recalling a visit to Milwaukee where he found himself driving in a gathering of motorcyclists heading to the 100th anniversary celebration of the Harley-Davidson motorbike company. He recalled how he was driving a beige rental sedan at the time and, although he had never wanted to ride a motorcycle, suddenly he wished he was riding a Harley.

He said he began to ruminate on what might make these leather-clad Harley riders smile, and he immediately knew it was the simple, understated phrase "Nice bike."

He said he developed that simple idea into an effective approach to communicating with any student or staff member, or any community member, breaking down his "Nice bike" motto into three steps: 1) acknowledgement, a genuine awareness of other people as individuals; 2) honor, including an acknowledgement of what is important to those people around us; and 3) connecting, creating a bond that positively impacts the individual or individuals.

His presentation produced a wide variety of emotions from the audience, particularly when he spoke of his father, "Nubs," who was a veteran of World War II. Scharenbroich recalled what happened, for example, when they visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington together. He said his father approached two veterans standing at the memorial wall wearing uniforms from the Vietnam era, and Nubs asked "Pardon me, son, did you serve in Vietnam?" When both veterans answered that they had, he simply replied, "Thank you; welcome home."

Both of the former soldiers were nearly reduced to tears at this, and one said how much they appreciated hearing it because they said that was the first time they had heard those words since returning from the war.

That is the "Nice bike" approach, Scharenbroich noted. "And let's make sure we never fail to thank and welcome home our soldiers from a war ever again," he added, drawing a major ovation from the audience.

Scharenbroich, a former standup comedian, repeatedly wrapped inspiration with humor to lift the audience to a higher understanding of their own value and the value of others. He had the crowd laughing uproariously about his comments on parenthood, for example, as he recounted three different scenarios from three hypothetical family vacations. Using a standup comedian's approach, he illustrated the tone of interaction on a family trip, depending on whether one is the parent of one, two or three children.

With one child, the parent is always warmly nurturing, he suggested, and deeply concerned about the offspring's comfort and mental development, but the parent's behavior is less solicitous with two children, he said. With three children in the car, Scharenbroich's parodied parent was reduced to making threats, and throwing temper tantrums and the childrens' electronic devices out of the moving car, ultimately even stopping at the roadside to let the other parent get out and walk.

"If you are really angry, you let her walk out of sight and say, 'Now look what you've done to your mother,'" Scharenbroich quipped.

At the end of his remarks he led a chorus of "Boomba-Hey." That is, he divided the audience in half; "Boombas" on one side of the center aisle and "Heys" on the other. When he pointed at each side they were instructed to yell either Boomba or Hey. He then "conducted" an inspirational group cheer in this way, in rhythm, ending with the entire audience cheering "teach kids!"

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