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Empowered People, Empower People: A Message From Dr. Akil Ross

Author: Dawn Mitchell


Hi everyone,

I had the opportunity this past week to hear Dr. Akil Ross speak at our 2019 SCASCD Fall Whole Child Conference in Greenville, SC. Dr. Ross is the former principal of Chapin High School in South Carolina who in 2017 was named our SC Secondary Principal of the Year and went on to be awarded the 2018 NASSP National Principal of the Year.

His keynote message was inspiring, and one analogy he gave that stood out to me was of the fig tree.  Dr. Ross shared a powerful message on the meaning of the fig tree that was cursed in the Bible.  Like many of us, Dr. Ross wondered why Christ cursed the fig tree when it didn’t produce fruit.  He shared that the more he has reflected it on it the more he has realized that the tree is a metaphor for all of us as educators.  The fig tree had to make a choice. It had to decide. Does it continue to consume all of the air and sunlight and nutrients that it has been given to grow and then stop there?  Or, does it, instead, decide to take everything it has been given and then use it produce fruit that is a gift to others? 

Just like the fig tree, we get to decide if we are going to be consumers or producers with our lives.  We get to decide if we will work to take what we’ve been given and work to turn it into a gift for others. One choice leads to a life of selfishness…the other leads to a life of service.

Dr. Ross shared that the word educate has two meanings - “Educare” which means to train up and “Educere” which means to lead out.  He challenged us to empower our students by educating their mind, body, and spirit.  He then shared his own story as a student who struggled with reading in the third grade due to a learning disability, dyslexia.   He said after failing the third grade once due to low expectations he had of himself and that his teacher also had for him, he encountered a different third grade teacher the next year that saw him differently.  He said,

“I had a teacher who did not see me as NOT MET…she saw MY NEEDS as not met.”  She saw him as someone who was capable and could learn and do better, and he began to see himself that way. 

His grades were not the only positive outcome of this second time in third grade. 

Dr. Ross said he knew he could take the gifts he had been given and then share them with others. His closing quote really resonated with me, and I want to share it with you. “The greatest teacher, seeks your heart, and directs you towards your gift.  So be an inspiration for others.  Use your life to serve and uplift.”  

How can you take the gifts you’ve been given and intentionally share them with your students, with your colleagues, with your community, with your own family? 



Dawn Mitchell

South Carolina ASCD President



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