Steve Heisler

Teacher Author Speaker


"Every single child wants to be successful. The problem is, if they can't be successful at being successful, they'll be successful at screwing up. Our job as educators is to change the latter to the former."    

- from the The Missing Link by Steve Heisler

Give Back This!

Yet another former B-list actor, recently paroled from a conviction for vehicular manslaughter, is ‘giving back’ by going to schools to help kids learn how not to do what she did: drink and drive.

Based on multiple iterations of such assemblies, one could imagine her telling her youthful audience about the multiple narrow misses of driving drunk without having killed anyone, as well as the breaks she was afforded by the star struck police and judges.  One can imagine her plea: ‘I was warned and warned but I did not listen so I am begging you children. Promise: never drink and drive!’

Certainly the Kindergarteners within earshot would gladly sign the pledge, or at least those who can write will sign: the rest will have to make their marks, duly witnessed, of course.

Can we stop the ex-(con, addict, alcoholic)-exhortations in schools, please?

From speakers who examine only their regret we learn very little about how not to wind up wherever it was that speaker wound up. While the speaker’s horrific outcomes and consequences might be affecting, at best students leave these talks sometimes sorry, sometimes scared, but rarely changed.

Worst of all there may be a underlying message, especially from someone who has really turned his or her life around, that you can completely screw up, and still wind up ok. This is not a bad message; I am, after all, the president of the Infinite Chances Club. However our kids need not only instruction in how to clean up a mess, they need to learn how not to make the mess to begin with!

People who achieve successes generally do so by having a ‘future’ vision they really want and are able to look beyond any momentary decision into the future impact that such a decision might have on such a vision and weigh it before acting. Doing this well consistently (not perfectly) is a good habit, no more and no less. Good habits are how all of us struggle through difficulties, upon difficulties, upon difficulties without getting wholly off track.

Good habits are how we resist habitually (so-called) negative behaviors: not because these behaviors are bad in and of themselves, but because there is something more meaningful to be gotten by not habitually indulging in them. This doesn’t have to be about drugs or alcohol alone: it is just as important to resist habitually self-defeating thinking as it is to resist habitually getting high. Indeed one school speaker, a former addict who actually examined his life, was able to express how not having a positive ‘vision’ for his own future was one of the main reasons he drifted (not descended) into the very drug use he once also pledged he would never do. 

Those of us who have taken on the responsibility of parenting and teaching need to start being aware of the fact that the more dramatic message of we first got lost, and then found our way back, needs to be at least sometimes replaced by the less exciting but more powerful message of how we identified future goals and made more thoughtful, informed and often only microscopically incremental decisions than poor decision to get there.

Of one thing I am certain: if you don’t know what you want, you’ll take whatever you can get.

I, for one, am tired of role models who have taken whatever.

I want my kids to learn how to succeed without first completely screwing up.