Unleash human potential. These three simple words pack a big punch. When I heard Trace Pickering, Co-Founder and Superintendent of Iowa BIG in Cedar Rapids, IA, say that BIG’s mission is to unleash human potential I was excited and a bit prideful as a similar phrase has been the tagline of the Pathways High blog since inception. Trace shared this newly crafted mission with me and three other Pathways High team members at an Iowa BIG visit day earlier this month. He said we were the first external group to see their newly refined mission, principles, and values.
I realize this phrase is not original, but believe that I and others are drawn to it for its simplicity and optimism. The power is both in the phrase itself and the words individually. Taking a look at each word in turn, we get a very clear picture of the values and ideals underlying Iowa BIG and Pathways High’s common mission.
Unleash: This word is a strong active verb conjuring the image of breaking forth to pursue one’s own path. It provides a sense that whatever has held us back from exploring our interests and passions in the past will no longer. There is the feeling of freedom and also the implication of trust, trust in the person being unleashed or unfettered to make the most of the freedom being offered.
Human: Human beings, not systems or processes, are at the center of both the phrase and the school. This is an important distinction to appreciate as human-centered organizations look and feel very different than bureaucracies. When there is an intentional focus and investment in human beings, strong relationships become the most important currency of our work. Relationships and networks open doors to opportunities for all learners, young people and adults, alike. Both Iowa BIG and Pathways High consider all human beings to be learners -- lifelong learners, in fact. Furthermore, the richer the diversity of the learners with whom we engage, the deeper and more expansive our learning becomes.
Potential: This word excites me the most because of its inherent optimism. The glass is always ‘half full.’ I’m overcome with a sense of awe, wonder, and hope for the amazing accomplishments yet to come. As the world grows ever more complex and interconnected, appreciating the potential of people of all ages and walks of life is imperative for us to thrive. Sadly, potential is far too often squandered when it doesn’t fit a standard mold. As adults, it’s important to recognize our own ‘blinders’ to potential based on our personal history and perspectives. Cultivating an open, flexible mind will enable us to broaden our perspective of potential and as a result, realize tremendous benefits.
So from this quick analysis, I think you will agree that the mission to unleash human potential is both powerful and essential to our society’s long-term success. Accomplishing this mission, however, is not easy as it requires a paradigm shift from a long-standing, school-centered model to a learner-centered one. Many schools across the world, like Iowa BIG and Pathways High, are pursuing a learner-centered model. Will you join us?