Growing up we are all told that if you want to become the President of the United States that you can. Being the President of the United States was not something that I ever thought about, nor was it something that I thought I would be well suited for. However, out of nowhere, my chance to be the President of the United States happened (well, sort of).
I’m the Director of Finance and Operations for Montgomery School, a preK-8th grade independent school. Walking across campus one morning, while I was drinking a cup of coffee, our Middle School Head called out my name, and then asked if I would do him a favor. Due to a pressing matter, he needed me to cover for him and step into the role of being President Woodrow Wilson in two social studies classes. He explained that the
social studies teacher had recruited him to visit the classes, but that he now had a conflict. Since I had just started drinking my coffee and I was not fully caffeinated, I said yes.
With the first class starting in 5 minutes, there was very little time to prepare. Embarrassing as it is to admit, I could not recall many facts about President Wilson nor relate any significant historical events to his presidency. It had been a long time since I had studied that time period in history and although not much has changed as far as historical facts are concerned, I was about to find out how dramatically learning has changed since I went to school.
Upon arriving in the classroom, the teacher was very reassuring about what was going to happen and how she would guide the process. Before the class began, she wisely demoted me to the role of the Vice President. This change allowed me to be a bit more comfortable with participating, since no one expects very much from the Vice President. Playing the Vice President also made sense as our Middle School Head would be returning as President Woodrow Wilson to preside over the conclusion of the project.
As the first class began, I was introduced as Vice President Thomas Marshall. The teacher then skillfully outlined how the process would unfold and what was expected from the students. The class was divided into five different groups with each group representing a unique perspective about entering, or not entering, World War I. All five groups began by providing brief introductory remarks that outlined their unique positions. The goal of each group was to convincingly advise the Vice President about entering the war, or not, by supporting their position with relevant events and facts.
As the process began, excitement quickly filled the room. At one point every hand was raised. Clearly, these students were engaged. The discussion was very stimulating. It was evident that the students were knowledgeable and very well prepared to present the details of their position. What was also readily apparent was the way that teachers teach has changed.
In witnessing the discussions, my mind started to race. I was amazed. The realization that I was witnessing something very special and very powerful was deep and real. History was transformed from being one dimensional, to now being multi-dimensional. These students knew their facts but they were also capable of articulating their significance. The discussion allowed for the creation of deep and powerful connections about significant world events that not only shaped the history of that time, but continue to have implications in today’s world.
It became clear that this powerful forum enabled students to learn about history while developing their ability to persuasively articulate complex thoughts. It was easy to see that this classroom was significantly more impactful than the classrooms of my youth. And in the end, it was most evident that this classroom could produce future leaders who will be very capable of being the President of the United States someday.