Gary Gagnon is an assistant professor
of marketing and hospitality services
administration who was named
Michigan Professor of the Year by
the Carnegie Foundation for the
Advancement of Teaching in 2005. He
and his wife, Lori, have six children.
The Swiss have a saying, “Let’s put the
church in the middle of the village.” Let’s
put everything in the middle of the table
now. Why are we here? That’s the question
I always begin with, and it’s the most
important thing to ask, whether you’re an
athletic coach, a parent, a business person
… If you’re just here to check off a box,
well, I can’t be of much help to you. If you
really want to learn, grow and challenge
yourself, I’m your guy. Let’s go. I dare you.
We are not in the classroom – or in the
world – to know. We are here to learn.
Once learning becomes the goal, you
open yourself up to taking risks, trying
ideas on for size and realizing that we
can live with imperfection if we are
striving and struggling for the sake of
learning. We must create this culture.
Even at 8 o’clock in the morning, students
instinctively know why they have to
learn, and they know why it is important
to them. I don’t mean points – some
students estimated they earn about
30,000 points in college. I ask them,
“Where do you keep these points?
What do you plan to do with them after
college?” Show me instead someone
who is fired up about learning, and I will
show you a path to unstoppable success.
After graduation, instead of points, we
make it about the money. Forget about
the points, forget about the damn money. Make it about being part of
something meaningful. Create a sense
of value. Make it about being your best
and doing your best. The money will
follow. If you’re doing it for the right
reasons, the rewards will follow.
This requires a paradigm shift in our
thinking – not only do we need to value
learning, but we also need to hold each
other to a higher standard. If you expect
great things of students, guess what
happens? You get great students. It applies
to everything. It works in family life, in
coaching, in working with young people.
When you have young people who
are failing, it’s usually because it isn’t
clear what’s expected. They don’t
know what excellence looks like.
I had a high school English teacher,
Terry Carnahan, ’54. And his classroom
was unlike any classroom I’d ever been
in. He called on us incessantly. There was so much accountability in his
classroom. He was very demanding,
had exacting standards and made us
struggle and strive every class period.
When you create high expectations
and hold people accountable, they
blossom right before your eyes.