"Stick with me now," Greg Ahlquist, the Webster social studies teacher, said, holding up a mangled tube of toothpaste. "My wife is always ready to throw it out at this stage and I beg and plead with her, 'Don't throw it out! There is still more!' And I flatten it, roll it, squeeze it, use tools ... and I get two more weeks out of it."
As with toothpaste, so it is with students, said Ahlquist, New York State Teacher of the Year.
"Great teachers see potential where others see very little," he said. "Great teachers call out potential even when, maybe especially when, the student cannot see it."
He recalled a sophomore, Morgan, who told him after taking the AP exam in World History, that he thought he was going to be the least intelligent student in the class. He "came out feeling just as smart as everyone else," Ahlquist said.
"There is transformative power in the belief of one teacher in one student. It can change a life." This power is proven in research, he said.
"A student or teacher with a growth mindset believes that with time and effort, we can accomplish challenging tasks," he said. "A person with a fixed mindset avoid tasks if they might fail." But "it is that [growth mindset] philosophy that has gone viral in our school district," with big results, he said. "We believe firmly that ALL students have potential."