“If you don’t love kids, find another job,” Dr. Gale Gorke, executive director of Kids Kan Inc., told a room full of school administrators in the greater Fort Hood area Friday during the 2019 Education Summit at Club Hood.

Using her unique blend of humor and candor, the summit’s keynote speaker addressed issues facing today’s students in the public school system, namely knowing their teachers are trustworthy.

“You are being paid to build relationships with children,” she told the crowd. “A child who feels loved will learn.”

The fifth annual summit is part of the ongoing Partners in Education Process, which Fort Hood created to enhance the relationship between the installation and local school districts. The process is aimed at being better informed in order to make important decisions impacting youth.

Gorke said, when making decisions, schools should stop and consider if it is in the best interest of the students. She said a lot of administrators think about what is best for themselves, when the kids should always be the priority. If they have a solid foundation and the kids are well-cared for, everything will fall into place.

“I have a saying in public education, kids always come first,” explained Dr. Joseph Burns, superintendent of Copperas Cove Independent School District. “When we think about that, that’s why we’re here. So when she talks about the need to focus on children, I think that’s critically important.”

Changing the way an individual thinks is easier said than done. Change is uncomfortable and Gorke said some people are better at it than others. To prove her point, she asked the summit attendees to find a partner. After examining one another for a few seconds, she asked them to turn around and change five things about their appearance. Upon turning back around, they had to spot all the differences in their partners. She then asked them to change 10 things about their appearance, which was notably more difficult. The process was easier for outside-the-box thinkers, who used items on the table or from other people to change their appearance.

Burns agreed that while change is not always easy, it is critical for educators to focus on what is best for the students.

“I’ve never seen something that was good for kids, that was not good for staff, but I have seen a lot of things that were good for staff, but weren’t good for kids. So if we keep kids first, I think we’ll always stay on the right track,” Burns added.

One of the biggest ways military-affiliated school districts can help students stay on track is outlined in the Military Interstate Children’s Compact, an agreement signed by all 50 states, which helps federally-connected students transitioning from one state to another. The compact accommodates students who transfer schools, allowing them to enter classes and participate in extra-curricular activities in which they were previously enrolled at their former school.

Gorke urged the administrators to seek out their students’ individual talents and to not be afraid to try something new.

“Good teachers are teachable,” she said. “Good teachers are willing to learn from their students and try something new and different. I gotta get you to think different, I gotta get you to teach differently, but we’ve got so much work, we end up teaching content instead of children.”

The summit also consisted of six break-out sessions – Special Needs Transitions, The Changing Landscape of Career and Technical Education, Credentialing Assistance Program, PATH Project, Texas On Course and Ways to Fund Your Education.

At the end, superintendents and other area leaders answered questions on a panel. The school administrators urged parents to keep an educational binder of their child’s records. The binder should include end-of-year transcripts and semester report cards. Requesting records takes a lot of time, so the more information a parent has about the classes and grades their child received, the better. They recommended making a copy of the syllabus and book cover for advanced placement classes. This would allow the child’s next school to be able to place the student in the appropriate classes. They also recommended letters of recommendations from teachers and/or coaches. A lot of times students move in the middle of high school and do not have time to build those strong relationships with their new teachers in order to gain a good letter of recommendation for college or a sports team.

Gorke urged the administrators to make those lasting bonds with the students. She shared a personal story about how she messed up as a teacher and ended up apologizing to her students. Years later, one of her students told her how important her apology was to him.

“Six year later, that was the most important lesson I taught him. I had him for seven and a half hours a day for 10 months and the most important lesson I taught him wasn’t math, social studies or science, it was that if you screw up, you own it – you make it right and you apologize,” she added. “The most important lessons we teach, we’re not even gonna know we taught them.”