Spotlight: 10 Questions for Adam Gehlhar (ND '17)January 8, 2018
Principal Adam Gehlhar (ND ’17) has holistic goals for students at Jamestown High School: “I want them all to find their purpose and to learn how to use their minds well.” He received North Dakota’s 2017-18 Milken Educator Award on November 21, 2017.
1. What went through your mind when you heard Jane call your name at your surprise notification?
Adam Gehlhar (ND ’17): I was completely shocked and a bit overcome with emotion. Education is something all of us put our heart and soul into, and recognition is not something we strive for. I was surprised, grateful, honored and humbled all at the same time.
2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?
Adam: Some of the most meaningful congratulations came from students. A few mentioned specific things I helped them achieve as young learners and leaders. Since this is only my second year at this school, several of them have had questions about my previous work in West Fargo. Of course I also had a handful ask what I would be doing with the money.
3. How did you end up in education?
Adam: My mom was a speech pathologist at an elementary school so education always seemed like a good option. When I went to college my first year I wasn’t sure what I wanted but decided to take an introductory education course. I had an amazing teacher in the intro course but still wanted to explore other areas.
I was also a member of the North Dakota Army National Guard—our first deployment to Iraq was a very formative experience, to say the least. This experience gave me a deeper sense of faith and purpose. I wanted to do something to improve the lives of others. It was then that I became truly committed to preparing the next generations for life and work.
4. Who are your role models as an educator?
Adam: I have been fortunate to serve with so many great leaders. I had amazing teacher preparation and master’s programs in Education Leadership at North Dakota State University. I learned a lot from the leadership and my peers in the Army National Guard. My greatest role models have been my parents.
5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Adam: I ended up being deployed a second time just before my student teaching, so I entered the workforce a little later than most. I was blessed with an opportunity to envision school from the ground up in my first year of teaching. A new middle school program had just started that was focused on holistic STEM education. I was so fortunate to have an awesome interdisciplinary team to work with and also had the blessing of 1:1 student devices, no textbook, and basically a lot of pressure to innovate.
We were trained in design-focused learning (like project-based learning, but with a focus on design and transdisciplinary STEM education). This gave me a really innovative platform and a unique lens to guide my students towards mastery of our standards. We also were very committed to the whole child and worked to make sure all our students were growing socially, emotionally, physically and academically. It was a ton of work, but I had a supportive wife and family, and I loved every minute of it.
6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your school?
Adam: Some of my favorite memories in West Fargo were visiting with students several years after I taught them. They remembered our projects; they remembered how they felt empowered and challenged. As an administrator I have a much broader lens and my interactions with students are both direct, in our day-to-day activities, and through the hands and hearts of other educators. I hope students will remember our relationships and that I want them all to find their purpose and to learn how to use their minds well.
7. What’s your biggest challenge at your school?
Adam: Jamestown High School is a great place to work and learn. We have a few areas in which we are continuing to develop capacity: Professional Learning Communities, assessment practices, student agency and mindsets, personalization and engagement strategies. Going forward, I think my biggest challenge will be communication of the structural changes we need to ensure we can realize the full potential of the best practices. Specifically, we will need to explore schedules and relationship structures that can better support equity and access, and a 21st-century definition of learning for all learners.
8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Adam: I asked the Milken Family Foundation to donate 20% ($5,000) of the Award to my school to support innovative proposals from educators. Some of our teachers have already proposed starting up a student store and other enterprises that can give our students valuable employment experience. Of the remaining $20,000, I will be donating 10% to my church. Another 30% will be set aside for taxes. The remaining $12,000 will be put towards a future doctorate, my children’s 529 college savings plans, and a small family vacation.
9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?
Adam: I always encourage students to consider education and talk to them about the experiences I have had as an educator. If we had more time I would ask them to define their “why.” If your “why” for education comes from a sense of purpose and a desire for a rewarding and fulfilling life of contribution, then this is the job for you.
10. What’s your definition of success?
Adam: Success is feeling like you have made someone’s life better by giving your best.
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