Opinion
Education Opinion

A Call to Action for the First Day of School

By Beth Holland — July 31, 2015 2 min read

This week, for the first time in fourteen years, I had a “first day of school.” Unlike previous back-to-school experiences, this one found me in a room of 200 students from three separate cohorts (not “classes” or “grades”). We were encouraged to dress “business casual” and bring “whatever device we felt most comfortable using.” Administrators and faculty welcomed us to Johns Hopkins with name tags and assigned us to tables by geographic region so that we could build connections with colleagues near our homes. Many of us may not return to campus again until we defend our dissertation proposals in two years. However, the clear call to action struck me most while listening to the welcome speeches: our mission is to make change happen.

With the first day of school rapidly approaching, imagine the power if every person heard the same critical question: not will you, but how will you change the world? I used the word “person” in that previous statement, because one other related concept resonated with me. We are not students in this program. We are all scholars.

Students vs Scholars

“Students check boxes.” Warned the Dean. They study content, progress through a series of prescribed skills and tasks, and ultimately demonstrate their understanding of the provided information set.

“You are scholars.” He charged. As such, we will become independent, autonomous, and self-reliant, as we discover the requisite knowledge and skills to make change happen. As scholars, we will uncover problems and seek out solutions. We will apply what we develop during our exploration in order to serve an authentic audience - whether it be the people in our community, our organization, our country, or the world. Unlike students who are given the context for learning, as scholars, we will create it.

Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships

Our mission as scholars is to become change agents, and we will do that through Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships.


  • Rigor: Our professors, organizations, and colleagues will make academic as well as practical demands, and we will be held accountable to acquire the knowledge and skills required to meet those challenges.
  • Relevance: All of our learning will be situated in the context of our proposed Problem of Practice. When reading and researching, we need to ensure that content is “worth learning.”
  • Relationships: While we were tasked with independence, self-reliance, and autonomy, we also received the message to forge meaningful relationships - both in person and online. Though we would enter the program as scholars, we would leave as colleagues.

As I reflect on this message from the first day of school, for the first time in my academic career, I feel as though I have a mission - not a message - and a clear path of expectations. Imagine if every person starting the school year received a similar mission: as a scholar, how will you change the world?

For regular updates, please follow me on Twitter (@brholland). You can also view my resume and other articles at brholland.wordpress.com.

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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