A well-spoken person is said to be able to paint a picture with words. The opening speaker at the 80th annual Kentucky School Boards Association conference Feb. 26-28 not only did that, but painted an actual picture as well.
Richard Hight, an internationally known artist and motivational speaker, opened his presentation without a word, simply working in colored chalk on a huge canvas, creating a portrait of his daughter, Averie, on a horse. His talent was obvious to the nearly 1,000 attendees, just as it was obvious to the teacher to whom he paid tribute, a junior high algebra teacher.
Hight, who had difficulty in school due to dyslexia, told how the teacher left the classroom one day after posting problems for a homework assignment on the blackboard. At a friend’s urging, he drew over the problems, though he had been shy and insecure. He was later found out, but not punished. Instead, several weeks later the same situation occurred – except a set of 24 colored chalks awaited him on the blackboard tray.
The lesson? “If you can speak to the language of that particular student and you can give him the resources that he needs, he can create masterpieces.”
As he drew with those chalks, Hight said, “I was learning that it was more important to focus on my strengths than it was to try to fix my weaknesses. Because if we spend a lot of time trying to fix weaknesses – and we all have them – we become average. And nobody wants to become average.
“But if we focus on the gifts and the talents, the diversity and uniqueness of that particular student, they can go to places we never even dreamed of yet. But if we spend a lot of time and resources just fixing them, nah. Because what makes you different can make us great ... What makes them different can be their ticket to success, to build that confidence in them that they don’t have to be like everybody else.”
Hight said he found out years later that the algebra teacher got the chalks for him and in fact, she told him that she had actually circled around the building to peek into the classroom window to watch him draw on the blackboard. That led to another realization: “I wasn’t the only artist in the room that day – that Mrs. Wilmore was the real artist. Because to me, real artists – something I learned from a guy named Leonardo da Vinci – that if you’re going to be a great artist you have to be able to see possibilities. You have to be able to see things not as they are, but as they could be. You have to be able to see the invisible. That’s what Mrs. Wilmore was; she could see.”
Hight closed by creating another huge work in chalks, a patriotic piece featuring an eagle and a stylized American flag. He donated both works to KSBA and the association is planning to raffle them off, using the proceeds for its First Degree College Scholarship program.