A Teacher’s Million Dollar Lesson

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Cool guy Steve Spangler with Ellen DeGeneres

At a recent convention where I was speaking, I ran into my good friend and science wizard Steve Spangler. As always, I was astounded by just how successful this guy is. He runs a multi-million dollar company, he’s an Emmy winner, and he’s appeared numerous times on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. And if you ask him what he does for a living, he’ll tell you the truth. He’s a science teacher.

So how does a science teacher achieve that kind of success? I think it boils down to a decision he made several years ago—a decision that most of us would never have thought to make.

Back then, Steve spent most of his time traveling to elementary schools and high schools in Colorado, doing science demonstrations. He was good at this—so good that he routinely got standing ovations from the students (can you say that about your high school science teacher?). After one of these standing ovations, Steve noticed a teacher standing by the wall with arms crossed, scowling at him. Now, Steve’s a really nice guy, and this concerned him. So he went over to this teacher and asked if he (Steve) had done something to offend him (the teacher), and if so he’d like to apologize.

“I’ve been teaching science for sixteen years,” said the teacher (although it could have been twelve years, or maybe 36—I’m not sure and it really doesn’t matter), “and I’ve never gotten a standing ovation from my students.”

At this point, most of us would attribute it to a difference in style, say something nice to the teacher about the important contribution he was making, and move on to the next school. But this is where Steve had a different idea and made a different decision—a decision that would make him a millionaire.

Steve’s idea was this: “What if I could find a way to teach other science teachers how to do what I do? What if, instead of me being the star, I could teach them how to be the star?”

Now that, my friends, is a million dollar idea. Literally.

And it’s an idea that most people wouldn’t have thought of, because it’s an idea that requires the suppression of one’s ego in order to give greater service to others. Despite what we may say in public, most of us aren’t willing to do that. But do you remember what Earl Nightingale said?

Our rewards will always be in exact proportion to our service.

By being of greater service to more people, Steve increased his own rewards. Mind you, that wasn’t his intention; it was just a happy byproduct.

So here are two questions for you to consider as you kick your leadership skills into high gear:

  1. How can you use your skills, expertise, and services to transform your customers into stars?
  2. How can you use your skills, expertise, and services to transform your employees and team members into stars?

These questions turned a science teacher into a millionaire. What could they do for you?


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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  • Van Brown says:

    It is a million dollar idea, and the real winners will be the students. After all, everything about science is magic (and everything about magic is science). Several years ago, an English teacher told me he’d changed his classroom presentation after seeing me do Mark Twain for his students. He said: “The literature has to come alive, and you showed me how.”
    That was the best thing that happened to me that day. it was just a remark, but I’ve remembered it for years. Bill, I was pleased to meet you when you were in Atlanta. I’m sorry I had to leave early, but I had a show coming up, and needed to meet with some folks. Best to you. The more i look at your profile, the more I understand why Dan Thurmon thinks so highly of you.

  • Isn’t it amazing, Van, how one simple, offhand remark can change the entire course of a life? My friend, Dr. Patt Schwab, recently told me about a friend of hers who, as a young girl, contracted polio (back in the day when one could contract polio). She, quite naturally, was feeling depressed and angry. A nurse happened to say to her, “The fact is, you’re going to have polio for the rest of your life. Now, you can either have polio and be happy and have lots of friends, or you can have polio, be angry and bitter, and have no friends.” Changed her life.

    I hope I get to see you as Mark Twain one of these days!

  • (Bill, this is fixed – there was an error in my last one arrggghhh)

    Love the questions you raise in this post, Bill.

    I think that far too often, we dismiss what comes easy to us – we don’t see the gifts that people easily see in us. Steve saw, and took action. Wonderful story.

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