The Impact of Influence

Posted by Lori Houston on 2/8/2018 7:00:00 AM

Several years ago I had the opportunity to attend a convention in Chicago sponsored by the National Association of School Psychologists. The Keynote Speaker for the convention was Salome Thomas-El. Some of you may recognize his name, while many more of you may recognize him by his story.  He is best known for starting a chess club in an inner city school system with underprivileged children. His students became national champions, with many of them graduating from high school and even college at a time when most children from this area dropped out of high school.

His speech was not about the chess club, rather he spoke about how to challenge students who face barriers/adversity to achieve, and succeed. If you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak, you will most likely hear these words, “Every child deserves someone to be crazy about them.” His speech was so thought-provoking and empowering that I was compelled to purchase his book, The Immortality of Influence.   To date, it is my favorite book in my professional library. The premise of this book centers around influence and the power of influence by others who affect our lives, no matter how small that influence might be.  According to Thomas-El, influence comes in a variety of forms from various sources: adults, siblings, discipline, purpose, forgiveness, friendship, faith, etc. and the extreme power of parental influence, which can be positive or negative. Regarding young people, he feels “everything we do affects everything they do” and that as teachers or parents need to be aware of how powerful our relationships can be with them.

One of the final chapters in the book is titled “The Power of Unrecognized Influence” and points out again that we as individuals influence others, even if we do not realize it and that we may never even realize how we influence others. Over the years, I have tried to impart Thomas-El’s philosophy to my interactions with students.  As I walk through the hallway of a school and encounter a lone student or two-three in a group, I try to make sure they receive a smile, a head nod or some other type of greeting.  I may compliment them on clothing, a hairstyle or anything else that might trigger a short conversation.  Throughout the years, especially at the secondary schools, administration has encouraged staff to be present in the halls during passing periods for supervision purposes and I have used this forum to greet students. It is interesting to see their reactions when they think I am going to reprimand them for something when instead a positive is given.  After hearing Thomas-El speak, it reaffirmed that I might be providing the only positive interaction the child has had that day and why it continues to be something I do to this day. Not only does influence come from speaking with students, but he believes we can influence people by the way we lead, dress and behave.

Several months ago I received information from the National Association for School Psychologists (NASP) advertising their annual convention, which ironically was to be held again in Chicago. I registered for the convention and put the materials away as the convention was several months out. When the convention was nearing, I retrieved these materials and noticed that the theme of this year’s convention is “The Power of One: Creating Connections.”  The President’s Strands (presentations) reference that we all have the power to create connections with students, staff or parents in our daily work and the goal of these presentations is to highlight the importance of these connections. Although I cannot speak for Mr. Thomas-E,l I like to think he would be pleased to know that the information he presented in Chicago several years ago is still being discussed today as an important part of our daily interactions with young people and that “influence is truly immortal”.    


Thomas-El, S. (2006). The Immortality of Influence. New York, NY: Dafina Books

Lori Houston




Lori L. Houston, MS
School Psychologist