I didn’t grow up with a plethora of mentors. I grew up the only child of a single parent; I struggled in school and received the message early on that I was limited in what I might end up doing. I am a first generation college graduate. I’m the first one in my family to have even attended college. For whatever reason, I stumbled upon Zig Ziglar in my early days and he became my own little life coach. So I’ve always had the belief that with the right leadership, guidance, hard work and personal commitment, anyone can achieve success. I’ve held on to that as a person and as a teacher, and I’ve always tried to learn from those around me.
Like many of you, I have had the privilege of learning from some amazing administrators over the past 15 years. They’ve taught me (and continue to teach me) about succeeding, overcoming, growing, learning and leading. I am also learning daily from some outstanding “virtual” mentors. Though they are each unique, they all possess one single, powerful character trait:
As I think about my own journey, I want to capture and remember the wisdom I have gained and continue to gain on a daily basis. So here are a few things I have learned (so far) from the best of the best, framed into little snippets that I have tucked away in my mind. Names will be initials to protect the privacy of these selfless servant leaders!
LR: Lead with your heart. Whether you are dealing with students, parents, or teachers, let them know by the way you interact that you are on their side. Speak from a positive place, listen with your heart. Seek first to understand.
JM: Believe that great things will happen when you decide they will happen. Commit to the outcome, and then do everything in your power to achieve it. Roadblocks are just pathways to another, unique, route.
TR: No matter what happens, or how it turns out, look for the lesson.
ST-E: More important than teaching kids how to be successful, is teaching them how to respond when they are not.
AC: If every decision you make is what’s best for kids, you will not make many mistakes.
DC: Great leaders understand they won’t have all the answers. Know when to let others lead.
RT: Let others know when they have done a good job. People like to be appreciated and complimented; it could be the fuel they need to push through the tough times. Acknowledge gifts in others.
WS: If you have a “why”, you’ll find a “how”.
AE: When presented with a complaint from someone, ask questions. Guide through questioning to help lead others to their own answers. Offer advice while at the same time empowering and building capacity.
LR: Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks. Always tie your creativity to the standard–don’t lose sight of the goal while designing the journey.
LR: Your “Orange” is a gift to others; while the “Blue’s” are a gift to you.
JM: Poverty must be understood. It exists, and it affects. Understand your student’s and match your actions to their framework.
JM: When dealing with discipline issues, ask yourself: What would I say or do now if his or her parent were standing right next to me? Then proceed.
MK: You can never underestimate the power of showing simple kindness and love.
JB: Whenever possible, surround yourself with others who will dare to play.
NT: Humor can put others at ease and it also can diffuse situations. You have a good sense of humor. Use it.
AH: There is no “I can’t” . You are the teacher. They need you to teach. Pick up your confidence and face the day. Your first year will bring tears. Get over it. Go teach. (Said the first semester of my career. Never forgot).
TB: Always have a dish of chocolate on the desk. Sometimes that’s all someone needs. A good snickers can solve many problems. Sometimes answers are found in the simple things.
LR: Don’t always rely on email. Some conversations are better had in person.
BG: Years ago, I tried to clear my plate of all the extra things. I now realize, the extra things are what make the biggest difference.
RSP: Ask others what they need from you. Write it down. Then do it to the best of your ability.
These mentors are each very unique. In fact, some are total opposites. But in their own ways they have helped me and continue to help me grow in my journey. I think that my students are better people because of the impact these leaders have had on me as a teacher and person.
So here is a shout-out to all the great leaders. I can never truly repay them; but I can pay it forward by striving each day to make the same kind of difference to others.
Finally, here are some words of wisdom from my personal life coach (though he never knew it), Mr. Zig Ziglar:
Thank you, fearless leaders. You matter.