If I were the boss of the school, I’d give myself a fancy chair, It would be tufted, comfy and it would swivel. Since I’m posting this piece the week of Valentine’s Day, let’s make it red. It’s my fantasy so I can call the shots.
Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I have been through one of the toughest times of my life this past month. You know what helps me when times get tough? I like to focus on good things.
So today I’m going to focus on the good qualities and traits of some of my former school administrators. We all are a sum of our traits, some great and some areas where growth is needed. Today I’m focusing on some of the best things that principals and other administrators and supervisors in the educational setting have done to encourage me while I was in the classroom.
Sit back in my red swivel chair and relax while you read my true stories. Maybe you might even want to share it with your boss.
The very last school district in which I taught full-time, I had a superintendent named Kathy. This district was quite large. It had 4 early childhood buildings, 10 elementary buildings, 4 junior high buildings, 2 freshman buildings and 2 high schools. The district had an enrollment of over 16,000 students and I don’t know how many teachers. This superintendent did not interview me for my job, but knew my name, face, and what I taught from the day I walked in the door on my first day of employment. Wow.
Whenever she would pass me in a hallway she would greet me by name. She was upbeat and positive. Since I taught one of two Teacher Academies in the district I invited her into my classroom to be interviewed by my students who were all future teachers. She came willingly and answered all their questions fully. Later a group of Middle Eastern future school administrators were traveling the country and wanted to interview her. They were astonished a woman could lead a district so large. She asked if this could be done in my classroom so my students could also take advantage of the experience.
Whenever I wrote an article that appeared in an educational magazine she would drop me a note complimenting the piece. I was in awe of her professionalism and consistent encouragement. I have to admit, if I were the boss, I could never achieve her ability to know everyone by name and face. I struggle mightily in that area.
Another boss I had was named Herb. He was an assistant dean (asst. principal) and my immediate up line supervisor. Herb always had a smile on his face and he was a master of giving compliments. Once I wrote an article that appeared in a very small local paper. Several times that day people would mention that they had seen my written piece and say that they had liked it. “Great job,” they’d say. Herb said it this way. He didn’t just walk past me in the hallway, he had me stop. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Dauna, I read that article in the paper that you wrote. I liked it so much I cut it out. I found myself rereading it all day long. I took it home and read it to my family at the dinner table. That was a very inspiring article.”
Herb’s comments and the way he delivered them, made his compliment one I will never forget because of the eye contact, the sincerity and the specific details he included in his compliment.
My very first principal was named Elmer. He was my principal when I was fresh out of college. I was twenty years old when I walked into a classroom in his building and yet he is one of the best principals I have ever had. I wish I had known how special he was at the time. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t…not until many years later.
How did he encourage me? He trusted me. He gave me many responsibilities within the building and that made me feel competent. He could feel my passion and ambition for the profession of teaching. He never stopped challenging me. While many teachers balk at additional responsibilities, I never did. When a supervisor didn’t recognize my leadership potential it always made me feel uncomfortable in their building. It was important for me to excel. Elmer could see that in me. When I left his building after ten years it was to start a private school. He had given me so many extra responsibilities, and groomed me so well, he made this giant leap a possibility for me. He was a true mentor.
And then there was Jon. Jon remains an enigma to this day. He was definitely not a touchy-feely kind of a supervisor. It would take Oprah and Dr. Phil combined to smooth out some of his people skills. He could pass you in the hallway and be so consumed by his thoughts and current errand that he wouldn’t speak. He would walk into your classroom and without saying “Good morning” lunge right ahead into some task that was on his mind. If you approached him with an idea, he would make a snap decision about it, usually opposing your idea. I think he felt like he might lose some kind of control of the building if he took outside suggestions. But what I gradually learned about him was that while making a snap negative decision, he would later take your idea and mull it over in private. If it was for the good of the students he was man enough to reverse his opinion. I respected that.
While Jon was my administrator, my sixteen-year-old daughter died of cancer over one summer break. When I returned to school in August, the very first time I saw him, he pulled me aside. He said, “I want to show you something.” He pulled out an article that appeared in the newspaper about my daughter. He pulled this article out of his wallet! He said, “I want you to know that I am carrying this article about Kelsey and that I will never forget her.”
I was stunned and speechless. This man with the gruff exterior was revealing his compassionate center. I was touched.
Later in the school year he was being his normal prickly self one time. When a group of other teachers walked away and no one else was around I said, “Jon, you can’t fool me anymore. Underneath that gruff exterior, I know you are just a really decent guy.” He paused for a few seconds, then finally grinned and said, “Well, don’t tell anyone.”
His gruff exterior was his armor. But how can you not admire and respect a guy who would admit that he would always remember your daughter? Impossible. The comment was made even more poignant because it cost him so much to reveal his vulnerable side.
Cindy was another supervisor who touched me in an extremely positive way. Cindy always had a positive word of encouragement for everyone around her. Cindy had the gift of encouraging everyone. It was Cindy’s encouragement that gave me the courage to write my first book. She read the very first story I wrote for my book even when that story was in its first and very rough draft. I never would have shown that draft to just anyone. Cindy was a blue ribbon encourager and one of the people I most admire to this day.
What do all these supervisors have in common? They are very different people who approach supervision in a variety of ways. Most of them have never met any of the others. There are a few who overlap. But they all had a way of making me feel valued. When we make people feel valued, they can accomplish great things. When we make a teacher feel valued they learn how they can make students feel valued. It is the greatest gift any school supervisor can pass along.
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