Tag Archives: inspire

Teachers: What Life is All About

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I was talking with a wise friend a few days ago and I heard him say,  “Life is all about big people helping little people become big people.”  He didn’t take credit for the quote.  He said he had heard it somewhere.  But the simplicity and the truth of that statement has been resonating in me for several days.  That one sentence defines teaching, parenting, mentoring, coaching, and a wide variety of other professions and important roles we play.

When I wrote my first book for teachers, I was working with a publisher who kept sending me book cover ideas seeking my approval.  But none of the covers seemed to speak to the message the true classroom stories in the book conveyed.  I was embarrassed to be taking up so much of their time, being picky.  I sat down in a preschool classroom with preschool scissors and construction paper.  I cut and pasted a design in 20 minutes sitting at chair and table suitable for a 4-year-old.  I sent it off to the publisher with a note that said, “I’m seeing something more like this.”  I’m not an artist of any kind.  I expected them to take my hastily made sample and design something professional.  But they made the front of the book by simply scanning my 20 minute design onto the cover and adding the title.  At first I was embarrassed about it because I have no artistic skills.  But then I realized it did convey a message.  Why was it effective?  Because it says, in simple graphic fashion almost exactly what my friend said to me. “Life is about big people helping little people become big people.”  (Throw in an apple to make it teacher specific).

book cover

 Yes, teachers teach academics.  Yes, teachers work to raise test scores and reading comprehension.  But too frequently the media and other outside critics forget one of the most important roles a teacher fills.  We teach little people how to become big people. We teach about living life with character.  We teach about ways to problem solve and adapt in times of change.  We teach tolerance and acceptance.  We teach little people how to use positive self talk to push them forward toward a dream when they are no longer in our classroom. We teach them about the rewards of utilizing initiative and perseverance and also the consequences of procrastination.

Of course the real truth is that the words big and little are relative.  Some people who are big have much to learn from little people.  I have learned some of my life’s most important lessons from my students.  Some of the ones who have struggled the most with academics have taught me the most about teaching.  They taught me that until I can explain something in a way that they can understand it, I am not teaching. Others with behavior challenges have taught me to continually hone my skills of patience.  I can de-escalate the hairyiest of situations.  Still others have been happy to point out my shortcomings, not always inaccurately.  They helped me learn some uncomfortable truths about myself.  Usually it is the littlest ones who best understand both enthusiasm and tolerance.  Little ones have taught me the most about unqualified acceptance and the simple joys of living.  My teens remind me to continue to fight injustices.  They possess the optimism of youth.  They believe they can change unfair things so they go out and fight battles I have long ago given up as impossible.  One time, with zero encouragement from me, a group of them took on an impossible battle on my (and their) behalf.  And they won.  I’ll never forget it.

Life IS about big people, helping little people become big people.  And vice versa.  We are all in this together. It works best when we use one another to learn life’s most important lessons.  But using test scores as the only measurement of success for the teaching profession is like writing a fairy tale and only saying, “Once upon a time…” and stopping there.

Let’s get clear about this.  Test scores alone will not make our students live happily ever after.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Contact Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Big Shoes to Fill

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Kelsey big shoesI think my daughter was about 3 when I snapped this photo of her.  Look closely at her feet.  You’ll see she is trying on my high heels she found near the front door even though she isn’t even really dressed for the day yet.  Doesn’t every kid do that at one time or another?  My shoes look so big on her feet.  As it turns out, those shoes and that role became her dream.  I’m sure those are the heels I had on as a taught that day.  Kelsey attended the school where I taught, so it wasn’t such a stretch to understand why she wanted to grow up to become a teacher.

But life did a reversal on us and today I try to fill her shoes.  You see, Kelsey was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was only five.  The brain radiation required for her to survive, altered her IQ significantly.  Radiation that kills cancer cells also kills healthy brain cells.  So not only did Kelsey battle cancer she was changed from having an above average intelligence to becoming what society politely calls “special needs.”

Watching this happen to her changed me dramatically as a teacher.  I learned what it feels like to sit on the uncomfortable side (the parents’ side) of the IEP table.  I experienced how it felt to see her friends begin to turn away from her.  I helplessly watched her social loneliness during the high school years.  This changed me as a mom, a person and especially as a teacher.

So what did I do about it?  I’m not a celebrity.  I can’t challenge big stars on TV to dump buckets of ice water over their heads even though watching Kelsey’s battles felt like ice water being dumped on me daily.  Celebrities wouldn’t answer any challenge from me.  Day in and day out, what did I do?  I’m a teacher.  So I talked about Kelsey in my classroom.  I made students understand her battles.  I made them think about what it would feel like to walk in her shoes.

In one way I was very lucky.  I happened to teach high school students who wanted to become teachers.  I assigned each of them to write an essay about what it would feel like to walk through a day of high school with a disability.  I made them put into words what it would feel like to walk into a cafeteria full of typical kids if they had a disability. How would it feel to walk in the hallways or go to a dance?  I made them share those essays out loud.  They hated this assignment because it made them feel so uncomfortable, but they did it…for a grade.  Before they wrote these essays I read an essay that I had written about Kelsey.  I wrote it in Kelsey’s voice even though she didn’t actually write it.  I used exactly the words she had shared with me about the rejections she experienced.  To hear her true story made them squirm in their seats.

When I spoke at teacher conferences, I used to give out my essay to other teachers.  I’ve received letters and emails from teachers all over the country who have used this essay in their classrooms.  The title?  ‘Nobody Wants to Have a Disability, But I Have One.”  I made each of them start their essay with the words, “My name is (and they had to use their own names) and I have (name a disability).  Then they had to write about a full day of school with that disability.  I made them focus on their feelings, not just the facts of the disability.  How did it feel to walk through a day of school with that disability.

As they read these essays orally one after another, I could feel a shift in my classroom.   They hated the activity but they won’t ever forget it.

Then I had my Teacher Academy kids (high school juniors and seniors who wanted to become teachers) start a Friendship Club with the high school kids in our school with disabilities.  We planned monthly shared activities with them.  I watched true friendships form.  No matter what subject they planned to teach in their futures I wanted them to understand how it feels to be excluded.  I wanted all of them to become teachers who included everyone.  I wanted them to change the culture within their future school buildings.  I believe once we actually have to face the feeling of being excluded, once we can link a personality and an actual person to a disability it can’t help but change us inside.

Often I am invited to give speeches to special educators and I enjoy those invitations.  But I MOST like to talk to what we call “regular educators.”  I like to share stories with teachers who haven’t been specifically trained to work with kids with special needs.  Those are the teachers who most need the messages Kelsey shared with me.  I’m a “regular educator” myself and Kelsey experiences first had to change me.

A strange and unexpected thing happened as I shared Kelsey’s message.  This is something I didn’t plan at all.  As a direct result of hearing about Kelsey’s experiences, an amazing number of my students became special educators themselves.  (Today we call them intervention specialists).  Let me repeat, this wasn’t at all my goal, it just happened.  Without even trying I dumped buckets of ice all over them.  Just putting a person’s name and face to the experience drenched them with new understanding.  They now wanted to become change agents themselves.

Kelsey's lessonsSadly Kelsey didn’t live to fill my shoes and become a teacher herself.  She died at age 16 after an eleven year on-and-off battle with brain cancer.  Today I still attempt to fill her shoes as I share her story one student at a time.  We teachers sometimes have more power than a celebrity.  One day at a time, one student at a time, one story at a time, we change the world.  We have the power of a thousand buckets of ice if we just recognze it and use it for a positive purpose.

One day while teaching some aspect of child development in the classroom, I told another story about Kelsey.  A student asked with impatience in her voice, “Why do you talk about Kelsey so much?”

Now you know.  I have big shoes to fill.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the authordauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Schedule Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

What Do Great Teachers Do?

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Krista Ramsey

I belong to a Writers’ Group at my local, Midpointe Library in West Chester, Ohio.  This past week I was especially excited to attend because we were going to have a guest speaker – a lady I have admired for quite some time.  Our guest was Krista Ramsey from the Cincinnati Enquirer.   Not only does she write beautiful thought provoking articles, but she frequently writes about issues involving education which is a subject near and dear to my heart.  (As all my readers of this blog are aware).

During Krista’s talk about her writing she shared with us how her writing dream began.  She was in elementary school when a teacher, Mrs. Moomaw, required all the students in her class to write a poem.  She chose Krista’s poem and asked her to read it aloud in front of an auditorium full of people.  It was as simple and yet as significant as that…a vote of confidence from her teacher.  It was that very day that Krista began to think of herself as a writer.  “If my teacher thinks I am a writer, then I must be good at it,” she shared her childhood rationale with us.

“I believe a good teacher wills you into your gifts.”

                                                                                        Krista Ramsey

I couldn’t agree more.  Ms. Ramsey worked on her writing craft for many years but she confessed she didn’t always have the confidence to call herself a writer aloud.  She became an English teacher first.  And yet that one day with Mrs. Moomaw and one act of recognition by a teacher influenced her life in such a way that the writing dream never went away.  She steered herself as directly as possible toward that target that her teacher had revealed to her.  Now all her readers and fans can enjoy her written insights regularly.  As a fan of Ms. Ramsey’s writing, I personally want to thank Mrs. Moomaw.

I was struck by the life experiences that I shared with Ms. Ramsey. It was a similar event in my life that fueled my dream of writing.  I always knew I wanted to teach, but I also harbored a secret dream of becoming a writer.   That dream was not encouraged by anyone for many years.  In fact all evidence pointed to the foolishness of harboring such a dream. But just as in Krista’s case it was one teacher and one particular day in a classroom that gave me the courage to continue to allow my dream of writing to percolate until its time.  Without that one particular day and classroom experience, I doubt if I ever would have written the books that I have authored.

As Ms. Ramsey continued to talk with us about writing, an audience member posed the question, “How do I ever get the courage to call myself a writer?  When am I a writer?”

I loved Ms. Ramsey’s response.

If we told ourselves we have the gifts we want to have, how much more of an impact could we have on the world?

BINGO.  That, in a nutshell is the premise of my entire second book, TEACH…To Change Lives.  A great teacher does reveal talents to their students, but they do so much more.  They teach students how to discover, nurture, and have the courage to develop their own talents.  Ultimately that is the foundation on which to build long term success in life…not just inside the classroom….but in life.

In today’s world we change, not just jobs, but frequently entire professions, multiple times if we want to continue to grow and succeed.  Careers will exist within the next decade that are not even on the horizon today.  We can’t possibly train our students for those careers currently.  They aren’t in our textbooks or even measured on current standardized tests.  But we can train students to recognize their talents and give them the courage to pursue those new careers as they emerge.  THAT is precisely the most important job of an effective teacher.

I consider myself a teacher first.  But that is not my entire identity.  Sometime during my life path I became a professional speaker and then a writer.  In truth, my ability to speak to and encourage a group of people is probably my greatest talent and yet I didn’t recognize that until I was in my forties.  Thank goodness I had the courage to embrace that skill rather than deny it as something for which I didn’t have a college degree..  At the time I entered college I had never heard of a professional speaker.  I didn’t know they existed.  My books happened because audience members asked for them. They willed me to write my first book.

Back at the library someone asked Krista if she had written a book.  Her reply?  “Not yet.”

Whether or not a book exists, there are some things I know for certain after being in Ms. Ramsey’s presence for only about an hour.  Krista Ramsey is an author.  Her non-fiction books are already written, she just hasn’t put a book cover on them…yet.  She could write marvelous fiction if she so desires.  She is also an effective speaker and something of a philosopher.  She could be a counselor if she made that her choice.  The teaching profession lost a great teacher when she moved into journalism. I’m sorry for the students who didn’t get to have her daily influence.  She certainly would have been a gal who would have taught in such a way that she would have changed lives in the process.  She would have been just the kind of teacher who discovered multiple talents within her students and willed them toward those gifts.

Sometimes you feel a kinship with a person from across a room.  I felt myself nodding in agreement at every statement she made.  When I mustered the courage to speak she was nodding my way too.

And so it is with great teachers and their students.  We learn from one another.

Show Your Work: Austin Kleon on the Art of Getting NoticedTEACH...To Change Lives

 TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Invite Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

 

 

 

 

The Boomerang Kid

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boomerangOne of the unexpected joys of my teaching career is that I have had the opportunity to teach students of all age levels.  I have taught preschool through high school seniors, and now even supervise college level students doing their intern teaching.

Mikey is a boy I taught in preschool when he was three and four years old.  He was the biggest boy in class even though some others were a year older than he.  He was also friendly, affectionate and funny.  You just had to love Mikey and everyone did.

Fast forward about twelve years.  I was teaching high school juniors and seniors in a Teacher Academy program when I noticed a name just like Mikey’s on my class list.  Could this possibly be the same boy?  No way.  I was in a different district than where I first met Mikey and I was teaching high school, not preschool.  But sure enough on the first day of school in he walked with a big grin on his face.  I didn’t recognize him at first.  But then he spoke.

“Hey, Mrs. Easley, remember me?  It’s Mikey from preschool!’

And just like a boomerang, Mikey was back in my life.  It was evident pretty quickly that Mikey had become Michael.  He was 6’4″ inches tall and weighed between 275 and 300 pounds depending on whether or not it was football or wrestling season.  But his basic personality had not changed at all.  He was friendly, easy-going and kinder than the average teen.

I remember one time I was lamenting about my students falling into a habit of arriving late to class.  In walked Michael a couple of minutes late.  I gave him my “teacher look” of disapproval.  He didn’t say anything.  He just came up to me later privately and apologized and told me every once in a while he might be a little late to class because he helped his friend Greg get from class to class in his wheel chair every day.  I felt like a heel.  For the two years Michael was in my class I watched him wheel Greg from class to class all day long.  He shared lunch with him in the cafeteria too.  This was not a task that was assigned to him.  He wasn’t doing it to accumulate volunteer hours.  Greg was his friend.  Period.

Michael was kind to everyone, no exceptions.  He was a behemoth on the football field and someone you wouldn’t want to meet on a wrestling mat or in a dark alley; but I always thought of him as my gentle giant.  About a month before high school graduation Michael pointed out to me that I was the first teacher he had ever had when he walked into preschool when he was three.  And then he mentioned that I would be the last teacher he would have in high school for the last bell of the last day as he finished his high school career.  It choked me up when he shared that observation with me.  I hadn’t thought of it, but he had. What a privileged teaching career I have had, to be able to influence this remarkable young man at both the beginning and closing of his school career.

But even that is not where the story ends. Mike went on to college to become an intervention specialist (special educator).  I can’t think of anyone more suited for such a career.  He won’t have to learn how to value all students; he always has.  A couple of weeks ago,  his name popped up on my email.  He has graduated from college now.  He is beginning his job search.  He asked me if I would do some practice job interviews with him.  So there we were last week, Mike and I, now a young man in his twenties meeting at the public library where I put him through a series of mock job interviews for a future teaching position.  We worked together again for a couple of hours.  At the end of that time we shared a hug and I told him to let me know when he had landed a teaching position or to call me with any tough interview questions and we would discuss possible responses.

Michael and I have been passing in and out of each other’s lives now for two decades.  He doesn’t just make other students feel valued, he makes his teacher feel valued too.  How gratifying it is to have a young man still believe that I have something of worth to teach him.  I hope this wonderful relationship continues for decades more. When you’ve been hugged by Mikey these days, you KNOW you’ve been hugged.  He can lift you right up off the floor, both physically and emotionally.

At the risk of repeating myself, I ask this question again.  Where, but in the profession of teaching, can you influence lives so positively and for such a length of time?  The rewards I reap from this career go on and on.  So does my gratitude for all the students who have touched my life in such a wonderful way.

What a teacher writes

on the blackboard of life

can never be erased.

blackboard of life

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives 

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Book Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Teaching the Important Things

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Teaching the Important Things

Last week I went to lunch with Josh, one of my former high school students.   There he is grinning on the left.  He is just about ready to graduate from college and has begun the job search.  He joked about his major:  English and American Studies.  He also has a minor in film.  He has begun to circulate his resume, but so far has received no invitations for an interview.

I asked Josh about his dream job.

Right now I’d like to do something with my writing.  I would especially love to write about films or music.  But who will ever believe  that I could do that?  How do you impress anyone and get them to take a chance on you, when you are fresh out of college?

I’m fortunate.  I positively know Josh can do all of these things. I began reading Josh’s writing when he was only seventeen.  It was clear even when he was in high school that he had a major talent for writing.  He was always interested in plays, characters, settings, and how to impact those scenes with just the right music and dialogue.  He is a director (or novelist) in his soul.  I’ve also watched him act in productions and lead a group of a thousand teens as a Master of Ceremonies on the stage at a national conference.  It is so gratifying as a teacher to sit with a young person and absolutely know in your gut that he will be a success.  I am probably even more excited than he is to watch this all unfold.

This weekend I also attended the college graduation party of another former high school student, Nicki.  She is now a respiratory therapist.  She has her job already lined up.  Remember I taught these students in a Teacher Academy program.  I spent two years with them teaching them everything I knew about the teaching profession.   And yet some of my former students have steered into completely different paths; lawyer, forensic accounting, an engineer who wants to design prosthetics,  signer for deaf children and adults and a great variety of other careers.  While the vast majority of the students I taught have gone into the teaching profession, many have chosen completely different paths.

Choosing Your Own Path

Does that make me feel like a failure?  Not at all.  Why?  Because fortunately I didn’t just teach my students about teaching.

  • I taught them about pushing outside their comfort zone and refusing to give up on a dream (any dream) because of fear.
  • We talked about facing failures and how to not allow those failures to defeat you but how to turn them into a success.
  • They practiced how to give an effective speech.
  • In my classroom they learned that most people in American today don’t just change jobs, they change careers several times in their lives.
  • They learned to listen for negative self talk and replace it with positive messages to themselves.
  • How to use the power of persistence to accomplish anything you want to achieve.
  • We practiced writing a resume and being interviewed.
  • As a group we learned how to survive when someone you love turns their back on you.  (Believe me that is an important skill needed in a classroom full of teens.  If you don’t think so, look at teen suicide rates).
  • They learned how to create a persuasion presentation.
  • We talked about the importance of living their lives with balance and how to notice when your own life is out of balance.
  • They learned how to express themselves through the written word.  Boy did they learn that!
  •  There was hardly a day in my classroom when I didn’t orally read a small piece about how someone who is now successful overcame obstacles in their lives.

In short, we talked about every aspect of life…even when they thought they didn’t need it or want to discuss it.

You know what scares me?  Given our country’s current preoccupation with test scores, scripted education and the push to cover pages 74- 79 today, how many teachers will never get around to the important stuff?  If I had chosen to teach only about teaching, I would have probably realized something like a 20% failure rate.  But instead I feel like every time a kid I’ve taught finds their passion and has the courage to pursue it, I can count that as a “win.”

Most of my former students will be amazing teachers.  The rest of them will be equally incredible at whatever they choose to pursue.  I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of all their lives.

Josh, who isn’t becoming a teacher, has already promised to mention me in his acceptance speech for the first big award that comes his way.  I know this is going to happen.  If you know anyone who is hiring a writer or is working on a film, I suggest you hire Josh immediately.  That way you can also look back and say as I will, “I just knew from the very beginning, he was going to be a success.”

How to reach Josh Chamberlain?   j3.chamberlain@gmail.com

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Invite Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

 

 

 

 

Thank You Notes

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thank you notesI love that section during the Tonight Show when Jimmy Fallon writes his thank you notes.  If you’ve never seen it you don’t know what you’re missing.  Tune in on a Friday night and watch him.  I wish I knew how to add some tinkling piano music to my blog site to play in the background as I write my thank you notes to my blog readers and teacher friends.

Thank you…to my readers who put up with my absences to my blog site.  You make me realize what I always suspected of my high school students.  Sometimes you like it more when I just don’t say anything.  I can’t believe how loyal my readers have been even when I have been missing in action.

Thank you…to my blog site for making me feel guilty every day of my life.  When I can’t possibly think of one more thing to write about teaching, you are still there, lurking, nagging, proving to me why I was never able to run a marathon either.

Thank you…to the preschooler who called me Mr. Beasley all year long.  You taught me about the importance of  becoming gender neutral long before society became politically correct.  Is that what you were trying to teach me?

Thank you…high school students who yearned to sleep through my class every day.  You taught me how to handle rejection and keep on going.  I can now listen to politicians and the media list the  shortcomings of teachers and the educational system in America.  I return to the classroom and keep on teaching in spite of the negativity.  You turned me into one of those punching bag clowns that just keeps popping back up. for more punches.

Thank you…software and electronic boards that always malfunction with a classroom full of students and an administrator observing in the back of the room.  You taught me flexibility and gave me the ability to BS my way out of any crisis.

Thank you…duties.  I’m talking about cafeteria, hallway, parking lot and restroom duty.  You taught me just how little a Masters Degree is worth in American schools. You taught me that duties are nothing but doodie.   As a side benefit, you kept my advanced degrees from making me arrogant.

Thank you…copy machines that don’t work.  You forced me to remember the pungent aroma of ditto machines with fondness and nostalgia.  Because of you, I value my heritage.

Thank you…to the high school students who used to tell me my shoes didn’t match, my blouse label was showing, and I had bed head in the back.  Because of your diligence in pointing out my shortcomings I could save the money I would have otherwise have had to spend on a personal stylist.

Thank you…to my teen students who made me feel I had the talents of a stand up comedian.  I remember the time I described a fabric as seersucker and you laughed for five minutes.  Who knew I could be so entertaining?

Thank you…classroom cheaters.  Because of your ingenuity and the training you provided me, I could work for the secret service, homeland security or the IRS without listing anything but my high school teaching experience on my resume.

Thank you…emails from parents.  You kept me from gaining weight as I used my lunch hour and break times to reply to your requests.  You saved me the money I would have spent at Weight Watchers and I appreciate the savings.

Thank you…teen drivers who parked “illegally” in the teachers’ parking spaces in the school parking lot.  You gave me wet hair on rainy days, frost bite in the winter and fewer papers to grade at home during the windy season.

Thank you…to all the students who used cell phones in my classroom and thought I didn’t notice.  Let me just say it now. I always saw you!  You taught me how to keep from screaming at rude people who are annoying the heck out of me.  It was a valuable life lesson.  You’ll need that lesson when you become teachers and are standing in front of a bunch of rude kids on cell phones.  It will bite you in the butt.

Thank you…to the amazing number of former students who stay in contact with me through emails, invitations to lunch and kind notes.  You make me feel that my teaching was valued in spite of the daily evidence to the contrary.  You are the reason I still write a blog for teachers even when I run out of new ideas to share.  I want you to know that you are truly one of my life’s greatest blessings.

Thank You!

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives 

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Book Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I Were the Boss

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the bossIf 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.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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