Every year that I’ve spent as an educator has been a journey of discovery. Some years I discovered more than other years. Some years I grew deeply in my understanding of content, some years I grew as a leader, but this year is different. This year I feel like I am able to take a step back and see the big picture all while noticing how small day-to-day interactions with children make a huge impact. I can see the impact of educators everywhere I turn. This week, I noticed the impact in my own home!
On Wednesday we were eating dinner, as usual. My boys, who usually don’t have much to say about school except for their very detailed recaps of the happenings at recess and PE; both were enthusiastically sharing all of the details of Mr. Ford’s impending retirement. I mean they could barely keep from talking over each other. I was trying to follow their story that went something like this “Mr. Ford is RETIRING! He is going to spend his time working on a farm! I wish he would wait until the end of the year. Why do people retire? Why doesn’t he want to come to school anymore. He loves school…” I was a little embarrassed to have to ask, but I wasn’t sure who Mr. Ford was. The boys stopped dead in their tracks when I asked and both said, “THE JANITOR!” This was followed by, “He the nicest person at school! Yeah, he is funny and he jokes with us.” My 5th grade son, Rocco said, “He calls me Taco and I call him Bob. And, mom, I’m NOT being disrespectful, it’s our inside joke.” Gino chimed in with, “He always waves to me. He really likes me.” This conversation made my heart sing. Not only, is it so comforting to know that the adults at school make meaningful connections with my kids, but I also loved the fact they my kids respected and appreciated the custodian. So, I said, “Boys we should get him a retirement gift. When is his last day?” Of course I wasn’t expecting the answer to this questions to be, TOMORROW, but as luck would have it, that was exactly their response. So, instead of a gift from a store, my boys each made a card for Mr. Ford and I think there words are better than any gift I could have purchased from a store.
There are so many "Mr. Fords" in schools everywhere. To each and every one of you, I say, thank you! Thank you for enjoying children, thank you for making a connection with them, thank you for being a smiling face that they get to see every day. Whether you are a custodian, secretary, bus driver, cafeteria employee, teacher, or librarian every little interaction you have with children makes an impact.
To the real Mr. Ford, thank you for being who you are. Thank you for loving your job and making my children happy each day. Enjoy your retirement and I hope you know that your impact will last a lifetime.
The ability to impact students is one of the special superpowers that all teachers possess. It can be used for good or evil. We can have extremely positive or extremely negative impacts on the lives of kids. The thing about impact is that it’s hard to measure. Most often our impact can’t be measured for years, long after our students leave our classrooms. Dave Burgess speaks about this very thing in his book, Teach Like a Pirate, Dave says that, “A teacher’s impact can only be measured through generations!” The story I’m about to share, proves just that…
My mother-in-law, Rosanne Prati, spent over 30 years teaching first and second grades. She retired about 4 years ago and started working at Hallmark just last year. On Saturday, I noticed that I had a voicemail from her. She told me to call her so she could tell me a teacher story that my father-in-law just didn’t fully understand. When I called her back she shared this story with me:
Yesterday I was at work and it was really busy. I noticed a lady at the register next to mine who looked familiar. I could tell that she was looking at me, too but couldn’t place me. Then I remembered that she was a former student of mine. So, I said, “Tammy! You don’t remember me do you?” The lady looked at me and quickly said, “Mrs. Prati!” I came around to the front of the register and gave her a hug. We didn’t have much time to talk, but she said, “I’ve always wanted to thank you for what you did for me. I’ve thought about you so much over the years.”
If the story ended there, it would probably have been plenty. To me, the thought of hearing those words from a student you taught 20 or 30 years ago would be music to any teacher’s ears, but this isn’t the end of the story. My mother-in-law went on to say:
I was so happy to see her and I wasn’t even really sure what I’d done for her. Then the next day I came in to work and there was a package and a card waiting for me. I opened the card, it was from Tammy.
Here is what it said:
She then read the message that Tammy wrote inside:
Upon hearing what she wrote, I instantly had chills. I could feel the impact that my mother-in-law had on her former student’s life coming alive in the words of that card. Proof! This is proof that our impact can’t be measured by test scores, can’t be measured by an SLO, but instead is measured by the way we make our students feel and how they live their lives years after being in our classrooms.
As we talked more about what had happened. Rosanne continued her story.
Later that day someone else came in to the store and said, “Mrs. Prati! You were my cousin Tammy’s teacher when she was in first grade. She told me she saw you here and that you had helped her at school one day when she had an accident. You gave her clean jogging pants and none of the kids ever found out that it had happened. She tried to find you on Facebook because she wanted you to see this post.”
The person then handed my mother-in-law her phone so she could read this:
Yesterday I went to get a couple things for Christmas and I got my Christmas gift in return! I stopped in The Hallmark store at the OV Mall with my daughter and this lady asked if it was me. A little confused (normal anymore) I said yes. It was Mrs. Prati! A teacher who helped a very shy scared little girl on several occasions (yes ME). She has always been in my heart throughout the years. When you think of someone with such a huge heart, caring personality and the patience of God...you get her. Over the last couple of years I have begun apologizing from my heart to several people that I've hurt or was mean to because I was a fool. She was always the mentor that I always thought of and wanted to be like. Thank You Mrs. Prati for being such an angel and making a positive difference in this girl's life! God Bless You! I couldn't find her on Facebook but I hope she gets to read this. I did leave her a special personalized "Forever Grateful" gift at her store that I hope she likes.
Our impact is real. What impact will we make today that may not be measured for years to come?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading Above the Line by Urban Meyer. The title of Chapter 5 is “Competitive Excellence”. At the very beginning of the chapter Urban states that, “The best ‘gamers’ are the best ‘practicers’.” Makes perfect sense, right? However as this statement began to sink in for me, I realized that there is one glaring difference between elite athletes and elite educators. Athletes have the benefit of practice! Remember what Urban said? “The best ‘gamers’ are the ‘practicers’.” But, wait, we don’t get to practice. Educators must be at the top of their game every day. We have 180 days with our students and it’s “game on” from Day 1. Not one of those 180 days is practice days.
So what do we do? How do we become elite performers when we don’t get a chance to practice? Luckily for us, Urban has the answer to this question in his book as well. He says, “Elite performers don’t get to that level by accident, but through great coaching and careful attention to preparation.” Coaches! That’s right. We must use our coaches.
Since I became a principal four years ago, I have said time and time again that it is my goal to create a culture of coaching in my building. By this I mean, a culture in which it is deemed unacceptable to not ask questions, reflect on practice and seek out the expertise of others. It is amazing to watch this culture take shape. Over the years I have seen staff members go from anxious and uncertain first year teachers, to educators who are mentoring new teachers, leading data team conversations and confidently making decisions that are positively impacting the lives of students. I’ve seen ELL teachers who were transferred to my building become valued members of our staff. These ELL teachers have coached classroom teachers as they learned to work with students who speak languages other than English. I have seen veteran teachers step up and say “the way I used to teach doesn’t work anymore and I’m trying something new.”
When the teachers on a staff trust one another enough to grow together, reflect together and coach one another, amazing things happen. What makes a staff truly ELITE is when they’re not afraid to say that they’re not satisfied with the work they do. I am so happy to work with a staff that isn’t satisfied. We want to be better than we are today because our students deserve it.
Meyer, Urban (2015-10-27). Above the Line: Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Championship Season (pp. 104-105). Penguin Publishing Group.
I hope my blog posts inspire risk taking and new ways of thinking. I hope to connect with other educators on our journey to always do what's best for children.