Leave a legacy! We often hear that phrase in politics. We are hearing it more and more in business. Some are concerned about it in their personal life. As someone who has been involved in public education my entire professional career I have started to think about the “legacy concept” not just for myself but those teachers and administrators that I would consider my contemporaries. Specifically, I am speaking of those educators that entered the profession in the mid to late 1970s through the mid-1980s….those that are contemplating or acting upon the urge to retire.
As I look down my 42-year professional path, it is easy for me to see that my journey in public education is close to an end and now I wonder, “What legacy have I built?” Maybe the better question to ask is “what legacy do I desire to build.” At the beginning of a school year, the consideration of “legacy” is appropriate for all educators to consider for truly you start construction of your “legacy” when you begin your career. Teachers, supervisors, related service staff, paraprofessionals, and other support staff “How do you want to be remembered” by students, colleagues, and the communities you serve?
I draw heavily from the example of my father when I write, chiefly because he was my hero. He passed away in October of 2011 and I spend a great deal of time thinking about the things that made him special not just as a father or pastor, but as a person. He built a legacy that would be the envy of any educator. I can think of no higher praise than someone saying to me or my sons you are like your father or grandfather.
- He believed in knowing and keeping your priorities straight. For him, it was simple: faith, family, others, and everything else. As educators, particularly in leadership positions, we make the job OUR priority while everything truly important in our life falls apart. Keeping your priorities straight entails finding the appropriate balance in your life.
- He believed and practiced leaving things better than you found them. Regardless of the job, we occupy in the school system our desire every year ought to include getting better. Professional improvement should be the norm for every one of us in education. NONE of us have arrived at a point where enhancing our skills is an option.
- He was never worried about getting credit when something went well. Our profession is full of opportunists who only desire a “pat on the back,” “their name in lights,” “top billing at “state-wide conference.” In many cases, their showcased accomplishments occur at the expense of other people of which you will never hear or see. My father often stated “beware of the person who was always the hero of his own stories.” Teachers should draw their greatest satisfaction from the progress of their students, supervisors should draw their satisfaction from the progress of their teachers and students, and superintendents should draw their greatest satisfaction from the progress of supervisors, teachers, and students.
- He believed in listening more than speaking. This is an anomaly for a man called to preach. He felt the Creator had a clear sense of proportion when he gave us two ears and only one mouth. To him, the message was clear we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. As educators what a profound lesson – listening allows us to clarify the needs of our students and for administrators, it is a conduit to understanding the needs of our staff.
- He believed that everyone (man, woman or child) should do their best. Regardless of what I was involved in as a child, I was constantly questioned by him “Did you do your best?” Sadly there were times when my best effort was not given. How our agency could be transformed if everyone who had a part in our operation simply did their best each and every day – no slackers, no whiners, no complainers – just faculty, staff, students, and parents doing their best in the role they had in the ESC.
As I contemplate what legacy I aspire to leave behind as I enter my 42nd year in public education, it is summed up in the ingredients my father used to build his legacy. Might it be said of me that I kept my priorities straight; I left things better than I found them; I didn’t worry about getting credit for successes; I listened more than I spoke and finally that I did my best. None of these characteristics may matter to anyone else on the planet, but they would make my father proud and that is enough motivation for me!