Dr. Chara Wilaford and I did a session with school leaders entitlted, “Post Pandemic Planning” a few weeks ago, and this clip stuck out to me. It stuck out because sometimes we rarely reflect and get caught up in the moment. The question was, “How has the pandemic impacted your leadership forever, and what will you take away from it?” I wanted to go last because I had to gather my thoughts. There’s a lot that I’ve taken from this pandemic, and there’s definitely a lot that I’ve lost. I’ve lost some loved ones- my mother-in-law, who told me, “Son, if you trust God, there’s no telling where you can go. I’m so proud of you, and I know your mom is smiling down on you every day. You are covered.” And my friend, Bart Pinckney, who called me the night before my dissertation defense in 2014 and said, “Do good, Doc. You’re just finishing the race now. We’ll be waiting for you when you get back to Griffin.” Those people hold significant spaces in my heart- and we lost them. And that’s not easy to accept. One of my students from last year- his parents no longer have their son walking through the doors in the afternoons. So, when I’m asked that question of what I take from these times, the first thing I think of is taking advantage of every moment and building moments with people. I think of being intentional and loving on others because intentional love is a necessity that we must prioritize.
One of my mentors told me that my gift and my curse is that I care about people. Sometimes too much. I received the message because I do know that I prioritize people, work to build bonds, and I try to lead in love because I’ve always been led that way. I liken my leadership style to the leaders who led me. Some were the model of success and lessons I pulled from others were examples of what to avoid in the seat of leadership. I know that it’s ingrained in me to love others, and that love leads me to do whatever is needed in the moment. As I stated in the video, sometimes it’s sitting and talking to someone just about life for 45 minutes. Excellence can’t exist at work when real life is throwing tantrums one’s way at home. Sometimes, it’s helping to make anchor charts because that person doesn’t even know what they are. Yep-that happens too. Sometimes, it’s calling someone to my office because they haven’t listened to the coach who’s spent more than three weeks working on the same skill. It looks different- but it feels the same, and if the intentions are good, it feels good as well.
I’ve known for a long time that my purpose in life is to make a difference for kids. Because of my upbringing, there’s almost this dual consciousness that exists in my head that builds the bridge of understanding. What I’ve learned and continue to learn is that my work with teachers also has an impact on kids in a major way. Previously, I thought it had to be direct work with students. Now, I know that it’s a combination of the two. In the hallway today, one of my students came to me and said, “Dr. G., can you please wish me a happy birthday on Wednesday? I want everybody to know that it’s my birthday, and it’s up.” I laughed and told him I’d think about it. He said, “Please, Dr. G. I’ve been doing good, right? You can give me a shout out.” I told him I’d check his grades and then I’d see, to which he responded, “Don’t be flexing out on me, Dr. G. I need you to do this for me!” We both laughed in that moment. But to be honest, I’m certain that I’ll mention him on Wednesday. Intentional love. It means a lot to him, so it means a lot to me. And if he doesn’t remember anything else this year, I’m certain that he’ll remember his birthday shout out on the morning announcements.
And this week, being teacher appreciation week, is probably one of the most important times throughout the school year to show some intentional love. Our media specialist told me today, “We have to celebrate everyone this week because everybody in this building is a teacher.” To the leaders around the country, relax this week and show some intentional love to your staff. They have been working through worry and uncertainty, and they did all of this to help young people. What a noble job! They’ve probably learned more in one year than ever, and we have to be careful not to overlook that. Four week from the end of an unpredictable school year, we’re still standing. We’re still grinding and working. We have to. We have no other choice.
To all of you reading this- be committed. Be accountable. Show intentional love!