Recent months have taught me a few things, with the passing of my friend, and a few other less jarring incidents in my personal life. Among the lessons (or perhaps more appropriate, reminders) are: Be giving of your time, listen and try to help, difficult decisions can be for the best, what you do for others impacts their lives in a much greater way than you may be aware, and so many more....
I have started reading "The Last Lecture", the story of professor Randy Pausch the young professional, husband and father from Carnegie Mellon University who offered an inspiring lecture about living life despite battling pancreatic cancer. It truly is an inspiring read, and has made me think about my life, the example I set for my family to follow and the professional example I set for staff and students to (hopefully) appreciate.
Last month, I signed up to participate in the Ride to Conquer Cancer, a bike ride from Vancouver to Seattle in which each rider must raise at least $2500.00 to participate (this is not a solicitation letter, but if you are interested in making a donation here is the link). I am not a bike rider (in fact, I was hit by a car while riding a bike when I was nine years old and nearly lost my life). I was not even equipped with a bike until yesterday when I purchased one. The $2,000.00 investment still has me more than a little unsettled from a financial perspective, but as I look at it, what it allows me to do is change a few lives, my own being one of the first. I am now involved in a life-altering experience; training for and riding in an event that will have positive impacts on a community. Ultimately, the cause being supported is one that hopefully will change countless lives for the better in the future.
The recent experiences have also made me think more about what I do at work, and how it impacts others. I wrote a month ago of what my friend has taught me (here). I think many of us in education forget about how powerful and long-lasting the impact we have on students in our care and the staff with whom we work. At the Celebration of Life for Lorne I saw many former staff and students of both Lorne and myself, and was given so many thanks for the time he and I spent with them. I had forgotten how much those relationships impacted their lives and mine. In my career there have been several students who have come back to see me, coach with me or play basketball with me after their time in high school. I have also had the pleasure of being at weddings of former students. In each of the instances of students taking the time to speak or interact with me or invite me to a special occasion in their life, it reminds me of the relationship we had when they were in school. It goes for staff, too. The simple things we do can have a long-lasting effect. A smile in the hallway as we pass, taking the time to ask a question about life away from school, and engaging in conversations about challenging situations all tell people that we care about them and want to help. In some cases, the individual may not agree with the advice offered, but later in life, they will greatly appreciate that you took the time. In fact, I recall an interaction between myself and a student whom I had asked to leave the school in my first year as a Vice Principal. I saw him a few years later at a convenience store, and he told me that although he was angry with my decision at the time, he now recognized and thanked me for what must have been a difficult decision. He went on to say that it was the best thing that could have happened to him. He needed to get his life together, and leaving the environment and reputation he had created for himself was the best way to get back on track. He was appreciative of my taking the time to help him, and lauded a tough decision that I felt was in his best interests long-term. I think we can all recollect interactions like the ones I have outlined here, and sometimes we don't get the feedback to remind us that the efforts we poured into those relationships were much appreciated.
The more I think about the impact people have had on me, and I on others, it reminds me to appreciate all that has profoundly affected my life. I need to continue to make (and more often recognize) the difference I make for others within my role at school. The question recent events in my life have made me start to ask is... "Could what I am doing change someone's life, and/or even my own?" If the answer is yes (and in our work, often it is) then carefully choose any next steps, because it will be time and/or money well-spent.