Lessons From My Favorite Educator
It is a universal experience to have distinct memories of some of our favorite (or not-so-favorite) elementary and high school teachers. Whether they were encouragers, storytellers, nurturers or disciplinarians, teachers play a major role in shaping the course of not only our educational journey, but our future life aspirations, careers, and personal goals.
The most impactful teacher in my life was Miriam Smith.
My Mom, Miriam Smith, who passed away in 2022, was a 50+ year tenured educator and school administrator with a firebrand communication style. She proudly wore a sweatshirt emblazoned with, “I yell because I care,” and prided herself on defying the naysayers or the lazy ones (her words) who only hitched their star to other stars. This isn’t to say that Miriam Smith didn’t rally for the overt achievers however, she knew that the more apparent talent, the more easily they got attention and support.
To heed the call when a petite, yet ever-so boisterous teacher and boss lady pointed her red lacquered nail at you was intimidating to most. Be it her peer, team, or student, buckle in because your development and highest potential were now her mission. The uninitiated were often perplexed by her way. Quickly they witnessed the give and take of her laser-focused, direct coaching and observed that her recipients became repeat customers. You knew where you stood, what was expected of you, and that she had your back. The more you invested in yourself, the more she leaned into your success.
I acknowledge that it took a minute or three to understand and appreciate that her intention was not to hurt feelings or diminish in any manner, and today her volume can be seen as a negative. Her approach was an early version of the “Radical Candor” (Kim Scott) and the “Clear is Kind” mantra (Brené Brown). That feedback, even with some hurt feelings or bruised ego, is designed to help us, our team’s, and those around us be our best selves and get where you want to go – faster and easier.
I can hear the satisfaction in her voice and see her little Rocky dance when others were surprised by the achievements of someone they never noticed. Again, sound familiar? To brag for a moment and show Miriam Smith’s power of seeing everyone’s potential, you will find a few assumed underachievers have since become White House appointees, a law firm partner, a professor, and a teacher at her school.
As I reflect and continue to hear stories of my mom’s impact, I now recognize that she was modeling the way for those around her. Miriam taught that leadership and development at its core comprises psychological safety, allyship, coaching and advocacy. It includes clear, consistent dialogue backed by action and follow-through.
Leadership is everyone’s business. Without knowing it, I suppose I was destined to work in leadership development.
The point of this writing is not to share a biased daughter’s homage to her late mother. The takeaway is: we all can be more aware of our biases and desire to be nice. Be mindful that talent must be cultivated and developed regardless of the profile. Overestimate what’s humanely possible even when someone’s way or being doesn’t fit your definition or likeness. Encourage, enable, inspire, and challenge without fear of insult. Leverage abundant leadership development, coaching resources, and tools to find your direct and committed leadership style.
We will have a sweatshirt waiting for you.