More Than a Music Teacher

@MrBrettClark 1 Comments

I write this post with a heavy heart because I know no matter what I write in this post it will fail to adequately express how I feel. One of my all-time favorite people is battling cancer and is currently at home receiving hospice care. I am frantically typing these words in a hope that she will get to read them because I haven't expressed to her enough what an impact she had in my life.

With that being said, I dedicate this post to the amazing Mrs. Connie Meek.

Mrs. Meek taught choir at Crawfordsville High School. I first met her when my brother Jason was in high school and she was his teacher. I would go on to have Mrs. Meek as a teacher from the time I was in 8th grade choir, until the day I graduated high school. I had her for more classes than any other teacher in my educational career.

Now I love music. I love playing music and I love singing. However, there is no way I would have taken that many years of choir if I didn't have an amazing teacher. What made her so amazing? First of all, there is no doubt in my mind, or anyone's, that she loved teaching. I can not imagine all the hours she put into us as students between her full schedule of classes, musicals, Pride (which is a club about being drug free), and everything else that goes along with being a teacher. Most importantly, she loved us students. I can't tell you the number of times she pulled me aside when I was having problems and talked to me. She loved us and I loved her for it.

My mind is being flooded with memories. Even now I can see the smile on her at the end of a choir concert. The look of joy she would have because the way we sounded on day one of learning a song compared to where we were on concert day was always light years apart. It was never a look of pride in herself for taking this group of kids and making us sound wonderful. It was always, at least to me, a look that said, I'm so proud of you and look what you can accomplish when you work hard and believe. It's a look I've tried to express to my own students and children.

I remember all the times I got to sing the national anthem and even to this day I can't hear or sing it without going into my bass part. Well, I at least try to go into my bass part. Every time I hear somebody sing and the words say "don't you" but it sounds more like "don't chew" because they didn't enunciate properly, I think of her. Even though I'm not in any choir or part of any singing group, I will still find myself singing the warmups we did in choir. Every time I hear the Imperial Death March I don't just think of Star Wars. I also think, "uh oh, somebody just got caught chewing gum in choir." There are several songs we sang in choir that I will still break out into at random times. Peg Leg Pete, Every Time I Feel The Spirit, and Calendar Girls, just to name a few.

One of my favorite high school moments happened because of Mrs. Meek. I was not nearly as outgoing as I wanted to be in high school. If I'm being honest, I had a very low self-esteem. I never thought I was good enough. My senior year was a down year in the men section in concert choir. A few seniors opted out for whatever reason and I was the only male singer who had any concert choir experience. We had a bunch of freshmen and their ever-changing voices, plus a few upperclassmen who might have been in choir before but this was their first time in concert choir. I actually had a scheduling conflict because I was a calculus student and it was only offered at the same time as concert choir. I convinced my school to let me drive a few miles down the road to the next high school and take calculus there at the end of each day so I could still be in choir. It was a great year, with lots of great memories. At the end of the year we always had awards. Mrs. Meek was handing out the top award for the year. I couldn't believe it when she called my name. I wasn't the choir president, I didn't consider myself to be a popular kid, and I certainly wasn't the best singer in choir. She later told that she gave me the award because I stuck with her and worked so hard with all the guys all year long. I've never forgotten that feeling. It was a feeling that very few teachers ever made me have but it was one that I had frequently around Mrs. Meek. It was a feeling of pride in my work self. It was the feeling that if I could master this, what else could I master?

Hardly anything can match the feeling of somebody believing in you and how it causes you to believe in yourself. She never gave up on me. She never gave up on us. It's a feeling I tried my hardest to pass on to my students. It's a feeling I do everything I can to make sure my own children have.

These words are not enough. I read over them and I know I've fallen short. How do you put this much appreciation for an individual into words? I hope some of Mrs. Meek's former students read this and help me out here. I hope others share their thoughts.

Thank you Mrs. Meek! You did more than teach me how to sing. You taught me more than notes and lyrics. You taught me how to love what you're doing. You taught me how to love students as if they were your own kids. You taught me how to work hard and to never give up on something or someone you love. It has been almost 17 years since you were my teacher but I'm still learning from you today.

Thank you Mrs. Meek.

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Four Ps to a Fantastic Following

@MrBrettClark 2 Comments

I originally posted this blog on my school district's technology website.

If nobody is following you, then you're not leading.

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It's a phrase that anyone in leadership has heard over and over again. I was recently in a leadership class at my church being led by a person from Kineo Resources. During the session as he was discussing the four reasons people will follow you, I reflected on what I had learned that night I thought about how it applies to education. Whatever your role is in education, you are a leader. However, the true mark of leaders isn't how great their ideas are; it's the number of people they can get to follow, plan, improve, and execute those ideas. There are four levels of followers each leader has and each level of follow is a reflection of the relationship between the leader and the follower.


Position


Some people will just follow you because of your position. They do what you say because they are the student and you are the teacher, or they are the teacher and you are the administrator. It's a level of compliance based on the position you hold over them or because of your ability to "get them in trouble" if they don't listen to you. This is the lowest level of followers and the lowest level of relationship. If you constantly have to remind somebody that you're in charge, you're the adult, or you're the boss, and they're the student, they're the child, or they're the teacher, then you only have position followers. These followers might be compliant at best. They will do what you say when you're but might talk about you behind your back. This is also the entry level of following. We follow people because of their position and test the waters to see if we can build that relationship to the next level. When you realize you have a position level follower, it is your role as a leader to cultivate that relationship. The follower wants to see that you have a vision and a mission. They want to see that you have a plan and a purpose. Most of all, they want to see that there is a benefit to being your follower. If they can't see your vision and mission, they'll never buy into you. If they don't see a benefit of being a follower, then they'll never get to the next level of following.  


Permission


Permission is the next level of following. This level says, I give you permission to lead me. Ultimately, position followers are not true followers at all. True followers are followers not out of obligation, but because they give you permission to lead them. They are followers out of choice. They have begun to buy into you as a leader, therefore they are buying into your vision and your mission. They haven't seen the results of following you yet, but they believe the results are coming. This is the student who came into your class not liking your subject, but because they like you they give it a shot. They don't think they'll be good at math but because they have begun to trust you, they follow your instructions. This is the teacher who has bought into the vision of the principal and the district. They haven't seen the results in the classroom yet, but they trust the instructional leaders and therefore are implementing the plan to the best of their ability. There is only one way to continue to move the followers up to the next level of following, and that is through results. If a leader's vision and mission fails to produce results, then those who followed you out of permission are going to revoke that permission. You see it all the time is sports. A new coach comes in, builds a relationship with his or her team, they implement the new system, maybe have some immediate success but then things go south. They start losing games and the new system doesn't appear to be working any longer. What happens? The coach loses the locker room, loses permission, and then loses his job. The same thing happens in our schools. At some point, your leadership has to begin to consistently produce results in order to move to that next level of followers.  


Production


When those following you begin to see the good results, then they move to that next level, production. This level says, I followed you because of your position, you built trust in me and I have you permission to lead me. Now I see the good results of following you, so I will follow you further. This is a great place to be. I think back to my high school algebra teacher, Ms. Rupar. She was a tough lady. She certainly taught through fear to a certain degree and I'm not sure her methods would work today but they worked back then. I remember listening to her because she was my teacher and she could put you in line if you didn't pay attention. Then I remember as the semester went on that I developed a good relationship with her. I learned that we could connect and she was actually very easy to talk to once you got over your fear of her. So I gave her permission to lead me. No longer was I doing things because I didn't want to get in trouble but because I didn't want to let her down. Finally, I found out I was pretty good at this algebra stuff and I had her to thank for it. I was getting consistently good results, so I kept following her. I don't care what your position is, how many degrees you have, or how many years you've been doing this, if you can't produce results, people will stop following you. This is where a lot of leaders falter because they realize they're not getting the results they want, but they aren't willing to change. They are not willing to adapt to a new way of thinking. Their plans become more important to them than their vision and mission. But if you, as a leader, can grow, change, and adapt throughout the process and produce results, then you have a chance to grow into the type of leader who leads people to that final stage of following.


Personal Development


We will all follow somebody who makes us a better version of ourselves. This level says, I will follow you because I am becoming the leader I want to become because of you. We reproduce after our own kind. Dogs breed dogs. Cats breed cats. Corn seeds are planted and corn grows out of the ground. Leaders produce leaders. I said it at the top of this post, if nobody is following you, then you're not leading. I also say, if you're not producing new leaders, then you're not leading. People will obey somebody because of their position. They will give permission to somebody they trust. They will follow somebody whose plans and leadership produce results. They will flock to somebody who helps them develop personally to the leader they want to be. This is the principal who changes schools and half the staff at their previous schools puts in for transfers to his or her new school. This is the teacher that every student in the school wants to have, like my high school Latin teacher Mr. Boone. Mr. Boone taught 11th grade ELA and Latin. By the time he retire, he taught five classes of Latin a day. He was such a great teacher who instilled within you confidence, a love for learning, and a passion to follow your dreams.  Every student signed up for Latin just to guarantee they had Mr. Boone as a teacher.

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In the end we have to remember that there is more to life than producing good results. If you are just using people to get the results, you need them in spite of your results, you will lose your followers. We are in the people business. Our students need to know that we are interested in developing them as people and working with them so they will become the leaders they want to be. Our staffs need to know that we pour into them, not just to get results, but because they are worth pouring in to. It's all about relationship. Here, in just the start of second semester, let me challenge us to reflect on where we are as leaders. Are people following us just because of our position? Have people given us permission to lead them and are we honoring that permission by working with them to produce results? Are we doing more than producing by pouring into those who are following? Are we producing leaders?

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