My dad is the youngest of 5 children. He was only three when his father died suddenly. My grandmother was unable to care for them, so they were placed in the Covington Children’s Protestant Home until she was able to support them. Afterwards, they lived in public housing in Covington. My dad struggled as a student and was told by some teachers that he’d never amount to anything. Ultimately, he proved them wrong by graduating from college, law school, and having a prosperous career. He used those experiences and his passion to help others through his work and eventually became the chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Covington Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky (which was the orphanage where he lived.) He has been recognized for his pro bono work, received the Hero of Public Housing Award, and was inducted into Holmes High School Hall of Distinction.
My grandma (my mom’s mom) grew up on a farm in Falmouth, Kentucky. She never attended college and her family was her focus, although she did hold a few jobs outside of the home. I remember having a conversation with her when I was an adult and had just had my first child. She told me it was her mission to do one kind deed a week for someone else. She would send a card, make a phone call, or prepare soup, breads, or casseroles, for others. She passed away suddenly several years ago, and I was reminded by many people of the thoughtful deeds she had performed.
To me, both my dad and grandma are perfect examples of success. My dad used his career and his gifts to become a leader and fulfill his passion of helping others. He was immediately who I thought of when reading the book The Power of Positive Leadership by Jon Gordon. My grandma would never say she was a successful person. However, I feel that her impact was just as powerful as my dad’s, even though his success may have been more measurable to the outside world. They both found their purpose. Their why. I know we all have the potential to be successful and to be leaders, but the challenge may present itself differently and our impact may not be as easy to see. We all have our own paths.
Several years ago, I found a poem that really made me think about what it truly means to be successful and make an impact upon others. This poem is often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson; however, it’s been found that it was originally written by Bessie Anderson Stanley.
The Picture of Success
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.
As educators we typically define our success by the success of our students. But what constitutes a success? In my mind, it can take many forms. The road to success can be a lengthy and frustrating process. Daily, teachers plant the seeds, but often are not able to reap the benefits. We so want to see that “a-ha” moment, but many times another teacher gets to bask in that glory and we can only hope that it happens. I want to see results now, but that is not always possible. We work hard, do our best, and struggle to meet our students’ needs daily. Then we cross our fingers and hope that the effort pays off. Not every single child is going to be successful in the same way or at the same time. With testing upon us, there will be much thought and discussion about scores and data. Without a doubt, that is important, but there is more to it than just numbers to gauge success. Who is to say what makes a child successful? Maybe for one child it could be the fact that they feel comfortable enough to raise their hand in class or tell their teacher a joke when they come into the room. Perhaps it is because they are finally playing with, and not next to, other students at recess. Or for once, they enjoy coming to school. Still, for others it may be that they were challenged enough so that they showed significant growth or were able to reach that proficient or distinguished level. To me, these are all successes to be celebrated. Not every teacher can reach every student in the same way. We all want what is best, and it is only through a concerted effort can we truly reach that common goal. Each of us must find our own way to be successful and to expose our purpose and our why. In turn it will help our students be successful, and I believe it will ultimately help our students find their own purpose and why.
A few years ago, I had a student that I just could not reach. He was not bad but just apathetic and I was frustrated because I did not feel like I was getting through to him. One day we had a lengthy conversation, and it ended with me taking him to our classroom library to choose a book. He wasn’t reading and I was hoping to help him find that book that was going to click with him and make him fall in love with reading. He liked sports and chose an old tattered book about Lou Gehrig that I’d inherited along the way. Over the course of the next few weeks, I noticed him carrying it around. I didn’t see the book for awhile and eventually forgot. One thing I did notice, was that our relationship really improved. At the end of the year, when the students were cleaning out their desks, he pulled out that book. I remember walking by and being aggravated. That was a failure, I thought. He probably never even opened it up. All I wanted was for him to be successful, to grow, to become a better student. But then something happened. At the end of the day he came up to me and asked if he could keep the book. Of course! Now, maybe it was nothing, but I guess I’m holding out hope that our conversation, that our relationship, made a difference. The next school year he would visit me often and he eventually moved away, leaving our school. Maybe it was no big deal or maybe it was something. He may never have read that book, and maybe it was discarded long ago, but perhaps the words and the actions associated with picking out that book will be remembered. Just maybe it was a success.
Enjoy those little moments and know that the tiniest effort can sometimes make all the difference in the world and eventually end in a success, no matter how grand or seemingly insignificant. I know they always say not to sweat the small stuff, but sometimes, I believe that the small stuff is what it’s all about!
Sharon Fritz, Leader, 3rd grade Teacher, Taylor Mill Elementary