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Strategies and Stories to Lead and Succeed

Care Deeply

Caring, truly caring, starts with your commitment to humanity and extends to everyone with whom you associate.  It has to come from your heart and be ever-present.

The following is a true story about caring, patriotism, civic consciousness and life:

It was late one night - one of those cold and dreary Chicago fall days in 2002; for many Americans the aftermath of 911 was still in the air - when my phone rang.   

“Hey, dad.  I hope everything is fine at home.  Everything is great here at Indiana University.  Don’t worry I have a ‘B’ average.  It’s good that I am finishing my junior year a semester early.  By the way, when you have a minute tomorrow, I need you to mail me my high school diploma, Social Security card, birth certificate and passport.”

I’m thinking that my son, Nicholas, has applied for an overseas college program, and it is good that he is a semester ahead of himself – an opportunity to study abroad and learn another culture and obtain a few extra semester hours of business school credit.  It would be a great experience.   My only thought was, “ How much is this going to cost?”

“Dad, I have decided to join the Marines.  It’s the Marine Reserves for now.   I have been thinking about this for a long time.  The Reserves are my best option until I finish school.  I will be going to San Diego right after Christmas through March. Then I will spend April and May in the School of Infantry as this is my MOS (military occupational specialty).  Because of my test scores, they wanted me to accept a different MOS. I had a really hard time getting them to accept me into Infantry School.   But, ultimately, my determination won out.  They knew I meant it.  Don’t worry, dad, I will be going back to college to finish my senior year next September, if my reserve unit does not get called up.  By the way, I hate to ask, but could you send me that rent money too.”

Maybe I should have allowed my son to play with toy guns when he was young?  Maybe I permitted too many of those Nintendo games?   Wasn’t it just yesterday that he was giving the high school commencement speech?  What happened?   Was I a good father?  Who knows, maybe I was better than I thought.  At least I respected him enough to support the decisions he had made on his own.   I was so proud and so worried at the same time.

As educators we must be passionate to instill in our students and colleagues a set of core values and beliefs.   These include, besides academics, a sense of civic duty, courage, and commitment.   We know we influence our colleagues and students far more by our actions than by the words of wisdom we so often try to impart.  

One virtue moral and ethical leaders must embody if they are to lead is caring.    If one truly cares, then it will be reflected in all one does. You can’t demonstrate this virtue halfheartedly.  Caring, truly caring, contributes to a successful life, because it gives life, whether academics, athletics, or social experiences, real meaning and purpose.  Caring enough to take stock of who we are and what our students and surrounding adults really see in us may help during those moments of reflection, after our students become adults.

As educational leaders we need to realize that a life well lived comes from an early commitment to caring.  It will involve risk, sacrifice, trust and a willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt.  But caring is the key.  As leaders, it is one more thing to think about in the evening when you attempt to go to sleep. 

Sometimes life tosses you the unexpected.  That is really when you learn the most about who you are.  If you want to lead, and lead by example, you have to truly care.

Nicholas joined the Marines.

Nicholas went back to Indiana University.

Nicholas’ unit was called to active duty in 2003 a couple days before Christmas.

Nicholas served in Fallujah, Iraq.

He came home, finished Indiana University, subsequently graduated from law school and completed his six years in the Marine Reserves.

Nick is now serving in the FBI as a Special Agent and he and his wife, Alissa, just gave birth to their first child, Nicholas.

He cares.

Excerpted and adapted with permission from 99 Ways to Lead and Succeed: Strategies for School Leaders, Eye on Education, 2009.