Tuesday, June 20, 2017

True Leaders

            It’s difficult to maintain a blog following when you let four months go by without posting. Of course, there’s got to be a reason – in this case, it’s the fact that I was fulfilling 300 hours of internship work in earning my principal’s certification. With those hours piled on top of a teaching schedule and three extracurricular adviser positions, blog writing wasn’t the only thing that suffered this year (just ask my wife and daughters).

The college classes I took were interesting, and I definitely learned a lot about everything from data to curriculum to budgeting. It was valuable work, for sure. But to be honest, I can’t say it was the best leadership training I had this year. They can throw all the textbooks and internship hours they want at you, but none of it compares to the leadership tips you learn from your very own students.

            I was the sole adviser of a student-run school newspaper this year, and the staff of 16 students grappled with several major stories during their year as they shepherded their uncensored, student-run paper. From a change in principals to two student deaths, the stories within our school were incredibly challenging. On top of that, we had the election and all it brought in terms of dialogue and anxiety. Throw in a couple of investigative stories about substance abuse and some peculiar toilet paper vandalism, and we truly had our hands full.

            But whenever it seemed as though the stories were too much for teenagers to handle, they buckled down and found a way. They scheduled interviews and asked tough questions. They talked with students and quoted them about sensitive topics in respectful ways. They paid tribute to their departed peers with grace and beauty. They covered the election by interviewing students and adults from throughout the school, town and country. They wrote opinion pieces that pulled no punches.

            In other words, they rose to the occasion, and didn’t complain about it. They showed up for class and for after-school workdays, and they put in the time. They didn’t take weeks off, and in the end published 28 editions of their paper, winning several awards along the way. When they had questions, I gave them advice, but they made the decisions. When an upcoming snow day kept us at school until after 8 p.m., I ordered the pizza and told them they were awesome.

            So last week, I met with these students for our last full class together. I made them smoothies, and gave them each a journal. We’ve been through too much to say goodbye. I wished them good luck on finals, and they walked out with tears in their eyes.

            Great journalism doesn’t command accolades; it just takes care of business, one step at a time. It gathers, reports, edits and spreads the news. It documents, informs and engages. It never holds back, and it always takes every ounce of effort from the reporters and editors who dive into it. Those who do this work, be it for a class or a living, are never the same afterward. They see the world with different eyes, and they know how much they can learn about this crazy world, if only they look hard enough.

            So yes, I will have that principal’s certification sometime this summer. And I’ll get back to blog writing. But the most impressive leaders I met this year will be freshmen in college in two months. They’ll keep in touch, and I’ll keep reminding them how awesome they are. And if they forget, I’ll send them a copy of their work. It’s there, in print.

1 comment: