Below is a guest post written for the Portage Health Foundation (PHF) website by Darren Kinnunen, the principal at Horizons High School in Mohawk and a committee member for Superior Educators.
Take a few seconds and think about your favorite school teacher you had growing up. Why were they your favorite? What made them so great? Was it their smile? Did they make you laugh? Was it because they made you feel special or perhaps saw something in you that others couldn't. My guess is many would say it had something to do with the relationship they had with them. Teachers are great at this. They know the mileage they can get from a student once they create a positive relationship. I had an opportunity to attend a training all about building relationships a few years ago. The company that put it on was called Flippen Group and the training was called Capturing Kids' Hearts. If I’m being honest though, I wasn’t looking forward to the training. I felt I had too much going on to be out of the office for two days, especially to hear a spiel from some company from College Station, Texas. Also, I can’t count the number of conferences and seminars I’ve attended that promised to “make my life easier” or “change my life forever” or “this works with every student”. But I was asked to go and reluctantly agreed to attend, even though I had a gargantuan list of things I needed to complete. I mean, what could they possibly talk about that I haven’t already heard? I had worked with children my entire adult working career and knew the value of building strong relationships. Or at least thought I knew.
Day one of training I’m met at the door with a firm handshake from a smiling gentleman. First impressions told me here is a well-dressed man who clearly knows when and how to use caffeine. It was also transparent immediately that he had a passion for his job. He told me he was glad I was able to attend and he spent a few minutes asking me about my role at the school I worked at. As I walk in there is music playing in the background and I find myself quietly singing along as I find my seat. At my table is the workbook that we will be using for the next couple of days with CKH’s slogan on the front: “If you have a child’s heart, you have a child’s mind." After a few minutes the gentleman I met at the door moved to the front of the room and welcomed us all. He went over the plan for the next two days and then began talking about our WHY. WHY do we end up in the jobs we have? What brought us to these positions or roles? What compass pointed us in this direction? This was something I hadn't thought about in years. We sort of forget why we choose our profession and get caught up in the doldrums of the day to day. Our everyday routine somehow hides our internal flame of purpose and I think we sometimes lose track of why we wanted to do this work in the first place. I know for a fact I was one of those who forgot my WHY. The day was full of tips on building relationships, group and individual activities, hearing others' stories, laughter, tears, and the feeling of being pushed beyond your comfort zone. By the end of the day I was sharing my life story with complete strangers, exchanging numbers with folks I’d probably never see again, and networking with schools several miles away. I felt like I was on some sort of natural high, like I had run a marathon (although I have no actual idea what that might feel like). I couldn’t wait until the next day.
Day two brought more activities and increased feelings of excitement. The more I was learning throughout the day, the more I wanted to get back to home and work to share what I was learning with my family and coworkers. The speaker kept mentioning a term “model greatness” and it’s this idea that if we want young people in our lives to be great and do great things, we need to first show them what this looks like. We need to portray this daily and provide a blueprint for young people to follow. It’s a simple enough concept, but I was in awe to see someone, in this case the speaker, exemplify this. Here was this guy acting like a real life role model, something I think we often tell our children, but don’t really think about as adults. I felt like I wanted to rush home and model greatness for my kids at home. I was also eager to get back to work Monday and try to show the students what greatness looked like.
The speaker also kept repeating the term “finish strong.” He’d say this towards the end of an activity or the end of the day and ask us to give all of our effort until the task was complete. Doesn’t a doctor's last patient of the day deserve the same treatment as the first? How about a teacher’s last class of the day? Baseball fans know the value of a good closing pitcher or what good putting means to a golfer. Being intentional about how you end your day, week or even your career can have huge ramifications to those around you. We wouldn’t want a heart surgeon to lose steam and start cutting corners towards the end of a procedure. Isn’t it important that we all take pride in our work from beginning to end?
One activity had us thinking about our relationship with a person who meant the world to us. I won’t get into the activity itself, but there is something powerful that occurs when you are experiencing an internal transformation and, in that process, take a close look at the relationships you have with those that mean the most to you. I can clearly recall making a promise to myself to be a better husband and father. I needed to do a better job showing the people that were at the very core of my being that I appreciated them and were grateful for them.
A skill we had practiced during these two days was the act of affirming others. Again, what seems like a simple thing to do, the process of intentionally finding and recognizing the good in others, seems to be uncommon in our everyday lives. About a year after this training I was talking with another educator in the community and we thought how cool would it be to recognize some of our local educators and publicly share their story and the great things they are doing. We have some amazing teachers, secretaries, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, kitchen staff, nurses, and administrators going above and beyond their duties and we felt it was imperative these individuals received recognition. After a few phone calls and a couple meetings, a website was created as well as a nomination process and a team of local professionals who agreed to meet monthly to review nominations and determine who they thought were the most deserving of the Superior Educator award. Please check out the Superior Educators website to see the list of educators we have in our community who are changing lives each and every day.
I’m an avid hockey fan and enjoy watching the Detroit Red Wings. I saw a picture of their old locker room at Joe Louis Arena and there was a slogan on the wall that read “GREATNESS IS A DAILY CHOICE”. I am a firm believer of this. We all have an opportunity each and everyday to decide how we are going to approach it. I’m also a believer that being great is possible by anyone who chooses to be. To me I think it’s about focusing on the small things. Smile when you can, shake hands when you greet others, actually listen when others speak, look for and point out the positive things people are doing, hold open the door for others, let others be first in line, finish strong, and never forget the value of building strong relationships. Like that dude Garth Brooks suggests in his song If Tomorrow Never Comes, will those around you know what they meant to you? Did you try in every way and show them everyday? Trust me, modeling greatness will make your life easier, it will change your life forever and it works with every kid.