Education Reimagined, One Success at a Time – A Man Named Charlie.

This blog post is a companion piece to my first Podcast on Spotify. The podcast is the first in a series.

The following is the text of the podcast. It will be my intention to post the text of all future podcasts on my blog as well, in the event any listener wishes to have a hard copy of the message.

This series, or audio blog, if you will, is inspired by the belief that every one of us has the ability to make a difference in the lives of the people around us. This makes the job of teachers, staff, and administrators who work with our nation’s children among the most important jobs in all of society.

It is my belief that our nation is in desperate need of a change in the way we teach our children and that the proof is in all we see taking place around us. After this initial episode, my focus will be on a message to teachers encouraging them to embrace TheHawkinsModel© rather than be afraid of the change. It is designed to increase their ability to make a difference in the lives of their students.   

But first, let me tell you a story about a man named Charlie, a most unlikely leader who made an enormous difference in the lives of the students, faculty, and staff of the high school in which he worked.

It’s a story that shows just how powerful relationships can be.

Charlie passed away a dozen or so years ago, but he lives on in the hearts of many of the people he touched, both students and teachers. 

Every few years, I like to pull the story out, dust if off, and delight in the memory of this special man with whom I spent only a few moments of my life.

          One of the teachers who worked with him, shared Charlie’s story in a letter to the editor of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, a few weeks after his death. 

Otherwise, few outside of the Wayne High School community would have known about this special man, and the quiet but enormous impact he made.

Charlie was a black man working in a high school in a diverse urban school district. He did not have an impressive title, did not make a great deal of money, had no formal authority, there were no letters after his name, and he was neither a star athlete nor a celebrity. 

Charlie’s stature as a powerful positive leader came only fromthe force of his personality, his dedication to his job, his love of people, and his God-given ability to make people feel important.

He was a human being who, out of the pure generosity of a loving heart, accepted responsibility for making his little corner of the world a better place.

          I first heard about Charlie years ago when my kids were in high school, but I just assumed he was one of the kids at school. The first time I met Charlie, I was working as a substitute teacher in this high school I thought I knew so well. 

Like other teachers, I was standing next to my classroom, monitoring the hallways during the passing period. It had been a rough day, and I was reeling from difficult period with a math lab when this man came up to me. 

He was dressed in a suit and tie, and it never would have occurred to me that he was a custodian until he grabbed a broom from a cart he had left a few feet away and swept up some debris from the floor.

          “How is it going, today? Is there anything I can do for you?” He asked.  “You just call me if you need something,” he continued and then proceeded to rattle off his name and extension number. 

He shook my hand and smiled before continuing down the corridor and I watched him, trying to figure out who the heck he was. 

My eyes followed him as he spoke to the students he passed. From the smiles on their faces I can only assume he was smiling, also. Moving on, he gave another student a high five, and then stopped to pick up a couple of broken pencils that lay on the floor. 

A dozen yards farther down the hallway, a young girl had been leaning against the wall, alone. I had noticed her earlier as she had a lonely and forlorn look about her and I suspected she had been crying.  As this custodian drew closer, he drifted over to her and then stopped, smiled at her, and put his hand on her shoulder. 

          I could not hear the words that were spoken, but after a few seconds the girl offered up an embarrassed smile, followed seconds later by a laugh. Charlie lingered a moment, in quiet conversation, and then sauntered off, dishing out more high fives to students as he passed. 

When I looked back, the girl was still there, standing in the same spot, but she stood a little taller and had a smile on her face. Whatever this man had said to her must have been something she had needed to hear.

          Later in the day, in the faculty lounge, I asked a teacher about the custodian in the suit and tie.  He laughed, and said, “well, that would have been Charlie.”  He went on to say, “he’s a very special guy around here and both the kids and staff love him.” 

          I asked others about him, including my youngest daughter, now a teacher herself.  Whomever I asked, just the mention of his name would evoke a smile, and everyone proceeded to tell me pretty much the same story.

“He is everybody’s friend and always has a kind word to say,” they explained.

Charlie, God rest his charitable soul, was a beautiful human being and a positive leader. 

He  took pride in keeping things clean for the students and teachers of his school.  More importantly, he reached out to people to share his positive attitude.  He accepted responsibility for making this high school a better place and for making people feel special and important. 

He had a special ability to sense when someone—teacher, student, or substitute teacher—needed a kind word, a high five, or a warm smile. I am certain Charlie never wasted an opportunity to share his gifts. 

None of these activities could be found in the job description of a school custodian, but Charlie made them a part of his daily routine. They were a part of who he was. This man demonstrated it is not necessary to have formal authority, nor do we need someone’s permission to be a leader and to make a positive difference to the world and its people. 

All one needs is a belief that people—all people—deserve our best effort and that we can make a difference. While doing what many people would consider an unimportant and mundane job, this man changed the world around him. He did it by reaching out to people with a generous heart, simple acts of kindness, reassuring words, and a genuine desire to make each of them feel important and special.

Gifts such as this may brighten only a moment in an otherwise stressful day, but we never know how much of a difference we make when we give the best of ourselves with joy and affirmation. 

It is a lesson from which all can all learn when we ask ourselves whether what we do, matters. We can choose to believe every job, well done, adds a little beauty to the world and every smile or act of affirmation can make a difference in the life of another human being.

No doubt Charlie believed he had the most important job in the world. By having a relationship with each of them, Charlie made a difference in the lives of thousands of students and hundreds of educators, while keeping their school clean.

It was the relationships that mattered.

Given what we can learn from Charlie, imagine what teachers can do in their classroom by doing the best job of which they are capable and by making every student feel special and important. Relationships are everything in life and they are everything in teaching. God bless you, Charlie.

The existing education process, the tool on which our teachers must rely has changed only incrementally, over the last half century or more, while the world it exists to serve has changed exponentially. As a result the process has become dysfunctional and has grown obsolete. I believe the education process impedes more than supports the work of teachers and their students.

My work is motivated by my belief that the education process is focused more on conformance and compliance, when what we need is an education model designed to enable teachers to adapt to the unique needs of individual students. The problem we face is that educators have been teaching the same way for so long it is difficult to envision any other way to do what they do.

In addition, our teachers are being asked to bear the brunt of the blame for the disappointing outcomes of so many of our nation’s children. Because they have been under attack for so long, teachers have felt the need to defend themselves, their profession, and their right to collective representation.

The professional mission and purpose of my life is to introduce a new education model to replace the existing education process at work in schools throughout the U.S.

It is my assertion that if our education process, or any other process, is unable to produce the outcomes we need, no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, the problem rests with the process and it must be reimagined and replaced.

This is what I have endeavored to do in my book, not yet published, Education Reimagined, One Success at a Time: The Hawkins Model©.

A second assertion is that it is only when we stop blaming others and accept responsibility for our problems that we begin to acquire the power to solve them.

Teachers are not the problem with education in America or the reason why so many of our children struggle; just the opposite is true. Teachers are the glue that keeps a flawed education process from devolving into chaos.

All the good things that have happened to students in our schools over the past several decades are a consequence of the dedication, commitment, and capability of our professional teachers. They are, in fact, unsung American heroes who deserve our support and admiration for the essential work they do.

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