Shelley Burgess

Reflections of an educational learner and leader

What Story Will They Tell About You?

5 Comments

I have had the unusual experience of attending two Memorial Services this week – one for a member of our school community and another for my neighbor.  Both passed away unexpectedly and both well before their time.  At the service I attended today, the priest gave a powerful and moving sermon about the spirit someone leaves behind as they move on.  Although my words will never do his justice, he proposed to us that when someone passes, their spirit lives on as the collection of stories people tell about them.  How people remember us, the stories they tell, are in the end our legacy.  In fact, these stories are often the most powerful and moving part of any memorial service we attend.

I have also recently read three blog posts that struck a chord with me, and it is because they carry a similar message.  The first was Leave a Legacy  by Justin Tarte (@justintarte), the second was Leaders… What is Your Family Footprint by David Culberhouse (@dculberhouse), and the third was My Son the Volcano by Jennifer Marten (@jenmarten)  All three of these posts ask us to think about the legacy, the footprint, the words, or as the priest today said… “the collection of stories” we ultimately will leave behind.

As a San Diegan, I was deeply moved this week when I read an article that came out in the San Diego Union Tribune about an SDPD officer who was murdered a year ago.  Three minutes before the officer’s death, his last conversation, which happened to be with a child, was captured on video.  It was shared with us in a story Officer’s Last Conversation Reverberates posted on August 7th. He was in line behind a 13 year old boy in line at McDonald’s – he engaged him in conversation, and when the boy did not have enough money to pay for his items, Officer Henwood paid for the rest.  The story inspired one of our Council members to say this:  “All of us can show kindness to a stranger… All of us can leave the world a little better than we found it.” It is a testament to the type of man he was, and his spirit lives on through this story we are all telling.

The day after this article came out, I was engaged in a conversation with one of my colleagues who shared with me another story of a series of interactions an adult (a teacher) had had with a very special child in my colleague’s life.  In telling this very personal story, she actually used the words “the teacher killed his spirit” – that is the story being told about this teacher.

As educators, our voices are loud, our words and our actions critical.  What we say and do has amazing power.  We make hundreds of decisions every day that have an incredible impact on the children we serve.  I encourage all of us to remember the story being told about Officer Henwood and to think about the collection of stories we want people to tell about us.

5 thoughts on “What Story Will They Tell About You?

  1. Powerful post. I have written several times about the power of our words, on students and parents. My first year teaching, I was given this quote by Haim Ginott, “I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.” I keep it at the forefront of my thoughts at all times. Thanks for such a timely post.

    • Thank you for your thoughts and comments. Our words are so powerful. I love the Ginott quote – in fact I used it as well in one of the posts I wrote a few weeks ago! So glad we have connected. I am convinced you are an amazing educator, and I am so honored to learn with you on Twitter!

  2. I was moved by the story of the police officer and when I watched the film from the McDonalds camera, I could not stop crying because I knew the fate of the officer after his interaction with the young boy. I know that the spirit of that officer was lifted that day with such a small gesture and that his new friend’s spirit was soaring. As a principal, we are perceived as the hard core disciplinarians, the one who is supposed to bring out the iron fist. I refuse to kill a child’s spirit. I think of my nephews and I hope that they will never encounter ANYONE who attempts to kill their spirit. There are times for consequences that hopefully will change behavior, but I remember some advice that was given to me-when you “discipline” a child, picture the parent behind them. Let’s not kill the spirits of anyone we encounter. You lift them up and your spirit will be lifted also.

    • Marla, thank you for always being a “spirit lifter”. Your staff, students and community are fortunate to have you as their leader. At your core, you are always about what is best for kids, and it shows in every action you take and every word you say!

  3. Yes, I agree the POWER of WORDS. Words can definitely alter one’s spirit. As we begin a new school year, it’s a great time to be reflective. What we say, what we do and how we lead and teach influence how we will be remembered. When I have students come back to visit, I always ask them “What do you remember?” They usually share a moment about how they felt, a special field trip or a memorable project they completed. It helps ground me on what is important and what truly leaves a lasting positive impression. As Marla mentioned in her comment, she thinks about the memories she wants for her nephews. I think about what I want for my precious 5 month old grandson. I definitely want him to be surrounded by positive “spirit lifters”. I am reminded how we, educators truly can make a difference. Thanks Shelley for sharing!