Jason stood, first of the class, to honor his grandfather. His grandfather sat next to Jason and listened with clenched hands and stoic face as his grandson read why he was Jason’s hero. The ten year old read about how his Poppy was always there for his family. He read about how he had suffered and almost died, but even though had a time of tremendous pain, had never complained. He read about fishing trips and special time with his grandpa. He said that he wanted to grow up to be just like his grandpa. A tear slipped, almost indiscernibly through the cracks of Poppy’s age worn face. An everyday hero.
Last week, as schools were beginning to wind down in the state of NY, I went to a very special third grade writers’ celebration. Lisa Harrison, the classroom teacher, had her students compose essays for an everyday hero in each of the students’ lives. Each students’ hero/positive role model accompanied the child to a writing celebration in the hero’s honor. As part of the celebration each child read their essay to the class. Grandpas, moms, dads, neighbors, big brothers were honored by 10 year olds as the students recognized others who make a difference in their lives. Their words touch others as the others’ lives had touched them.
I teach a leadership class and as an adjunct professor I also teach a Literacy Coaching class that has a focus on leadership. I was reminded as I sat through this third grade celebration about how these everyday heroes are everyday leaders. An activity that I facilitate in both of these settings is one on ordinary leadership. Each student calls out in popcorn style all of the everyday leaders in their lives. Names of moms, dads, and friends flow. The Tim Horton’s drive through worker who always greets customers with friendliness as a morning coffee is ordered is recognized. The stranger who helped change a tire when a family was in distress. The teacher who went the extra mile for a student in need. The custodian who spends time reading with a student. The list goes on. As the names are called out, each is scribed inside a large heart on a piece of poster paper. We then name characteristics and attributes that make these people leaders and role models. Caring, wise, courageous, integrity, serving the greater good, making a difference, changing the world, loving, humorous, enthusiastic. The list of attributes fills the outside of the heart. Our words overflow on the page in honor of those in our lives that make ordinary and extraordinary differences.
In fact, each of us is a leader. We are role-models. We have tremendous opportunity to have an impact on those whose lives we touch. In the class that I facilitate I ask the students to look at all of the attributes we named describing the leaders in their lives. They are asked to name which characteristics are strong in them. To name which characteristics are ones the students desire to grow more fully. Becoming a hero comes out of everyday leadership. It comes from choosing to live a life of caring in a daily ordinary way—leading lives that in hidden and almost indiscernible ways have impact as Poppy did on 10 year old Jason.
Congratulations to Lisa, who through her writers’ workshop gave time and space to her students to recognize the stories and the people who make a difference. In the workshop they toiled with words and memories. They shaped and created writing that honored. Mrs. Harrison allowed her 10 year old students to be leaders by recognizing those who impacted them through story and acknowledgement. Their acknowledgement made the ordinary extraordinary. And that is what leaders do.
Who is an everyday hero in your life? How does s/he make a difference in the world—in your world? Have you told him or her? Make a difference for this person by communicating their impact. Make a difference. Be a leader in this way.