Leadership · Curriculum · Lifelong Learning

I couldn’t be exactly like someone else. No matter how hard I tried. And there was nothing I could do about it. I had to find my own talents, build on those strengths, and work hard to be the best me I could be. But what was I cut out to be?

Recently, I attended ASCD’s Conference on Educational Leadership. Throughout the experience, I was honored to work on ASCD’s Instructional Leadership and Coaching (ILC) Team. Our session together was not only productive–it was a highlight of my career. I’m recalling one of the many memories that was especially meaningful to me.

In just our second ILC meeting, we were invited to introduce ourselves through a unique getting-to-know-you activity. Our challenge was to recall a fond scent from our childhood, draw it, and then share the context, all-encompassingly. Specifically, we were charged with telling a story about why that scent was meaningful to us, and, in so doing, we’d be sharing a personal side of our selves.

Looking back, I could have chosen the lilacs in my backyard; freshly-cut grass on my front lawn or any baseball field; the second-story hayloft in the barn where I played basketball; chicken coops for layers and broilers; the county fair; working on farms; my grandparents’ homes; my father’s woodworking shop; my mother’s home-cooking, including my favorites of every holiday dinner, pizza casserole, rice, and cookies; yet, I chose sawdust.

As a child, I was blessed to grow up in a household with two loving, hardworking parents. I love both of my parents for so many reasons, some of which are the same and similar, while several others are different.

As a boy, I really looked up to my father. In fact, I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to work hard as a carpenter on a construction site all day, drive a truck full of tools, materials, and supplies, and drink coffee with the big guys.

While playing in the yard or indoors late in the afternoon, it was only a matter of time until I would hear the sound of a pickup truck crunching gravel up a long driveway. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, the house door opens, and… Dad was home!

Eager to see my hero, I ran straight to him. Catching him mid-stride, I sat on top of one of his work boots and would hang on to his leg. My dad continued walking, and I was along for the ride.

Clenching tightly to his jeans, I could smell a construction site. Even at a very young age, I associated smells of fresh air, sweat, and sawdust not just with hard work, but with my dad working hard to provide for his family.

I wanted to be like my dad in every way. I tried. Hard. I worked on construction sites for a few summers and even part-time over the years. I found particular tasks of which I was really good performing (and coincidentally ones that no one else wanted to do). However, at seventeen-years-old, and despite my best, heartfelt efforts, I realized that being a carpenter wasn’t exactly what I was cut out to be. I was heart-broken.

I couldn’t be exactly like my dad. I could only be me.

Today, I still drive a pickup truck. I love hauling things, and I even have several tools.

Today, I’m building the foundations for learning. I scaffold to support, select the most appropriate tools for the job, and challenge others to solve problems. I help learners of all ages build on their strengths, finding their own way.

Today, my one-year-old son is excited to see me the moment I come home from work. His face lights up, his eyes widen, and his big six-tooth grin chases all my troubles away and melts my heart. He crawls toward me just a little faster than his coordination allows. After a warm embrace, I carry him around the house.

Today, I want to follow my dad’s example of being a great father. I’m preparing to pass on all the tips and tricks of the construction trade to my son. But most importantly, I also want to set an example of a father and parent who works hard to support his family. I want to be remembered as a father who spent quality time with his kid(s). I want to leave a legacy that matters.

Blogger’s Note: At the conference, I was also representing the 2016 Emerging Leaders Class, the Emerging Leaders Alumni Cohort, and my passion as a lifelong ASCD advocate. I’m truly grateful for these opportunities and experiences.

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