Filing into the majestic Riverside Church among the mass of educators, I veered right to locate my usual seat right behind the TC Staff Developers reserved section. Although I’ve been in this church several times to attend TC events, the ancient, awe-inspiring architecture never ceases to amaze and cause me to catch my breath. After a few gratifying hellos to former TC friends (miss them all so much), I settled in with a colleague for the keynote speaker, Drew Dudley. Now, I had never heard of Drew Dudley, but the promotion of his talk today promised a memorable experience. And boy, did he deliver.
In his talk today, which happened to be devoted to the topic of leadership, Drew began with a survey. Mind you, the church, located on the upper west side of Manhattan, was filled with roughly 800 teachers. The survey went something like this: “Raise your hand if you consider yourself a leader, and you are 100% certain that’s true.”
Looking around, I don’t think I saw a hand raised. Maybe one. Drew went on to politely express his amazement, amazement that a group of teachers, a group this size, would respond so resoundingly in the negative. “How can that be?” he wondered aloud. “There is no more important job on this planet that plays a bigger role in shaping our future.” Quickly grabbing my phone, I tweeted that phrase. This is going to be good.
Drew went on to make several more salient points that morning. Summarizing here, I am hoping I can do them justice.
- Story is the basic unit of understanding. Drew recounted the story of a young, seven-year old girl he met on a train once. This little girl taught him something of the power of story. “You have no idea how your story will impact other people,” he asserted. For me, this resonated powerfully. And it reminded me of Dr. Thomas Newkirk’s writings about narrative writing, and its misassigned place in the common core state standards. Newkirk contends that labeling narrative writing as a “type” of writing is actually a category error. For narrative writing is at the base of all good writing. And without it, we as humans are (a) not interested, (b) not able to learn, and (c) not convinced.
- What is the Secret to Unhappiness?– nope, that’s not a typo. “The secret to unhappiness,” Drew began, “is allowing a gap to form between who you know yourself to be- how you conceive of yourself- and the way you are behaving.” Now, when Drew said this, I could almost feel a palpable pause, as 800+ teachers inhaled in order to muster as much internal reflective energy as humanly possible. I was no exception. Is there a gap between the conception I hold of myself and my behavior? Good question.
- Are you living a life that makes people smile at the mere mention of your name? Drew told a beautiful story about his somewhat recent visit to his old high school. While waiting for the principal to fetch the Scotch from her bottom drawer, Drew ran into his old custodian. Seizing a rare opportunity, Drew gushed at the incredible difference this man, Mr. Kiff, had made in his life. Right to his face. Mr. Kiff’s kindness, his subtle non-judgemental manner, his humility-all of this had made such a difference. And Mr. Kiff’s response? “Meh. I’m just a janitor.”
Just a janitor? Drew proceeded to tell us that when we use the word ‘just’ to describe what we do, we give people permission to think less of us. Don’t do that, he instructed. Don’t do it.
I left Riverside Church moved, touched, and inspired. And like most people, I love that feeling. It’s like a good book: when you’re done, you think how will I live differently now that I read that? This day was no different.