Servant Leadership – Teachings from My Mother

April 15, 2013 — 5 Comments

As any four year old would do, I was hiding under my mom’s large, metal teacher’s desk and watching people’s feet shuffle by. I thought they were my zoo attraction, but knowing what I know now, I was certainly theirs.

Spending the day at school with my mom was my routine when I was too young to go to class myself. If my memory serves me correctly, it was half a day in the beginning and her classroom wasn’t a traditional classroom with 30 chairs, a black chalkboard, windows overlooking the playground, and student’s murals on the walls. No, her classroom was a hallway that had been strategically closed at one end to turn it into a hint of a room with a few old wood tables substituting as desks. Actually, the only strategy was to lock the exterior door and black out the windows so at least people weren’t walking through!

She didn’t care though because she was helping. She didn’t carry the credentials which allowed her to have her own classroom and to receive the pay of a teacher. Instead, she filled a niche the school badly needed and was originally given “volunteer” status to do it.

Did you ever collect Homeland receipts (or your equivalent super market) that could be traded in for much-needed school equipment? This is how her volunteer position started. She must have been introduced to it when she started volunteering for various opportunities to help at the school – through either homeroom helpers or PTO (Parent, Teacher’s Organization).

For as long as I can remember, she was the lady in charge of collecting the receipts for the school and trading them in for different items. My three brothers and I would help out some evenings – I can’t remember what we did besides highlight various items on the receipts. In the end though, these receipts turned into our school’s first computers.

It was only natural that the person who got the computers donated must be the one to teach people how to use them – so with no previous computer experience and no formal teaching experience (besides raising four boys!) she was now the kids’ only conduit to technology. The first computers were Apple IIe – back before Apple’s were the in thing – and my fondest memories were playing Oregon Trail and Mathblasters on them.

So there I was, sitting under her desk while she began introducing kids at our school to computers – as a volunteer. If the school wanted her to help, there wasn’t really another option but for me to stay there as my dad worked and we had no other family in the area. Day care wasn’t an option as all of the money was already taken up before that could be considered, but luckily my three older brothers were already in school.

For as long as I remember, my mom has given me an incredible example of servant leadership. She didn’t do it because she read about its advantages in books by Zig Ziglar or Stephen Covey – she did it as humbly as any mother would do (ok, maybe not any mother, buy many mothers). She did it because she wanted to help and wanted the best for her kids.

It wasn’t long before she started to receive nominations for offices and other positions within the different organizations. She didn’t have leadership training and didn’t take a management course before she assumed these positions – she simply volunteered in the beginning, did a great job, and naturally assumed the leadership positions as people bestowed them upon her. In the end, I believe she spent a couple of years as PTO president, leading a rather large organization and giving many speeches in front of large groups. She was also hired in as a full-time computer teacher with groups of 30 elementary kids cycling through her classroom (actually, I don’t think her title ever evolved beyond support staff because she didn’t have a degree).

In my opinion, servant leadership is the truest and purest form of leadership. People are naturally selected for positions by the trust they’ve obtained from the group through willingness and hard work. Contrast that with a forced leadership (for example, via heirs, inheritance, etc) and you can easily see why these subjects don’t have the same loyalty among their followers and often resort to fear and other coercive tactics to keep people listening.

The most surprising part is that I don’t think my mom ever received much recognition or praise for all she did, but she didn’t care because that’s not why she did it. That’s the true sign of a servant leader.

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5 responses to Servant Leadership – Teachings from My Mother

  1. I remember the days of those old apples. My first exposure was with an apple II. We were learning BASIC from the metal shop instructor. I don’t think they even teach metal shop in school any more.

    My school used to collect Campbell’s soup labels for gym and playground equipment.

  2. As a mother who also helps in her children’s school, I see the children who have parents who are engaged and the ones who are not. Last year I created a reading class to help the children in my son’s 3rd grade class find the passion of books. There was one young man who excelled by reading with me and went on to really challenge himself in reading. It was the biggest compliment I could have ever gotten.

  3. Your mom sounds like a lovely lady. What a blessing to those around her. I could not agree with you more Dan. 🙂

  4. This was a great article Dan. I had the very great pleasure of working with people like your Mom as a teacher. I don’t know what I would have dome without them. People like you Mom are unsung heroes in our world. She must have been a great Mom. I can certainly feel to pride you have in her through your words. 🙂

  5. What an amazing lady! Parent engagement and support is so important in helping schools really succeed. Still, the teacher in me wishes we lived in a more just world where education received the financial support it truly needs.

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