Just something I was thinking about the other day…excuse the ramble.
Years ago as a principal and assistant principal, I would go to the same McDonald’s for breakfast about once a week and over four years, and the same young lady was working the drive-thru. After maybe two visits, I swore she would literally recognize my voice through the intercom and would greet me with an awesome “hello!” When I would pull up to the window, she would always have the biggest smile and would always go out of her way to talk to me in a way that would make my day. Her demeanor always led me to having a better day at work and probably easier to be around that day.
When I asked her about her work at McDonald’s, she told me that she loved it because every single day she would get to interact with people and bring joy to their day. She made a difference through what she did in her job, not necessarily in what her job did for the world.
Yet, I often hear people demean jobs like working at McDonald’s. What I believe is that their notion of “success” is placed on to someone else, and we look down upon them. I have met owners of companies who make a ton of money who are miserable and hate what they do, and then I have met people like that young lady who work at McDonald’s who feel they are making a difference in their work every single day.
When I think of her, I think of this quote from Macklemore:
Part of the reason I challenge the notion of what happens today in schools is that there is often a pretty narrow interpretation of what “success” means. When I went to school, we were told over and over again that going to university meant your were a success, and if you didn’t go, it was looked down upon. On a blog that focuses mostly on education, I can honestly say that my goal isn’t that every student goes to post-secondary. My hope is that we can help every student find meaning in what they do, and happiness. I want them to have options and if post-secondary is something they need to do to get where they want to go, I want to make sure that I help open that door, but that they understand that there is not only one door to success.
This is not just for the sake of the students, but for the sake of our communities and how we look at “success” of others. Dean Shareski wrote recently about the importance of “maintainers” in our world today, and I greatly appreciated his thoughts:
I have great concerns about the educational fetish of entrepreneurship. As I’ve written before, the danger here is passion and vocation are synonymous. The idea that being your own boss, like driving your own learning is the ultimate goal. While providing these options for students is what we should be doing, I fear we have sent an unintended or worse, an intended message that innovation and entrepreneurship and branding should drive your work and learning life. Owning your learning is not the same as being an entrepreneur.
What this emphasis does is devalues people like your custodial staff who work behind the scenes maintaining the spaces where children learn. As the article states, the vast majority of human work is in the area of maintaining. Those privileged few who carry the label of innovator or entrepreneur, are beholden to men and women who do the daily work of maintenance. Even within education, there is a great deal of maintaining. Maintaining might be considered “status quo” which is almost always seen as a dirty word in education. But many aspects of status quo are useful and healthy. The mantra of change continues to suggest that everything schools have been doing is wrong or outdated. Reading good books, learning about the world, singing in a choir, developing healthy bodies are all part of the maintenance of our education system. Are there opportunities to innovate within those activities? Certainly. But there is an equal, perhaps greater amount that doesn’t need to change.
Your success is not my success, and vice-versa. It is not our students’ success either. They have their own path.
One of the reasons that I talk about “innovation” as a mindset, not a product, is that in any role, a mindset that looks at doing something with what they know is always applicable. Whether it is what you do in work, parenting, or other aspects of life, the solutions we create to make our lives and the lives of others better, makes a huge difference.
One of my favourite stories of the past year was that exemplifies this idea, titled “Elementary School Janitor Leaves Cute Messages In the Carpet Overnight“, the custodian, who never actually see students face-to-face, would leave messages for students every night to brighten the rest of their day. From the article:
“His shift is when the kids are gone, so oftentimes they lack that connection between the night staff and the students here in the day,” said Mitchell. “It really drives home the point that there are so many people that come in here after you’re gone and they work so hard to make a safe, comfortable, and happy place for you to learn. He’s an employee of the school, but he’s a stranger to the kids so to take that extra time with these small gestures really drives home that personal connection.”
Little ideas that we bring to fruition, no matter what role, can make a positive impact on the lives of others, which only spreads to others.
After reading what I have written so far, I just hope that every student we serve finds a place where they can make a positive difference in the lives of others in a way that is meaningful to them. How they make that difference can be so unique and different, and in so many different roles in their lives, but do we help them find their own path, or do we try to predetermine one for them?
I will end with this quote from a student: