In July 2016 I would make a decision that would dramatically transform my life.
Prior to making this decision, there were several things happening in my life which gave me the courage to follow my heart. I would like to share my story with you, with hopes that it will inspire you to follow your heart as well.
One of those happenings in my life transpired in January 2016, the start of a new year! My school year started with an upsetting phone call. I was serving as principal of an elementary school and our team had adopted concepts from a popular book that had helped to shift our school culture.
Several principals had come before and moved on pretty quickly in the past several years in our school. There was a need for trust, alignment of practices, and cultural norms. All the changes and uncertainty had fostered a community that was more focused on adult needs rather than the needs of students.
A few months prior to this I had introduced the team to concepts from a book which had helped to transform me personally, I had also had the experience of being introduced to this same book when I was an assistant principal in Austin, Texas. I thought the concepts from the book would help align our team culture as we were looking for behavioral norms for students and staff. This book outlined concepts that would provide us with common practices and common language as we defined who we were and where we were going. As a matter of fact, once we started to communicate these concepts, several team members decided that this was not a journey they wanted to take and therefore left and found other jobs. After 2 years of implementing the concepts from the book, we were quickly getting on the same page and moving in a positive direction.
The Phone Call
I received a call early January from the organization of the book that we had adopted. The person on the other end of the phone informed me that they had learned that we were using their concepts and advised me that we couldn’t continue use unless we signed up to be a part of their program – that program was $80,000 over 4 years!
I was devastated by this news, there was no way we would be able to afford that. I immediately contacted our district lawyers for guidance. I explained to them that we had purchased books for each teacher and the only thing we were doing was using the language from the book. My district lawyers response to me was “Niki if they’re telling you, you can’t use it, then you can’t use it.” Wow, how could that be?
I couldn’t believe this was happening, I was determined to find a way to keep what we had in place as it was working so well for our school. Plus we had banners that reinforced these concepts hanging in our hallways; posters in each room to remind us of our agreements; our entire building would have to be reoutfitted and dressed down as the district lawyers told me that I must remove everything!
I was determined to find the opportunity in this problem. How could these people tell us we couldn’t use the language from the book? Educators purchase books all the time and apply what they’ve read. Why was this any different?
This struggle would last for several months as I was determined to find a way for this work. Fast forward several months to April 10, 2016. I was sitting in my car on this late Sunday evening my husband and I had just returned from dinner. As he got out of the car to go into the house, I remained behind sitting in the passenger seat aimlessly strolling my Linkedin page (I often stroll my social media accounts when I’m in deep thought). For some reason, my strolling came to an end when I came across Jon Gordon’s profile. Jon Gordon is the author of several books and I had recently been introduced to The Energy Bus as one of my teachers thought I would enjoy it.
As I starred at his profile, I started to think about the rules from his book, The Energy Bus. I felt a sense of enlightenment as I came to the conclusion that the reason our school culture had transformed was not because of the concepts we had been using – but because we had aligned to the same goals, values and beliefs. So, we could replace these concepts with something else.
At that moment, I heard a voice distinctly speak to me that said – “I want you to continue to take risks…” and at that very moment I knew exactly what I was supposed to do.
So I sent Mr. Gordon a quick message through Linkedin:
Niki Spears 9:36 PM
Hi Mr. Gordon! I am an elementary school principal and would love to work with you on putting together curriculum for students to learn these valuable skills early in life! Let me know your thoughts! Take care,
Now that I am looking back at my message, I didn’t even mention the name of the book. My message was very vague I believe this is because, the content of the message wasn’t important, what was important was that I was obedient to what I was called to do and just do. And so, I sent it. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my husband, whom I share everything with, because I thought what I had done was so crazy I was a little embarrassed to share.
Well I went back to check in on Linkedin page the next morning and to my surprise I had a response from Mr. Gordon:
Jon Gordon 7:35 AM
Thank you. Let me know what you had in mind more specifically. You can email me firstname.lastname@example.org Just a one pager of thoughts would be great. Then we can talk. My cell is 123-456-7890. We receive these requests often. I've been waiting for the right fit. Thank you so much for caring. Jon
Okay, my initial thought was that I was being being punked! Was this really Jon Gordon, the author, messaging me back?!?!
Well long story short, I wrote that one-pager and even got up the courage to call Mr. Gordon. I scheduled a day to fly out to meet with him and share my vision for bringing the Energy Bus to Schools, not just to my school, but schools across the country.
After that meeting Mr. Gordon said to me, “Niki, you can do this, however, I can’t pay you.” “What?” I thought. I was shocked. Here I was thinking I’m about to become a millionaire and learn that there’s no pay. Are you kidding me?
Because my passion was greater than any amount of money my wonderful husband, Kermit and I sat down to have a serious conversation about this new opportunity. Kermit knew how passionate I was about creating the right experience in our schools and families.
Kermit said, “I think you should go for it! You can always come back to education and teach or be a principal, but you may never get this opportunity again.”
So, in July 2016 I resigned from my position as principal, making $93,000 a year, to start my own business, co-founding The Energy Bus for Schools Leadership Journey with nothing but my passion, faith, and a belief that this was my true calling.
By August of 2016 we had 5 model schools to sign up to become certified Energy Bus Schools. These schools received training conducted and developed by me that would provide them with strategies to sustain a positive culture using a framework I created by using the rules from the book. I provided these schools with a lot of time and attention to ensure they had what they needed to be successful. It was an amazing experience to see these principles come to life and how transformational the experience was for students and staff.
By August of 2017 we had 47 schools sign up to become certified Energy Bus Schools. Today we have over 100 schools onboard (and growing) in over 24 states across the country!
In addition to co-founding this amazing journey, I now Keynote and share my story with districts, schools, and organizations.
Never in a million years would I have believed this was possible, but because I had strong faith and commitment to follow my heart- I am discovering a world filled with amazing possibilities.
I wanted to start this blog to share my journey as I am constantly challenging myself to do more and be the person that God has called me to be. I never thought I would be a public speaker as I would get nervous as a principal when I had to speak in front of my staff. And now, just three years later, I stand confidently and proudly in front of hundreds, and sometimes thousands of people, whom have shared how inspired and moved they are by the message.
If you are ready to reconnect with your Choice Energy, follow me as we journey together to bring all the blessings in our lives that are awaiting us.
That voice inside my head (God) continues to speak and guide me and just when I think I’ve reached my peak, I’m called to do more.. So are you ready to make choices that will connect you with purpose? Let’s do this!