Updated: May 23
A short story about Leadership
Written by Niki Spears
Mr. Thomas was an enthusiastic teacher with great energy! You would often enter his classroom to find disco lights, music, or some other teaching strategies that kept students focused and engaged. He would often stand on top of his desks when introducing new concepts, and students couldn’t wait to enter his classroom. Each student had a special handshake that they taught him, and he made sure that he greeted them at the door each morning with their special hand gesture. He often arrived to work before everyone else so that he could prepare his lessons for the day. Mr. Thomas was a rising star at Star Academy where he had been teaching for 3 years. He was being featured on local news shows and had received several life-changing awards for his amazing teaching abilities.
Mr. Thomas loved his principal, Ms. Johnson, as she would always push him to be better and often selected him and his students to represent Star Academy for community events. Most recently Mr. Thomas and his students were featured in the annual Christmas parade and had worked with students and parents to create this amazing float that represented all students in the school from Kindergarten to 5th Grades. Ms. Johnson loved Mr. Thomas because he had a way of bringing everyone together and making everyone in the school feel that they were part of something great.
One day in late February, the area superintended, Mr. Winston, pulled Mr. Thomas into his office and asked him if he would like to lead a new school that was opening the following school year. Mr. Thomas could hardly believe his ears. “Sir, I appreciate it, but I don’t have any administrative experience…” Mr. Thomas admitted in a trembling voice..
“That’s not what we’re looking for,” Mr. Winston went on to explain. “We need someone who can create a dynamic culture, and that's what you’ve done over the past 3 years at Star Academy. Don't worry, we're going to surround you with only the best team of experts whom you will lead and we believe that you will provide the students and families at GRAND Academy with not only a good education, but a great experience.”
Mr. Thomas left the superintendents office anxious and excited at once. He was eager to share this news with his principal, Ms. Johnson, but Mr. Winston had asked him to keep their discussion confidential so that he could talk to Ms. Johnson himself.
Good morning Ms. Shadeworth, the superintendent said to the receptionist as he entered Star Academy. Ms. Shadeworth was always so friendly and made every person feel very special no matter who they were. “She’s ready for you sir, you can go on back!” She said as she stood up to buzz the door open for Mr. Winston to walk in to the back offices.
Ms. Johnson was already sitting in the conference room with her notepad in hand. She was hoping to talk to Mr. Winston about the new principal position at Grand Academy. She had been principal at Star Academy for over 10 years and was ready to start something new! She was certain that Mr. Winston was there to talk to her about opening the new school.
"Good morning Ms. Johnson," Mr. Wiston said as he extended his hand out to shake Ms. Johnson's.
. “Good morning Mr. Winston,” Ms. Johnson said with a smile.
"Thank you for seeing me at the last minute. I wanted to talk to you about something and get your input before I make a hiring suggestion to the superintendent and the board of education.” Mr. Winston stated as he quickly pulled out a chair to take a seat.
Ms. Johnson sat up a little taller waiting for the good news! She couldn’t believe that she was actually about to open her very own school. When she was named principal of STAR Academy she followed a principal that was well loved and it had taken her several years to get the culture and team just the way she wanted and now she was ready to take on a new challenge in a new school.
As Mr. Winston told her of his plans to move Mr. Thomas out of the classroom and into the role of principal at Grand Academy, Ms. Johnson’s heart sank. . She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her mouth became tight and thoughts of Mr. Thomas and his teaching style immediately entered her mind. Now she understood why he was so passionate about teaching, it was because he wanted to be a principal and he had never said anything to her about it. This whole time, he’s been after my job she thought as Mr. Winston continued to talk about how they would transition Mr. Thomas.
“He’s not ready yet!” Ms. Johnson interrupted abruptly.
“What do you mean Ms. Johnson?” Mr. Winston asked, a little surprised at Ms. Johnson’s change in attitude. “You’ve recommended Mr. Thomas for numerous awards and we all see the impact he's made not only in this school, but in the community.”
“That has nothing to do with leadership!” Ms. Johnson continued. And he’s not even that good of a teacher. He’s classroom may look fun but that doesn’t mean students are learning. You’ll be sorry if you put that kid over a school.
“I’ve pulled his scores from the past several years and they say otherwise” Mr. Winston said in Mr. Thomas' defense as he pulled a set of reports from a folder he was holding.
"Well that’s because I didn’t give him the tough kids! I knew he couldn’t handle it, so I gave him the kids with less challenges."
Mr. Winston couldn’t believe what he was hearing, Ms. Johnson had been so supportive of Mr. Thomas in the past, he thought she would be so proud of him.
"Well , my team and I will conduct more walk-throughs prior to making a final decision. We will definitely take into account the information you’ve shared. We had no idea." Mr. Winston said, now feeling a little disappointed.
After saying their goodbyes – Ms. Johnson returned to her office and locked the door. She sat in disbelief for several moments. How could she have been so naïve, she thought to herself. Here she was highlighting this teacher and now he was about to overshadow her! How could Mr. Thomas even think about taking that position, he knew that her dream was to open a school one day and now he was interfering with her success. She was not about to let this happen!
She immediately took out her clipboard that she usually carried to conduct walk-throughs and stormed down the hall and into Mr. Thomas classroom.
There he was doing his usual – having fun with the kids. Ms. Johnson immediately begin to look for and document things that were out of line. Mr. Thomas was teaching a math lesson during reading block; the kids had jackets and other personal items piled in the middle of the floor which was certainly a safety hazard, and he did not have his objectives for the lesson posted anywhere in the room.
“Now how can he run a school.” She thought to herself.
After returning to her office, she sent an email asking Mr. Thomas to meet with her after school:
I am very disappointed in what I saw taking place in your classroom today. Please make plans to meet with me immediately after your students have been dismissed.
After all the students had left for the day, Mr. Thomas retrieved his lessons and headed to Ms. Johnson’s office. He had never received an email like that from her before and was anxious to talk about the observation she had conducted earlier that day.
“How are you Ms. Johnson? Did you have a good day?” Mr. Thomas asked as he stood at the door waiting to be invited into the office.
“Come in and close the door.” Ms. Johnson said avoiding eye contact. “I walked into your classroom today and you were teaching math during your reading block. I have discussed this with other teachers and I can’t allow you to get away with it, so I’m going to have to write this up.” She said in a stern voice.
“Oh, I apologize if it looked like I was teaching math, I was actually integrating math into my reading block. You see we had read the book, Llama Llama Mess Mess Mess and the students made a mess so that..."
“I know what I saw!” Ms. Johnson interrupted. “I have been a principal longer than you’ve been teaching and I know what I saw.”
Mr. Thomas could tell this was about something more than the walkthrough so he decided it would be best if he just listened and took in the feedback.
“If I see you doing a math lesson again during your reading block, it will be another write up. Do you understand?” Ms. Johnson snapped.
“Yes ma’am.” Mr. Thomas responded. He knew that there would be no explanation to satisfy her and he didn’t want to leave on bad terms being that she had been there to support him over the past three years. He simply apologized and left her office.
Over the next several weeks, the relationship became even more challenging. Ms. Johnson came into Mr. Thomas’ classroom almost every day to conduct a walk-through and each time she would pinpoint something that wasn’t meeting the standards. She thought that the more she could document his lack of performance, the stronger her case would be that he was not cut out to be a school principal.
Mr. Thomas’ behavior begin to change as well. He would often arrive late for school. His students were disengaged and his parents begin to complain about the lack of homework.
Everyone in the school could tell that Mr. Thomas’ energy and passion just wasn’t there. Even the district personnel who conducted walk-throughs noticed he was not the teacher they thought he was, and decided not to offer him the position.
Ms. Johnson had done it! She convinced the district staff (and Mr. Thomas) that he was not cut out to be a principal. Mr. Winston ended up recommedning Ms. Johnson to be the new principal at Grand Academy. She was thrilled!
The New Leader
Ms. Ball was assigned the new principal of Star Academy. She had been a principal for a couple of years at neighboring school district and had such an amazing spirit. Prior to her first day on the job, she took time out of her personal schedule to meet with each of the grade level teams. She even scheduled one-on-one meetings with every staff member in the school, even the school custodians. She wanted to learn more about their goals and how she could support them in achieving them.. She had a way of making every person feel valued.
When she met with Mr. Thomas- she could tell there was something special about him. Although his light was dimmed, there was this sparkle about him that she just couldn’t put her finger on.
“So where do you see yourself five years from now?” Ms. Ball asked Mr. Thomas during their one-on-one meeting together.
Mr. Thomas slowly looked up from the table and starred into Ms. Ball’s eyes. He could’t believe that someone was actually asking him what he wanted to do with his life.
Mr. Thomas shared his dream for the future and how he wanted to find his passion again so that he could share it with everyone he met. He even told her how he was being considered for the new principal position at Grand Academy but explained that his performance reviews had suffered and they withdrew his name from the pool.
The two talked for over an hour. They laughed and shared stories about their best teaching experiences and discussed ways to bring more energy back into Star Academy.
Over the next several months, Mr. Thomas was back to his old tricks again. Standing on top of desks, playing music, and he even dusted off the old disco ball that he used to display in his classroom. Mr. Thomas had gotten his mojo back! And everyone around him felt the energy, it was contagious!
Mr. Thomas seemed to be on every school committee and spent even more time at the school.. Ms. Ball even invited him to conduct professional development for staff – he learned that he not only loved teaching students, but adults as well. And the teachers loved his engaging, non-traditional style of presenting. Soon he was speaking at district level principal and leadership meetings sharing his love for teaching and learning. And every time he presented, Ms. Ball would be in the front row smiling up at him like a proud parent. Mr. Thomas was a natural!
One day he received a letter from The Ellen Show. They had seen his Youtube videos and they wanted him to appear as a guest on the show! He couldn’t wait to share the news with Ms. Ball!
“I am SO proud of you!” she exclamed. “I remember the first time we spoke, I knew there was something special about you. You inspire me!" Ms. Ball said as she clasped her hands up close to her heart.
Mr. Thomas attributed the return of his passion and energy to Ms. Ball who always noticed the good in him, even when he didn’t see it in himself.
“Well, they said I could bring one special guest with me to the show, and I would be honored if you would accompany me Ms. Ball” Mr. Thomas said as he awaited her reaction.
Alligator tears rolled down both Ms. Ball's cheeks as she embraced Mr. Thomas with the tightest hug. She always knew that leadership was more about what you can do for others and less about what you get in return. But today she felt extremely grateful.
Ms. Ball ended up getting a whole lot more! While appearing on the Ellen show she was asked to sit with Mr. Thomas on stage. Ellen and her team presented Ms. Ball with a check in the amount of $20,000. They encouraged her to continue to invest in teachers just like Mr. Thomas, so that they could continue to change the world . But the best part of this special moment had nothing to do with the money, it was when Mr. Thomas talked to Ellen about the person that had inspired him to think beyond seeking a role or a title, which can sometimes box you in, but instead to grow into a leader, who will share their light with others, so that they will have the courage to share theirs. "And that is Ms. Ball." Mr. Thomas announced on national television.
So what is Mr. Thomas doing now?
He is an international speaker and had authored several books. In each of his books, he mentions Ms. Ball and her life-changing leadership.
And where is Ms. Ball?
She was able to retire early. You see, once Mr. Thomas started to talk about her leadership, other leaders paid big money to hear from her, so she also ended up speaking and writing books. One book they wrote together titled, Leadership is not a Position, It's a Passion which is a best seller!
They often get together to speak, spend time together with their families, and talk about the good ole days when they were in the classroom.
And what about Ms. Johnson…
Well after 15 years, she’s still at Grand Academy, but not as a principal, as the assistant principal.
Moral: When you work hard to hold others back, you are actually blocking your blessings. Great leaders inspire great leadership in others. When you support others in their goals, we all win. Make it a habit to GIVE and watch how blessings are returned to you.
Thanks for reading.