We have worked in the same building for the last fifteen years with five different principals. While each of these leaders had their individual strengths, one of them embodied Model the Way like no other we had ever worked with before (or since).
Mrs. Clifton had been a teacher at one of our feeder schools for twenty some odd years before she decided to go into administration. She served at the high school next door as an assistant principal before she was placed at our school mid-year. Having taught her children and worked on several district committees with her over the years, we were excited to have her take the reins of our school. As we gathered in the commons area to welcome her on her first day, she met us with open arms and said, “You’re going to have to help me do this. I am scared to death.” Then, Mrs. Clifton took a deep breath, pulled her hair back and adjusted her glasses. She looked at every one of her new teachers and said in a crystal-clear voice, “I will never ask you to do anything that I won’t do. I believe in working hard and getting the job done. We are in this together, and we will work hard while remembering that the students are the heart of this school.” We will never forget this. She knew that to move our school forward it would take everyone working together, and she knew that she did not have all the answers.
Mrs. Clifton was a life-long resident of Bulloch County. She knew EVERYONE and how EVERYONE was connected. She knew who you were and where you lived (much to the chagrin of many of our students). She used this information to her advantage. We watched as she built relationships with the kids and adults in the building. She was ALWAYS present. Her door was always open, and she was willing to STOP what she was doing to assist you with what you needed. She would walk with students as they transitioned from one class to another to discuss why they had done poorly on their last math test. If needed, she could be found in the media center with that student helping them practice the necessary skills to be successful the next time.
EVERYDAY from 10:45am-1:00pm she could be found in the lunchroom with a broom and dustpan in her hand. She would steadily sweep up the trash left behind and talk to students while she was working. She was MODELING THE WAY. She was showing the faculty and staff what she wanted us to do with our students. She wanted us to know them as people, not just as students that we were trying to teach.
Another image of Mrs. Clifton that will forever be emblazoned in our minds is seeing her in the flower beds outside of the lunchroom window. It was 4:00 pm and 127 degrees on a May afternoon in southeast Georgia, she pulled her dress up to her knees and was ankle-deep in soil weeding the garden. The rising 6th graders and their parents would be sitting in the lunchroom for orientation in two hours, and she wanted to make sure everything was just right for their welcome.
Sweeping the floor and weeding the garden are just two of the many ways that we saw Mrs. Clifton roll up her sleeves and get the job done. Mrs. Clifton stayed true to her words during her opening speech, and we knew that we would follow her leadership because she encompassed Leadership’s Golden Rule: only ask others to do something you are willing to do yourself. Watching her Model the Way, we knew there was nothing she would ever ask us to do that she was not willing to do herself which helped move our school from a “me” to a “we” culture.
As a twenty-five-year public educator, Patia C. Rountree, is helping to bring The Leadership Challenge to students and fellow teachers alike as she facilitates TLCW in a variety of settings and formats. Patia believes in the transformative power of The Leadership Challenge and is eager to empower others with the knowledge that “Leadership is Everyone’s Business.”
In 2020, Southeast Bulloch Middle School (Brooklet, GA) media specialist, Shannon Robertson, helped to bring the Student Leadership Challenge to life for the school’s first ever Student Leadership Academy. As a CMIT, Shannon is continually using the practices, commitments, and behaviors of The Leadership Challenge to positively impact her school, community, and professional organizations.