I met John Norlin this summer at the National Principals Conference and knew right away I wanted to learn more about his story and his work as co-founder of CharacterStrong. One thing led to another and luckily we were able to have him present to our staff earlier this week.
It was awesome. Many of the ideas he shared are reminders. He pointed this out more than once. These aren’t new ideas.
“I’m not here to inform you today as much as I’m here to remind you,” he said.
We all know how important relationships are. We know how important it is to develop character. We all know academic skills won’t take you very far unless you can also work effectively with people. We know kindness counts.
But even when we know these things, we can get better at doing these things. We can become better people. And we can help our students become better people too. But we have to be intentional. We have to work at it. We have to develop our own habits. And it’s hard work.
It doesn’t even necessarily take more time. But it does require us to use the time we have in very intentional ways.
The reminders John shared are very important reminders. He shared the message in a way that inspired us and helped our staff build even stronger connections. I think we left more excited about our work and more committed to our students. I think we left more committed to each other too.
Here are a few reminders that stood out to me…
-Everyone NEEDS character development. All of us.
-We are built to be relational. Stronger relationships help build a stronger school and better learning.
-We need purpose more than we need happiness. Most are trying to be happy, but deeply fulfilled people know their purpose.
-Students need a deeper why. So many don’t know their purpose and how school fits with that purpose.
-Many of our students need hope. In truth, we all need hope and we need to be hope for each other.
-Our school culture is built on behaviors. Character is revealed by behaviors. We make thousands of choices daily. How are your choices contributing to the culture of your school?
-Such an important question: What have you done for others today?
In Future Driven, I wrote about my efforts to greet students each morning. I had always tried to be visible and friendly as students arrived to school in the morning. But then I decided to be more intentional. I made sure I was at the door to welcome as many students as possible, to learn as many names as possible, to make the greeting as extraordinary as possible.
When I became more intentional, I noticed all sorts of cool things started happening. Like this…
One day I had some help with my greeting routine. One of our students, Nathaniel, was already at the bus drop off door. He was holding it open. I didn’t think too much of it, but then he started showing up every day. He’s always there now ready to help, even before I arrive. He’s quiet, so he doesn’t say much to the other kids as they come in, but many of the other students will tell him thank you as they walk by.
And I’ve gotten to know Nathaniel a little. He is passionate about professional wrestling. He looks forward to watching it on TV each week, and he asks me if I watched it too. I asked him if he knew about Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, wrestling heroes from when I was a kid. He just grinned and said he heard of them. I also learned a little about his family, where he lives, and some of his favorite things. I even learned we have 22 buses that drop off students in the morning because Nathaniel counted them for me.Isn’t it amazing the impact our small actions can make? Just showing up in the morning to greet kids inspired Nathaniel to do the same. Our investment in people has a way of multiplying. Nathaniel wanted to help out. I think he feels good about holding the door open in the morning. I know I feel better each day I get to see Nathaniel and hang out with him for a few minutes. We never know when a simple conversation with a student might spark something lasting and worthwhile. Every interaction is an opportunity for relationship building.
Nathaniel was part of the Class of 2018. As graduation approached this past May, he asked me over and over, “Who are you going to get to replace me when I graduate?
He had faithfully met me at the door each morning and now as he was about to leave our school, he was concerned about who was going to do his job. He had purpose. He was selfless. He was kind.
I told Nathaniel he would be really hard to replace. I asked if he had any suggestions for who could took his place. We talked about a couple of kids he thought might work out.
And then a few days later he walked across the stage and was awarded his diploma. When I shook his hand, he smiled and said, “Who are you going to find to replace me?”
I was proud of him.
A few weeks ago, one of our teachers came into my office and shared that Nathaniel was very sick and in the hospital. A couple days later I went to the hospital but couldn’t see him because of the limited visiting hours in intensive care.
And then on Friday morning, September 28th we got the news that Nathaniel had passed away. It was crushing news. It still hurts as I’m writing this post.
But I’m so grateful that my story intersects with Nathaniel’s story. I’m thankful I can share about our time together. I’m thankful I can share about a student who had purpose, who was selfless, and who was kind to others.
He wasn’t worried about being popular, or cool, or a big deal. He just wanted to make a difference.
I can’t even imagine the kind of greeting Nathaniel received in heaven. He certainly deserves the best. He might even get a job holding a door open for others arriving on the scene.
For those of us still doing our best here on planet earth, we need reminders. Let’s not forget every interaction is an opportunity for relationship building.
- Don’t Ask For More Until You’re Willing to Risk More
- 20 Ways to be Future Driven in Your Classroom
- 3 Reasons to Recognize Effort and Growth Over Achievement and Outcomes