Our Life Stories
By Sally A. Baas
As springtime arrives, we are all wrapping up assessments, analyzing research data, and making summer plans. The pressure is certainly on as we make decisions about what is next for our lives and careers. Once upon a time … all good stories start this way, it seems. My story, which places me at this time and place, began several decades ago. I was curled up in my daddy's big chair near where my mother sewed garments for the prominent Hoosier ladies in our small town. I spent many preschool hours there looking at picture books and words I could not read. My mother always told me that reading meant that I could do anything in the world: meet people in history, visit glorious places, learn to make things, and find ways to help others.
Little did I know then what reading and scholarship would come to mean to me. From directing the little boys in the “Shoemaker and the Elves” in the second grade operetta, to guiding organizations through college, community, state, and national positions in the education field, I built my foundation for teaching, administration, school psychology, and cross-cultural interests at the university level. These became the catalysts for the creation of a program that has fully impacted my life's work, furthered the lives of university Southeast Asian preservice teachers and PK–12 Hmong and non-Hmong children, and become the focus of my research.
My life's story was enriched by following the principles of Kouzes and Posner (2012):
- To build environments with a diversity of ideas, people, and opportunities; working with people who have integrity, in a joyful, engaging environment
- To forge a shared vision by creating a mission which was invigorating and inspiring
- To create innovative methods and uncover ways to help others see with new eyes and sing with one voice in harmony
- To enable others by building a story of trust and experimentation
- To encourage the hearts of those with whom I have worked
I want to share a story with you from John Maxwell, a significant writer in the field of leadership. A father said to his daughter going through tough times, “Come with me, I want to show you something.” He took her into the kitchen where he put on three pots of water to heat on the stove. Meanwhile, he cut up some carrots and put them into the first pot to boil. Into the simmering water of the second pot, he put two eggs. In the third pot, he poured some ground coffee. After a few minutes, he strained the carrots into one bowl, and peeled the eggs and put them into another. Into a cup, he poured the strained coffee. Then he placed them before his daughter.
“What's this supposed to mean?” she asked impatiently.
“Each of these items can teach us about the way we handle adversity and change,” he answered. “The carrots started out hard, but the boiling water turned them mushy. The eggs went into the water fragile, but came out hard and rubbery. The coffee, on the other hand, changed the water into something better.
You can choose how to respond to changes in your life. You can let them make you weak. You can let them make you hard. Or you can use them to create something beneficial. It is all up to you!” (Maxell, 2008).
My story is not your story, but we each have a story that brings us to this place and time. My story has three strong golden cords that bind it: faith, family, and education. Yours may be made of other cords. May you remember the story of the carrots, the eggs, and the coffee: Make something exceptional from the problems you have solved along your way which have become your story.
As you tell the story that will impact your attitude and changes this spring and your planning for next year, consider this:
When we see the need for deep change, we usually see it as something that needs to take place in someone else. In our roles of authority, such as parent, teacher, or boss, we are particularly quick to direct others to change. Such directives often fail, and we respond to the resistance by increasing our efforts. The power struggle that follows seldom results in change or brings about excellence. One of the most important insights about the need to bring about deep change in others has to do with where deep change actually starts. (R. E. Quinn, as cited in Gardner, 2012)
Gardner, E. (2012). The art of leadership: 500 quotes to lead others. Retrieved from http://bookboon.com/en/the-art-of-leadership-ebook
Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2012). The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Maxwell, J. C. (2008). Make today count: The secret of your success is determined by your daily agenda. New York, NY: Hatchet Book Group.
Sally A. Baas, EdD, is on the faculty of Concordia University-St. Paul (MN) and is president of the National Association of School Psychologists