I can’t accept not trying. My grandfather’s impact on my life and career.

Yesterday, April 22, is always a significant day for me. It’s Earth Day, yes, a day when we should all reflect on being good stewards to the earth and make an ongoing effort to protect it. Very true. While this day is very important, Earth Day is not the reason for this post – my maternal grandfather’s life, legacy and impact on my life is.

My father recently had many of our old home reel videos from the early 1980s up to the camcorder VHS tapes of the late 80s and early 90s digitalized and sent to me on DVD. I have enjoyed watching these slices of family vacations, reunions, tours of our family’s farm, etc. greatly. My father always loved taking videos when I was growing up. Sometimes it would drive us crazy but in retrospect I’m very glad he did. Most of all it “reconnected” me with several family members who are no longer with us. While all of this was significant this especially rang true with one man – my Grandpa Marshall.

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April 22, 1916 Joseph Marshall was born. Growing up in Lexington, Massachusetts (the “birthplace of America” as my grandpa would always proudly announce) my grandfather worked his way through Boston College proudly obtaining an education degree even though he had his military dreams set. He enlisted in the Army Aircorp (now Air Force) as a young man and despite his small frame of just over 5 feet tall – became a pilot through hard work and determination. A successful pilot at that flying in both WWII and the Korean War and Blind Bat missions in the height of the Vietnam War where he received the Purple Heart. Grandpa loved to tell about the C-130 in Vietnam and especially his beloved P-51D Bonesie as well as the lessons learned and sacrifices made for his family. Beyond his wartime experiences my grandfather’s military career led the family all over the US and to South Dakota, Louisiana, New Hampshire and even a few years in Okinawa where my mother and uncles were in DOD schools. Finally my grandfather was stationed Columbus, Ohio where he would end up retiring from the Air Force after a lengthy career.

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Retiring a Major in the USAF my grandfather had a full, successful military career. He could have easily hung it up for good. He didn’t. He had an education degree from a top-notch university he had never utilized. He entered a middle school classroom. He taught, loved it, grew and returned for more. 10 years in fact. Loved his “post retirement” career. Then he retired for good.

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While I don’t remember my grandfather teaching I do remember him telling me about many of his experiences in education. I was blessed to have 17 years of my life with my grandfather. I can honestly say that in the the last 6-7 years of his life especially as I grew from elementary to middle school and  started high school, my grandpa became my best friend. My grandparents lived 45 minutes away but I would always visit several times a month, often weekly. Often I would be together with family but the older I became the more my grandpa and I would have discussions, go to games alone or out to lunch or dinner. It was during these visits the bond grew even closer. As many flying stories as grandpa had he was equally proud of climbing in his beloved (and despised by everyone else in the family) orange Chevette and driving to the school daily to teach. It was apparent that although he spent far more time in the military and had a deep love for it his admiration for education was just as strong.

I have had many influences in my decision to enter education, most notably my mother and several educators I had in school growing up but my maternal grandparents were also a big push especially my grandfather. He was so proud of his daughter, my mother, for being a career teacher and by the time I was in middle school knew that I would follow those footsteps — was elated I wanted to be come the third generation educator in the family.

While my grandfather passed unexpectedly when I was 17 he’s always with me. Just before his passing he gave me a very well crafted watch for Christmas. That very watch has been with me almost 20 years now. That watch has been with me for the significant events in my life he couldn’t attend but I know he was there in spirit. My graduations from high school, undergraduate school, graduate school, interviews, speeches I’ve given, etc. – If I have something significant the watch is on and my grandpa is with me.

We all have significant members of our family who have passed who’ve contributed significantly – Joseph Marshall was just that to me. We loved sports – specifically our beloved Red Sox and Celtics. We also shared great admiration for Michael Jordan and his dedication to success through good times and bad. One year growing up I received Jordan’s inspirational book, I Can’t Accept Not Trying he co-wrote at the height of his career. My grandpa and I collectively shared so much inspiration in this book. Its contents and my grandfather’s belief in me always despite when times were tough — fueled my growing up and continue today. 15978017_10154639138095804_8026454115205786936_n

I have a lot of drive, ambition and will find a silver lining in the most dire situations. Much of this is attributed to family, friends and people in my life. It’s strong now and I’m grateful for that but the initial drive for success was laid by in the foundation my family set for me. They always believed me and pushed me. My grandfather was a colossal part of that. Even though he’s been gone many years and would be 101 and today – I hope I’m doing him proud. He pushed me to #BecomeBetter and #StriveForGreatness long, long before hashtags were a thing. I’m forever grateful for those 17 years with my grandpa and with so many other significant influences throughout my life who have and continue to add value to me. I’m truly blessed.

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Walking the talk – taking leaps of faith to achieve personal and professional growth

Risk. Failing forward. Leaps of faith. If you follow my blog, Twitter feed or spend time with me you know I live and breathe these daily. I’m very motivation driven, feeding off positive people who inspire and encourage me to do my best as a professional and above all person.

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Growing up in rural south-central Ohio in a farming community I was exposed to the value of hard, physical work helping out on my family’s grain and livestock farm operation throughout the year growing up. Having a mother as a high school English, public speaking and journalism teacher I was exposed to the value of hard work within education. I watched as my mother spent so much of her free time making connections with her students – sacrificing sleep for her entire 30 year career to be the best mother she could to me while also providing above and beyond feedback for her students in the classroom. That inspired me. My maternal grandparents inspired me with their tales as educators.

When I think about risk my first substancial exposure relating specifically to me was back in 2006. While having been exposed to much of the country in the form of travel with family and friends, I really hadn’t left the general central and southern Ohio region. I went to college not far from my hometown and my first teaching job was a mere 15 minutes from my parents in the next school district over from the one I attended growing up and my mother spent her career teaching in. I was enjoying what I was doing career wise but I needed something different, a change. A significant break from small town Ohio. Perhaps a break from the heartland altogether was what I needed?

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I had an offer on the table from Wake County Public Schools to relocate and teach third grade in Raleigh, North Carolina. Every fiber in my being knew I should be scared. I had no connections to North Carolina. My aunt and uncle had done their medical residencies at Duke University when I was in elementary, were married in the Duke Gardens and even practiced in the area initially. My cousin Matt was even born in Durham. However, at the time, my uncle and aunt had relocated a decade prior from the state and I no longer had a connection.

My aunt and uncle were all in favor of me giving this a whirl. They loved their time in the Triangle and and at Duke and spoke highly of the area. My parents, despite me being the only child, encouraged me to give it a try. I could always come back home, right?

June 25, 2006 I took the leap. Not knowing anyone at all – my parents, one of my father’s work trucks, a pull behind U-Haul, my tiny “college car” loaded to the brim and I all made the journey from south-central Ohio to the great unknown of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Risk. Rewarded. 

I immediately fell in love with the area. The people. The district. I learned, grew, collaborated. Several years of teaching third grade turned into several years of fourth  grade which turned into going to graduate school to pursue an administrative degree.

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Everywhere I’ve been in the now 5 schools I’ve worked at in my career (counting my brief time in Ohio) have added insight to my life and career. I keep in touch with all of my past principals and at least a handful of former teachers from each school who have added significant value to my life and career. Several have become dear friends. Each one of these stops along my ride have helped mold, strengthen and sharpen the saw on my professional journey.

After a decade plus in my career I had spent my entire time at the elementary level and was becoming stale. I didn’t realize it yet –  but I was. My friend from grad school LaTeisha had encouraged me on several occasions to consider high school administration. While that wasn’t quite in my wheelhouse – yet… it opened the door to consideration of a big change. I was stubborn about leaving elementary but wasn’t even realizing it.

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My friend Michael and I had embarked on several collaborative partnerships with my now former elementary and his middle school down the road. The more I visited his middle school the more my eyes started opening. Ironically at this same time my friend Bethany from Charlotte had recently transitioned from an entire career in elementary both teaching and as an administrator going to middle school and was raving about it — how empowering the change was for her career.

I was ready for another leap but knew I needed the right opportunity. I’ve never been one to change for the sake of changing. It always has to be the right opportunity and situation for me personally and professionally.

A few months ago – when I wasn’t even looking, opportunity knocked. I opened the door, explored, liked what I saw and took that leap. Mid school year and all – I was leaping from elementary – all I’d known my entire career in education to middle school.

I go with my gut – always. I was so far out of my comfort zone I didn’t even know where to start — but I knew I was in the right place for me professionally. I was going to grow significantly and thrive. I took the offer – and I leapt.

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Several weeks into the new position and setting I’m loving it. Gaining my footing more and more daily and comfort level rising. Growth, growth, growth all around. Risk rewarded. Onward.

That leap in 2006 was significant. The leap I made in early 2017 is just as much. Both of these wouldn’t be possible without the strong support team I had in both situations and ongoing. We should always be learning, growing and improving together. Supporting one another through the ups, downs of life and career.

Some of us talk about risk, leaps of faith, fail forward and stepping out of our comfort zone but what do you do when opportunity knocks?

One of my favorite songs about risk is a lesser known early 90s country song by Lionel Cartwright from when I growing up. Leap of Faith has always inspired me and is a song I’ll turn to for inspiration from time to time. Lionel Cartwright – Leap of Faith

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Leap of Faith

Written and performed by Lionel Cartwright (1991 – MCA Nashville)

[Verse 1]
You want a no-risk guarantee before you take a chance
You wanna know how the song will end before you start to dance
Well I can’t foretell the future, but my heart clearly sees
Your hand in mine for a long, long time if you could just believe

[Chorus]
And take a leap of faith, cast away your doubt
Darling come what may, we can work it out
A love that’s real will always find a way
If you’ll trust in me like I trust in you
There’s no rain or fire that we can’t go through
The first step’s always the hardest one to take
It’s a leap of faith

[Verse 2]
I understand all your doubts and fears of laying your heart on the line
But aren’t you afraid of just throwing away a love like yours and mine
I know your heart’s been broken, you’ve been let down before
Though the stakes are high, give it one more try, this time you can be sure

“Don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride”

Taking risks, stepping out of our comfort zone, leaps of faith – all of these are phrases and actions I am a fan of. Learning experiences from #FailForward moments are some of the most powerful – with zero question in my opinion and from my experiences within not only my career but also life.

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Growing up in rural Ohio, I was exposed to a lot of country music. Not exclusively as oldies, classic rock and the “modern” 80’s pop music was easily accessible in my house growing up in the 1980s. However, being in a farm family and the fact that most of the radios in my family’s tractors only picked up country stations I became a fan from an early age riding with my grandfather or father and later driving and tending the land myself as I got older.

I’ve blogged about George Strait before and how his music has had significant impact on my life and career. While George is a universally known talent, my second favorite country star growing up and even today is the late, great Chris LeDoux.

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I first gained exposure to LeDoux in the early 1990s when Garth Brooks burst onto the national scene. Brooks single-handedly brought the then underground LeDoux to the mainstream. LeDoux was a genuine as they come. A native of Wyoming who tended his ranch when not performing or recording and was a former world champion rodeo star. Aside from his music, which often drew life lessons from his own rodeo, life and learning experiences, I also liked the fact that the man took significant risks – did things his way.

If you’ve ever been to a Garth Brooks show you know it’s quite the spectacle. Lights, sound, in his younger days especially, Brooks would dangle from wires above the crowd always putting on quite the presentation. A showman of showmen.

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Brooks’ admiration of Chris LeDoux came from LeDoux’s stage presence. Despite being middle aged at the height of his career – LeDoux would ride mechanical bulls mid performance, leap from the stage with fire bursting all around and really put on a show. He did what no one else was doing – taking a risk doing things his way, telling his story and putting on his show in his own unique way. One of my greatest regrets is never seeing the man live as he passed away in 2005 after a lengthy cancer battle. Garth Brooks recorded Good Ride Cowboy shortly after LeDoux’s death as a tribute to his fallen friend.

Chris LeDoux inspired so many with his lyrics, upbeat personality and positivity. While I loved his music, and still do, I adored his genuine nature just as much. Even when he was battling illness he was always smiling and even recording when he could. In what would end up being his final album, 2003’s Horsepower, he recorded one of my favorite songs and certainly most inspirational – The Ride. The song is all about taking risks, leaps of faith and leaving your comfort zone through life — all through the lens of a rodeo man like so many of LeDoux’s songs were.  The Ride

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The Ride

Recorded by Chris LeDoux

Written by Lonnie Melvin Jr. Tillis and Sam Weedman

Copyright 2003 Universal Music Publishing Group

I was six years old, my brother was ten
One July day came runnin’ in
Seen a Ferris wheel at the edge of town
So, of course, we headed on down

Well, it took us an hour to walk that far
Carryin’ our fortune in a Mason jar
It was all pretty sad, a cheap county fair
With a few old rides but there was ponies there

Well, the ponies stunk and the air was still
In that dusty circle behind the ferris wheel
This old guy smellin’ of smoke and rum
Swung me up and sat me down on one

Well, I’d never rode a horse but I’d seen it done
Cowboy movies made it look like fun
This old man whispered a few soft words
It was the best advice I’ve ever heard

He said, “Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky
And live like you ain’t afraid to die
And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride”

I went up a kid with shakin’ hands
But I came down a full grown man
It was like he’d cast some voodoo spell
Things were different for me now, I could tell

‘Cause whenever troubles come wanderin’ in
His rhyme would pop in my head again
And somehow I rode through the needles and nails
Brambles and thorns that life entails

He said, “Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky
And live like you ain’t afraid to die
And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride”

Well, I know some day, farther down the road
I’ll come to the edge of the great unknown
There’ll stand a black horse riderless
And I wonder if I’m ready for this

So I’ll saddle him up and he’ll switch his tail
And I’ll tip my hat and bid farewell
And lift my song into the air
That I learned at that dusty fair

Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky
And live like you ain’t afraid to die
And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride
Now, don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride

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In the spirit of enjoying your ride, my #OneWord2017 is “unwritten” and one of my professional goals this year was to jump into educational leadership podcasting. An opportunity presented itself recently and I was able to jump head first into it when Marlena Gross-Taylor (@mgrosstaylor) asked me to be her guest last week on the #EduGladiators podcast on YouTube live. I jumped at the chance – a little nervous but I knew I needed to tell a story, share and took that leap of faith.

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Was the event flawless? No. Were there things I wish I did or said? Yes. Learning experiences gained? Absolutely. Will I do it again? (If Marlena asks of course) Without question.  #EduGladiators Podcast episode 5 – Connected Ed

What do I get from all these personal experiences and those drawn from others? Always make the most of every situation and live life to the fullest. One life to live, make the most of it. Take that leap of faith and don’t look back. Never wonder – “what if…” How do we as educational leaders expect our fellow educators and students we all serve to take risks if we don’t lead by example first? Your ride, your opportunity. Make the most of it or not – the choice is yours.

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