Confronting Social Disadvantage

Poverty and Education (Part II)

Learning

This is a time of year when many students are preparing to graduate from college and join the work force. It’s a time when the gap between the have’s and the have not’s reveals social disadvantages. Students with social capital research opportunities in their field, apply for jobs, learn to network, prepare for interviews and receive support from their immediate social circle (parents, colleagues of parents, family friends, relatives, etc.). They get feedback to strengthen their resumes and guidance on what the job market wants. Students from backgrounds of poverty and others who are the first in their families to finish college need these opportunities too but may not be able to access them easily.

Are we preparing all students well enough to be successful when the time is right? If we give them a strong academic training, will they have the support structures that will open doors? If and when the doors open, will they have what it takes to step in? Students who live in poverty have many challenges to overcome. Are we doing enough to help them gain the tangible and intangible skills and qualities needed to be successful in college and beyond?

Recently, I shared these thoughts with a wise colleague who agreed that students need more than just a good education – they need to be prepared to seize opportunities when doors open for them. She restated my thoughts very simply.

“When opportunity knocks, will they be ready?” — Zula Barnett, Teacher

At a time when unemployment is an issue, potential employers are complaining about an unprepared workforce. Schools have a dual role – to give students the knowledge base that will allow them to choose a college education and gain the ‘hard skills’ the job market needs, and to help them gain the ‘soft skills’ or intangible qualities that will help them succeed in these settings. Schools need to do three things to level the playing field:

(1) Set a high bar for quality work. This will be an expectation in college and later in the work place, so we need to start early, have high expectations and support students in meeting them. This means no shortcuts. We must ask for quality work and not give kids a pass simply for showing up or putting in the effort. We must show them what high standards look like so they understand our expectations and then support them in reaching that level of quality in their work.

(2) Guide students in being courteous, caring, cheerful, empathetic, pleasant, positive, and hard working. We need to teach them how to present themselves with regard to their appearance, verbal skills and writing skills in contexts of opportunity. We need to give them opportunities to engage in teams.

(3) Build connections within the community so that employers become more intentional about reaching out and bringing opportunities to students from backgrounds of disadvantage. When businesses partner with schools to bring in mentors, tutors and volunteers, relationships are built which can lead to networking opportunities as students grow older.

When I hire new staff I search for soft skills – a positive tone, a cheerful attitude, an interest in connecting with others, an enthusiastic spirit and a sense of humor. These are the intangibles that sway my decision. These qualities lift my team and strengthen its resilience. I can train reasonably competent people in the hard skills they will need to do their jobs well.  I can’t say the same about soft skills which are learned and integrated early in life. In every grade, if we make a concerted effort to model these intangible skills in our own behavior, and expect them from students, I have no doubt that these qualities will become ingrained in the culture of our schools, and spill over into society.

We are coaching kids for the game of life! School is about more than just academics. We must be purposeful about growing the soft skills students will need for the rest of their lives. When opportunity knocks, will our kids be able to step out and compete directly with their privileged peers? I hope we make sure that the answer is a resounding yes.

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The Details that Stick in My Mind

Poverty and Education (Part I)

The school bell rang and a new day had started. Fifteen minutes later, a kid came to the clinic writhing in pain. He couldn’t sit, he couldn’t stand, he couldn’t lie down. He clutched his middle and was in absolute agony. We called his mother and she said she would pick him up and take him to the hospital. The minutes ticked by and we wondered where she was. Ten… fifteen… twenty… When she arrived, we learned that she didn’t have a car. She had walked from her home to the school. A staff member drove them to the hospital which happened to be just down the street. We hoped it wasn’t something serious, but were scared that it might be. In less than an hour, mother and son were back at our school. We learned of his ailment – hunger pangs! That night, I told my family about the little boy and we cried at our dinner table. This happened seven years ago, but it plays out in my mind even today in minute detail. I was in an urban school with high poverty and the lessons I learned that year were ones for which I had no reference point.

I grew up in India and am not unfamiliar with poverty, but seeing it in America, the land of plenty, continues to surprise me. In 1989, when I arrived in the US , I had no knowledge of poverty and homelessness in this country. That changed quickly! I remember standing outside an ice-cream shop in Boston when a man walked up and asked my husband for a cigarette. Then he turned to me, pointed to my ice-cream cone and said, “I’ll take one of those too.” He laughed and walked away. I asked my husband if he knew this man and learned that he was quite likely homeless. I was shocked. A few days later, a man begging outside an ATM kiosk said, “Spare a rupee, ma’am.” I gave him a ten dollar bill – probably because of his cheeky grin!

In India, we have the ‘educated unemployed’ – people with college degrees and no jobs. I was naive enough to think that couldn’t happen in the US! You see, in India, you could be Bill Gates and there would be people begging right outside your home. You would encounter slums and see images of poverty every day. In the US, there are freeways and highways that take us away from inner city areas and it’s possible to live your life here and never pass through poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

I was in graduate school at Boston University, studying special education and I remember taking the ‘T’ and then a bus to go to the Boston University Medical Library to read some articles for a paper on Phenylketonuria (PKU). Ah, the inconsequential little details that stick in our minds! Halfway through the trip, I felt like I was entering a different world from the one I lived in. Was I still in Boston? I was stunned to see a landscape completely alien to my year-long experience in Boston. I couldn’t understand how this level of poverty was possible in America. I couldn’t understand how it was that I didn’t know this neighborhood existed even though I thought I had traveled ‘so much’ around Boston. I had just seen tremendous poverty in America and had no reference point in my experiences to understand it.

Years later, I continued to learn about poverty as I worked with students in public schools in Iowa and Indiana. I remember driving to school with my six year-old son. NPR’s Morning Edition kept us company and this time they were broadcasting a piece on poverty. My son, who was apparently listening intently, chimed in from the back seat saying, “But, mummy, there are no poor people in America.” I tried explaining to him that some of my students lived in poor neighborhoods. That afternoon as we drove back home I showed him run-down neighborhoods, homes with tiny yards, boarded-up windows… and he said, “They are not poor. They have houses.” He had seen poverty and slums in India – people with no food, shelter, clothing, no clean drinking water or access to toilets – and in his little mind he had defined poverty through that lens. He had no reference point for poverty in America.

Working in public schools, I  learned about free and reduced lunches, food stamps, homeless shelters and hunger. Eventually, I learned that my heart thrives in an urban school setting. This is the place I call my ‘professional home’. In the school I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I sensed that the cafeteria had a different feel to it. I couldn’t figure out what was different. Eventually, I realized that the kids ate everything that was on their lunch trays. No one was throwing out unopened cartons of milk or cups of fruit. They ate every last bit of broccoli and peas. I had worked in other schools where this was not the case – where good food was simply thrown in the trash. This was different – in a not-so-good way – because I now realized that hunger pangs could easily be an issue for many, many more kids.

A few days before Thanksgiving break, a teacher called me to her classroom. A student had ‘shut down’. He refused to do the work assigned to him. He didn’t disrupt the class but he was certainly non-compliant. I brought him to the office and tried to see what was bothering him. Kind words, caring questions – he refused to respond. He was not disrespectful. He just would not look at me or speak to me. His eyes filled with tears but they didn’t trickle down his cheek. He was bravely holding them back. It broke my heart and I felt helpless. I gave him a few minutes to pull himself together thinking that might help. When I returned, I found he had had crumpled and torn the paper on his desk and it was now littered all around his chair. His head was in his hands and he still refused to talk to me. Just then, a teacher walked by. She said, “Mrs. Balagopal, would you mind if _____ comes and helps me in my classroom? He was in my class last year and he will be fine with me.” I asked him if he wanted to do that, and he nodded quietly. She asked him to go ahead and she stayed back to share a few words. She wanted me to know that I might see students ‘falling apart’ just before breaks – long weekends, holidays and summer vacations. She shared that in school they had access to two meals which were likely their ‘biggest’ meals each day. She had learned that student behavior often worsened when breaks were approaching. In the days ahead, they would not have these meals to rely on. We now know that trauma affects kids in many ways. I would never know the reason why the student shut down, but this teacher taught me a big lesson that day!

Throughout the summer vacation, each year, my school district provides breakfast and lunches to children and they even bring it to some of the apartment complexes in our neighborhoods. Every Friday, my school, and many others provide students with Back Sacks from Gleaners, the local food bank – a bag of food for kids to take home  so they can have access to meals over the weekend. Euphemistically, we call this program the Nutrition Club, so that students don’t feel singled out! The last day of school before winter break was on a Thursday. Our school secretary said that dozens of kids had come to the office all day asking, “Today is Thursday and we don’t have school tomorrow. Will you have the Nutrition Club today?” What, I wondered, would they do after the food was gone in a couple of days? Students new to our school are not shy about asking if we have a Nutrition Club. “We had it in our old school. Can we join it here?” We wish we didn’t have a cap on the number of students who can be in the ‘club’.

These stories, and many, many more stick in my mind. I’m learning to deal with it in America, even though I don’t understand it. Yes, I saw a lot of poverty in India and so this shouldn’t surprise me. However, having lived here for over two decades now, it feels personal because I know these kids. I know their names and some of the stories from their lives. They are now my stories too because for 7 hours a day, 181 days of each school year, these kids belong to me. I want to make a difference in their lives. I know that their lives are complex, and I lack a magic wand, but I have the power of my thoughts, my ideas, my words… and I can reflect on their stories to shape the work I do and that my school does for them each day.

In this and subsequent posts, I hope to share the lessons I’ve learned from the stories that are stuck in my mind. This is not about the research that others have done on the connection between poverty and education. I want to pen my reflections on the lessons I’ve learned along the way and what can make a difference in the educational experiences of these children. In urban schools, we ‘battle’ the effects of poverty on a daily basis and it can wear us down pretty quickly. Imagine how worn out we might be if we were the ones living in poverty! It’s easy to become cynical about the things we see in our schools and the challenges we face. This set of posts aims to bust that cynicism by thinking of what is possible, by framing ideas in terms of what we can do, what we should do and what we would do were these kids our own! I hope you’ll tag along on this journey!

“Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” — James A. Baldwin

“I didn’t take this job to give up on you!”

How often have I said this? And often vehemently. Yet, this week I had to reflect on whether or not I meant this unconditionally.

As an elementary principal in an urban school, I have a fire in my belly about the work I do, fueled by a sense of optimism that keeps me afloat and helps me bounce back when things get tough as they are apt to do. My job has its share of ebbs and flows, highs and lows and what keeps me going is the belief that I might make a difference, perhaps leave an impression on the lives of others and stretch them in the direction of possibilities that might enrich their lives in the future. The latter part of that sounds like such a romanticized version of a principal’s role, doesn’t it, given that people often see individuals in my role as the proverbial boogeyman? “Did you know this auntie (in India, the adult friends of a child’s parents are called aunties or uncles) is a school principal?” A scary person, indeed! Others see it as a tough job. I’ve heard the “I wouldn’t want your job for anything…” line often enough, and more so recently given the push and pull educators face from politicians and the community these days. And… I still love this job.

It’s about kids… Kids who come to us with an incredible sense of curiosity about the world they live in. Kids who have an array of talents, often untapped. Kids privileged to have a wealth of experiences, resources and support. Kids who have experienced challenges and trials for which my life experiences bring no reference point. Just as parents often wish for their children a better life than the one they have, I wish for my students the opportunity to be well prepared to do anything they may choose to do in their lives. I hope they will love to learn, and learn how to learn.

In the meantime, the world many of my students live in is a lot like an obstacle course – perhaps a hurdle race. They run and reach a hurdle, they jump over it, run again and reach another one sometimes making it safely to the finish line. In some cases, they are like the novice athlete – not quite making it over the hurdle… knocking it down as they struggle to hone their skills. Often their teachers coach them through these hurdles, occasionally the referee (principal) has to make a call. Was the hurdle knocked over accidentally, or deliberately? Should the athlete be disqualified? And how complicated might things get when the referee sees herself as a coach?

As I work to piece together the slow motion replay in my head when hurdles are knocked over, my goal is not only to help students work through their current obstacle but also guide them so they can figure out a way to deal with the next similar hurdle that stares at them from just a few yards ahead. The kids are sometimes bummed out, and sometimes tough. Often their feelings are bruised and they want to save face. Sometimes they lack the words to share what’s playing in their minds… what they are feeling in their hearts. Some of them carry so much baggage – the unseen kind that for $25 you couldn’t pass on to the airline baggage handler for just a few hours until you get to your destination.

My job is about pushing and pulling, nudging and cajoling, caring and nurturing, lifting others up and working hard to stop them from falling while hoping to inspire and guide them towards new paths – hopefully ones that will be slightly less bumpy. I realized, as I reflected last night, that I have some lines that spill out of me at intervals – in a deliberately kind yet sometimes firm tone, and in a calm voice. Words that mean a lot to me… words that help build trust with my kids and their families… words that let them know I care, even when things are rough.

“You know, you’re way better than that. You’re capable of so much more!”

“I want you to be the best you can be!”

“I often tell other people how smart/bright/talented/creative you are, and I’m not sure they believe me when they see some of the choices you make. Did you know, only YOU have the power to make them believe my words. You can make my words true. You can make my word good by doing the right thing!”

“Do you want people to see you as a kind, caring, positive, happy, cheerful and generous person? Or do you want them to think of you as someone who bullies others, hurts others or does not care? You are the only one who has the power to make that happen. You know I’m right, don’t you?” 

“Do you believe that I care about you? Do you believe that I respect you?”

“Have you ever heard me yell at you, put you down or say mean or disrespectful things? I know how to be grumpy, I can yell pretty loudly, I know a lot of mean words, and I am pretty angry about what you did, but I choose not to yell or scream at you. How can I ask you to do the right thing if I don’t?”

(My family likely wishes I could stick with this at home! Yes, this is my big goal… one I’m still working towards. But for now, I’ve stuck by these words at school for over two decades with no slip up.)

And for the moments when they knock down the toughest and tallest hurdles, unable to summon up the skills to jump over them, I’ve said this:

“The easiest thing for me to do would be to give up on you. But I didn’t take this job to give up on you. If you want to get me off your back, then stop and think and change what you’ve been doing. I wouldn’t ask you to do something you couldn’t do, right? And you don’t need me to keep telling you things you already know. You have so many people who care about you at school and want you to do well. We’re here for you. Count on us.” 

Inch by inch, and sometimes with tinier steps we move forward together – building trust, sharing lighthearted moments, caring words, smiles and compliments. In most situations, parents see that we want the best for their kids. Yet, occasionally, that hurdle turns into a wall that one of my kids slams into. One of those “Please don’t put me in a situation where you don’t give me a leg to stand on and bail you out” walls… where I have no choice but to don the referee’s striped shirt. Yes, we all earn consequences – good or bad – for the choices we make. And I don’t believe in the good kid/bad kid syndrome – I believe kids are generally good yet may make bad decisions (yes, yes, those rose-tinted glasses are out there for all to see right now). Those walls sometimes bring me moments when I feel like my bag of tricks has run out. When I wish I had done just one more thing to prepare a kid for the hurdle ahead of him/her – one that is so obviously looming ahead of a child who is unable to make the right decision at the right second to jump over it, or to summon up the control to tackle the impending crash with a spirit of sportsmanship.

Ah, so much for a euphemistically written post! There is much to say about the stance one wants to take as a school leader, while dealing with the trials that are part and parcel of a leadership role that is ultimately about people – young people – and therefore comes with a complex play book and rule book. Donning the referee shirt symbolically and worrying that one has moved away from the coaching role one believes in implicitly, while plagued by a fear… that my word might not have been good. “I’ll never give up on you.” Really? Unconditionally? I’d like to think so. Yet our time together is so fleeting, often made even more so by the mobility that winds kids through multiple schools in a matter of months or years; or by the transitions from elementary to middle to… How do I make good on my word? When do I keep my promise? How much time will I get?

Reflecting on what we do in some sense becomes second nature when we care and want to do more and do better, right? And in the midst of those reflections creep in the gremlins of doubt and worry. “Should I have…?” “Did I do…?” “What else could/should I have…?” I do believe it is healthy to go through this process of reflecting on our actions as leaders and educators. It’s tough, but we can come out stronger on the other side. Getting there takes some time and work, and there are also moments when I need to lean on the wisdom of others.

The words that helped me bounce back to coaching mode came from President Obama’s commencement speech given yesterday at Barnard College (a women’s college affiliated with Columbia University) – a speech shared on a friend’s Facebook wall today. A great speech I know I will share with my students as we journey ahead together. And his words that helped me shed the striped shirt?

“My last piece of advice — this is simple, but perhaps most important: Persevere. Persevere. Nothing worthwhile is easy. No one of achievement has avoided failure — sometimes catastrophic failures. But they keep at it. They learn from mistakes. They don’t quit.”

He didn’t really need to tell me something I already knew, but I needed to hear it today! And… my learning and growing continues. I know again, that I’m far from quitting, and I won’t let my kids quit.  I realize that I might have to switch shirts again as I get my kids ready for the world they live in, yet, even as I do, I will keep saying to them, “The easiest thing for me to do would be to give up on you. But I didn’t take this job to give up on you. If you want to get me off your back, then stop and think, and change what you’ve been doing. You have so many people who care about you at school and want you to do well. We’re here for you.” 

And, we’ll always be here. The best gift will be, if over time, unbeknownst to us, they remember that as they play the game of life.

Do You See What I See?

It’s fun to be around kids. They entertain us with their curiosity and irrepressible comments. They are so engaged in the world and their experiences. It would be difficult as an educator to avoid picturing them as adults. At school, we don’t just see little kids… we see future scientists, mathematicians, authors, police officers, fire-fighters, educators, musicians, artists, leaders of the world… and we can’t resist talking to them about these roles and how their skills and knowledge might lead them to interesting careers in the years ahead.

So, here I am, a school principal, working with people who have already selected their careers… people who I hope will remain in the field of education, and continue to influence and strengthen it. I can’t resist thinking about where they will be five or ten years down the road. My own career has taken so many twists and turns. I started out in fine arts and soon realized I wasn’t good enough at art to make a career of it. I then became a travel agent and in about three months switched to volunteering at a school for kids with disabilities. That led to several years as a special education teacher before I found my niche in assistive technology. Some years later I knew I wanted to make a greater difference and aspired to the role of an elementary principal. So much has changed for me in just over a couple of decades. Who knows what lies ahead! I’ve learned that careers do not have to be static.

I have also learned that the most important part of my job is to help teachers be the best they can be. I see strengths in my teachers and can’t help dreaming about the things they can aspire to. I talk to them about their role as teacher leaders. I ask about where they see themselves in five to ten years, and how I can help them get to their goals. Granted, if they take on some roles, they may move away from our school, however, they will have a bigger impact in the world of education as future principals, curriculum directors, workshop presenters and school leaders. Sadly, there are teachers who sometimes turn away from their dreams and new opportunities because they fear how their principals will react to their thoughts about moving out of their current situations. “What if I don’t get that job? How will my principal treat me knowing I wanted to leave?”

I hope my teachers know that I will not hold them back – they are free to dream and grow. I have talked to many of them about this. When they seek new opportunities, I want to support them. I try to link them up with resources, nudge them in conversations and provide them with experiences that will help should a new role materialize. If someone wants to become a principal in the future and has experience only in primary grades, I try to suggest that they teach in an intermediate grade to gain experiences that will help them in that role. If someone is interested in taking graduate courses, I love to talk to them about where they see themselves in the future and how the courses may have an impact on their goals. I share books and resources that might inspire them. I talk about qualities I see in them that will be an asset when they are ready to make the leap. I talk about their leadership skills to people at the helm of our organization – perhaps this will open some doors for them for leadership within our organization. I know that the years will pass quickly and when they get the itch to spread their wings, seeds of leadership would already have been planted in their minds. I am delighted when teachers with whom I have worked in the past call out of the blue saying they are considering a new opportunity, and ask my opinion about it. What a great experience it is to be trusted so, and indeed, to spend time talking with them about their dreams.

I was fortunate to be at the receiving end of such attention. Long before I aspired to a leadership role, my husband had taken a peek into my future. He would strike up conversations where he nudged me to consider looking past my role as a teacher, and consider becoming a school administrator. “Never!” I would say vehemently. “Are you kidding me? I couldn’t do that.” But, that didn’t stop him at all – look where I am today! He saw something in me long before I recognized it in myself. Some years later, taking the step towards being a school leader seemed like a natural thing to do. As Christopher Reeve said, “So many of our dreams seem impossible, then improbable, then inevitable.” I guess Superman knew what he was talking about!

But it doesn’t have to end there. We are sustained by those who still see something in us and dream about what we can do in the future. I am fortunate to have people in my family, school community and circle of friends who stand by me, share words of encouragement, offer wise counsel, give me pep talks, offer constructive criticism and reiterate their belief in me. They see something in me that I might fail to recognize sometimes, and through their voices I continue to learn and grow.

So, what do YOU see in the future of the people around you? Your colleagues? Your friends and family? Your kids? How do you nurture and encourage them? Undoubtedly, there is immeasurable joy in growing the leaders of tomorrow. The fun begins when they begin to see what we have seen all along!

“A leader’s role is to raise people’s aspirations for what they can become and to release their energies so they will try to get there.” — David Gergen

“And when we think we lead, we are most led.” —Lord Byron

One of the hardest questions to answer is, “What is the most important aspect of my role?” It doesn’t matter what our professions might be – it is easier to create a list of things we believe our roles entail, rather than define what our most important charge is. A leadership role is complicated. There are multiple dimensions that cannot be ignored, stakeholders who are integral to the organization’s well-being, goals that need to be achieved, challenges that must be addressed and resolved, a vision that needs to be defined. Where does one begin? How do we identify one critical aspect that connects to all the others? I did not set out to ask myself this question, but my teachers led me to the answer.

As a special education teacher who supported students in different buildings, I had worked with multiple principals. I knew how they ran meetings but did not see the nuances of their work. As a result, when I became a principal, I quickly realized that there were things people needed of me that I was not even aware of. My head was full of ideas about leadership, but I needed to begin with the nuts and bolts. Somehow, the packing list for those was incomplete!

Having worked in this role at four schools by now, I have realized that what people want of a principal at one school may be completely different from what people want at another. I expect this is true in most organizations. Thankfully, a kindergarten teacher came to see me one day, and offered to let me know what people were used to, what they needed and when. This was a really big deal. Here was a teacher, who had the presence of mind to see that there was a problem, and the wisdom to speak to a newly hired principal and say euphemistically, what would bluntly have been something like, “Hey Subha, you’re messing up royally, and you’re not even aware of it!” She offered her help and I took it gratefully. Anybody in a new role knows that you can only ask questions about the things you know. How does one figure out what one needs to do if it’s not even on our radar? We wait for other leaders to step up to the plate! One of them had graciously led me to the first turn in  my journey as a school principal and pointed me in the right direction.

I am happy to be called a bookworm. I love to learn! A great deal of learning happens when we deal with challenges – good and bad – and my mind is restless when it comes to ideas. Some of my best learning has come from conversations where my colleagues (yes, my teachers are my colleagues) and I have wrestled with ideas, often looking at things through different lenses. Sometimes we’ve pushed and pulled and then revisited ideas, and each conversation has stretched us. I like to share resources with teachers and during our conversations I’ll often share a book I’ve read, point out a strategy or link one educator with another. It’s fun to reflect on what is happening around our school, share and see the ideas grow. Early in my leadership role, I had the privilege of working with a couple of teachers who were masterful at their craft. I watched them and learned something new every time I stepped into their classrooms. We often talked about education and I would mention authors and share books and articles that connected to what they were doing. They had strong opinions and so did I. Our conversations were sheltered by an umbrella of mutual respect. And then, at the end of our first year together, both of them came to me, independently of each other and said that in one year, they had grown more as teachers than they had in years before. They said they were better teachers as a result of our engagement, the resources I had shared and the support I had provided. I was embarrassed – never having been very good at being on the receiving end of a compliment. I felt I had done nothing special – in fact, they were the ones who had made my work very rewarding.

That summer, I reflected on their comments and realized that they had brought new meaning to my work. They had defined something I was already doing and given it tremendous importance. I realized that if I asked myself what the most important part of my work was, it would be to help teachers be the very best they could be. That, in itself, had the potential to influence just about everything that happened at our school. It would have a ripple effect on all the other things I did as a principal. Dr. Terrell used to say, “Take care of teachers, and they’ll take care of kids.” This was about taking care of their growth to strengthen our school.

I continue to be fascinated by where my teachers and other stakeholders at our school lead me. Through their eyes, their ideas and questions, my role continues to be influenced and defined. Staying open to their voices and creating a space for our engagement is something I strive to do deliberately. Reflecting on our conversations keeps my role exciting and fluid even though the beliefs that undergird my work are firm. Bringing out the best in others is not easy but it is a critical part of my role. It keeps me learning, and helps me constantly strive to be better than I am!

Byron was right. Here’s to many more years of learning, leading and being led!