It was the second to last day of school and our leadership group had just come back in from helping to clean up from a school wide activity. Once we were back in my room, I looked around and noticed that everyone had returned to gather up their things except our ASB president. She was missing and no one seemed to know where she was. I went back outside and scanned the parking lot and field. Finally, I noticed her quite a ways from our building. She was bending down and picking up pieces of trash. I yelled her name and she worked her way back to where I was. We picked up the last few tiny pieces of trash together and then I said,
“Why were you picking up all that little trash? I didn’t ask you to do that.”
She paused and then said,
“I don’t know why I did, I just knew it needed to be done, so I did it.”
In that moment, as I saw the seriousness in her eyes and heard the care in her voice; I knew she had taken the idea of being a true servant leader to heart. She had come to understand that to lead is to serve, and in that moment she was serving her school. Not out of a desire for recognition but out of a desire to make the lives of those around her better.
The best part for me, as her teacher in that moment, was that she didn’t even consciously think about it, serving others had just become second nature for her. It seemed like such a simple interaction at the time. When she reminisced about this story with me recently, we agreed that her growth as a servant leader, then and now, came not only from the things she learned in that ninth grade class but the opportunities she took outside of class to intentionally practice her character. Throughout that year and every year since, I’ve been blessed to watch her continue to strengthen and build her character to new and amazing levels. She has changed the lives of so many around her through her commitment to the principles of servant leadership and character development. Every time I need a reminder of the value of character education, I think of that day picking up trash with the best student and servant leader I’ve ever been around. It’s that possibility of helping ANY student see the importance of developing their character that reaffirms why these ideas and courses are needed in EVERY school.
Ryan Healy - Ridgeline Middle School
The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.