Sherry St. Clair
You Help More People Than You Know
Updated: Jan 9, 2021
A while back—before the pandemic—I was about to speak in front of a group of educators I’d been newly hired to coach. I was introduced by a man I’d previously coached when he was a principal and prior to his new job as assistant superintendent of the district where we now gathered. As part of his introduction, he said to the audience:
“When I first met Sherry, I didn’t ask for her leadership help. I didn’t think I needed it. But even after working with her for only a short period of time, I saw how much value she added to our team and wondered what I would have done without her. You are going to love her support.”
I must say, his kind words had me a little teary-eyed. When we first worked together, I had been hired by his former district’s superintendent to offer leadership coaching to all the system’s school principals. He was among the contingent of leaders who were resistant to support from an outsider, which I confront often and understand.
Nonetheless, he gave me a chance. And as we started working together, we developed a great working relationship. One where he really allowed me to push his thinking in the area of leadership. I did then and still do give him enormous credit for his openness to working with me despite an initial reticence. Yet, I never did know the impact of our work until this very moment, when he gave me such a warm and generous introduction to a new audience—one, no doubt, also filled with a contingent of educators resistant to the support of an outsider.
On my plane ride home from this first meeting with new collaborators, I reflected on all the people who have pushed my thinking over the decades. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that I would not be where I am today without the people who challenged my thinking and helped me grow. Especially those who stuck by my side when I was resistant to the change they were leading me towards. Their positive impact on me helps me have a positive impact on others.
As we put a challenging year behind us and prepare for a new one that will hold many of the same challenges, I encourage you all to start the New Year with a positive truth in mind: you help more people than you will ever know. Even when you’re exhausted, struggling, feeling like you’re not doing enough or could be doing more, you are still helping people.
I know this to be true because of how many people have helped me grow—and many likely do not know it. As you reflect on your hopes for 2021, I encourage you to take a little time to look back at an unusually difficult year and name the people who helped you persevere and excel. Especially when you wanted to give up or maybe believed you could go no farther. If it’s possible or appropriate, send them a note to let them know how they impacted your life.
As you count these blessings, I would also encourage you to reflect on another thought: each time you count a teacher in your life, expect that you, too, have been a teacher to someone else. Though the work is sometimes tough, may you always feel gratitude for the gift of helping people fulfill higher levels of potential than they thought possible. May you feel pride for the work you do and the positive role you play in people’s lives.
No matter what life gives us, we will always need each other. We need each other to walk through struggles, to find encouragement and to expand our thinking. We need each other to achieve more than we thought we could, and grow.
I’m grateful to everyone who has helped me grow. And to those whom I may help grow, please know it’s always an honor.
Wishing you a brighter, lighter 2021—filled with both teachers and students.
Sherry St. Clair, president of Reflective Learning LLC, is the author of Coaching Redefined: A Guide to Leading Meaningful Instructional Growth. She coaches instructional leaders globally, with the aim of helping administrators, coaches, and teachers create the optimal learning environment for students. Additionally, she serves as a Senior Fellow for the International Center for Leadership in Education.