As a speaker, I'm fortunate to criss cross the country visiting schools and districts to help inspire teachers and staff members (pre-covid, at least). Over the years, I've witnessed all kinds of school gatherings - some boring meetings spent reviewing new rules, while others are more like energetic pep rallies. I always enjoy seeing students involved during welcome back events for the staff. Whether it's the choir singing, or a student government high-five line welcoming the staff, I think it adds a special element to the day.
A few years ago I was at a small, rural school district in southeast Idaho which serves about 800 students total. This particular day, before I gave my keynote address, they had their four executive student government leaders (all females by the way which was impressive) share about a favorite teacher that had made an impact on them over the years. The story I enjoyed the most: "My favorite teacher was custodian Roberts." The student went on to say, "Nearly every day while we were eating lunch in the cafeteria, custodian Roberts would come by and make us laugh. He would talk to us and make us laugh. It was something I looked forward to everyday. High school can be pretty stressful at times and that short, caring interaction by custodian Roberts was often the highlight of my day."
What really struck me about the stories was, despite being asked about their favorite teacher, two of the four students actually picked non-teachers as somebody that had made an impact on them. Another student government leader shared: "I live a ways from our school so it's a pretty long bus ride. My bus driver Cheryl is the best. I sit right behind her everyday and we chat. Sometimes I'm worried I'll distract her a little too much while she's driving, but she's a wonderful listener and a great person. I'm grateful for her."
Sometimes it's easy to think our brief interactions with others don't matter much or that our role is insignificant. But that's false. The simple act of listening, or a smile, or a funny face can make someones day. And those small acts of kindness, repeated everyday, can leave a large footprint on a person's life.