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Taylor called to see if he might come for a visit one weekend. He said it was so he could get to know us better. I told my wife he was wondering what type of family he might be getting mixed up with and wanted to check us out.
During his visit, we hiked a local trail and came upon a policeman who was hiking on his day off. I introduced Taylor as my younger daughter, Anna’s, boyfriend. I mentioned that he was obviously a good guy or we would have already had an “accident” on the trail. Later that day we enjoyed browsing through family photo albums while my wife and I told stories about Anna.
A few weeks later, Taylor called to see if he could drop by. That evening he asked what we thought about his asking Anna to marry him. I told him we’d be honored to have him as a son-in-law.
Visiting with my future son-in-law, I was not thinking, “What was Taylor’s GPA?” or “How did he score on the ACT?” I didn’t worry about what degree he was pursuing, though I was pleased that he was in his last semester at UCA. My first thoughts were related to character traits. I needed to know that this young man who would partner with my daughter for life had integrity, persistence, kindness, generosity, and courage.
During April and May I often respond to online reference forms for interns who’ve recently completed their degree. It pleases me when I’m able to describe a candidate as a person of good character who demonstrates positive core beliefs.
A few years ago after interviewing several teaching candidates, I called a grocery store to check references on a prospective first year teacher. After many calls, I reached the manager who described the candidate as dependable and honest. She came in early and stayed late if necessary. She was careful and trustworthy and her cash register was always right. I hired the young lady and she quickly became an outstanding teacher on our staff. I may have had other candidates equal in academic or technical skill but, I selected her because of what I learned about her work-ethic and character.
I worked for Bob Watson, an inspiring communicator with a keen sense of humor. He did what was right even when it was unpopular to do so. I felt great confidence as a young principal working under his leadership because of his strong moral foundation. Fourteen years ago while looking at moving to Alma, I made several “reference calls” on Charles B. Dyer before making my decision. I didn’t ask about his knowledge of school finance or legislation. My questions were about his character. I learned you always knew where you stood with Mr. Dyer and that others could rely on him to do what he said he would do. He was committed to his family and coworkers. Knowing he had these qualities gave my family the confidence we needed to make this move. I am pleased to say these same characteristics are demonstrated in David Woolly who worked alongside Mr. Dyer for years before moving into the superintendent’s position. Mr. Woolly and other district level administrators are intelligent but more importantly, they are hard workers and people I can trust.
As a member of the AAEA, I’ve had the privilege of working with Kellar Noggle, Tom Kimbrell, and Richard Abernathy. These leaders are all smart and great educators but, without their strong character traits, the AAEA would not have the impact it does today. They’ve shown good judgment and were astute in navigating political environments while staying focused on the needs of children and educators. The credibility of the AAEA is directly related to the integrity of these executive directors and the membership they represent.
Whether selecting an employee, a boss, or an organizational leader, character trumps intelligence, knowledge, and skills. When faced with a future son-in-law beginning a lifetime with your daughter, character matters more than academic achievement. When the position is one of importance and influences the happiness and success of others, character is key. As we pursue high achievement for our students, we must never lose sight of the importance of helping children become kind, generous, hardworking, and trustworthy.
Written for the June issue of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators newsletter.