“A great teacher is like a candle; it consumes itself to light the way for others.” – Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

This post is a tribute to Beth Crawford, who left a legacy that demonstrated the meaning of “start with the end in mind.” As a teacher, she truly inspired her students by building lasting relationships with them.  The many visits and calls from former students have honored her during her recent illness.

Hands and Hearts in Science

I had the honor and privilege of working with Beth Crawford, one of the finest educators in my forty plus years as a school principal. Beth was a fifth grade teacher that I selected as a transfer from another school.  From the moment she arrived, she brightened up our school with her enthusiasm, cheerfulness and passion for learning.  She was the closest thing to having a Ms. Frizzle (the main character in the book: The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole) at our school!  It wasn’t long after she arrived that her classroom became a treasure trove of skeletons, animal skins, insects, amphibians, fish, biospheres, rocks and many other treasures that only 5th graders could love. It was not unusual when I was greeting the children in the morning, that a child would brightly show me a wooly bear caterpillar, turtle shell or rabbit skull that was on its way to becoming part of “the collection”.

A Close Encounter of Zany Science

It was in this zany, cluttered classroom that children encountered the wonderment and fascination of our physical world and the joy of learning. Whether I was doing a walk through visit or a formal observation, her children were actively engaged with her, each other and the subject matter they were studying.  They often were in small cooperative groups with their peers leading discussions, conducting experiments and recording data. During this time, Beth was circulating around the groups listening, making connections and giving encouragement.  The sounds of learning, laughter, and excitement reverberated in the classroom and sometimes down the hall!  I enjoyed hearing the “reporting out” of the children’s hypotheses and whether these were proven true or not and why.

Beth’s Legacy

Beth retired a few years ago with dreams of traveling and spending more time with her family and in her garden.  Sadly, I learned a month ago that Beth has cancer that has metastasized.  When my wife and I paid her a recent visit, Beth, in her usual cheery voice, told us how grateful she was for this time to reconnect with former students and friends who were coming around.  During their visits, she heard many testimonies and grateful comments about what a positive difference she had made in their lives.  On that day, her gratitude centered around these connections and the time she was given for this purpose.  I was humbled when she told me that her “time teaching with me was wonderful because I let her be who she was and encouraged her to go for it!”  

As we continued our conversation, Beth told us about a former student that had loved her previous teacher, but did not like Beth. Beth told us how she took the time to talk with the child about this challenge.  Beth promised her that she would become her friend as well as her teacher, if only the student would give her a chance. It took a while, but Beth, as the student now testifies, became her favorite teacher.  Their friendship continues to this day, as Beth shared that this student comes by often to check on her.  Beth’s stories that day shared the same theme as she reflected on what I would call “a life well-lived with more gratitude than regrets.”

Empowered and Encouraged 

Beth is enduring great limitations during her time of illness. Her eyesight is limited and her breathing is becoming more difficult. She has made peace with the “bucket list” of retirement travel adventures that she is not able to enjoy.  She has chosen to enjoy what she can with as many as she can; not closing herself off in the deadly world of self-pity and pride. She, like many others, hold out hope that an experimental treatment might reverse what seems so hopeless.  What a balancing act!  She encouraged us not to be sad for her but to make sure we didn’t wait around for the time to be right to start working on our bucket list.  She urged us to seize the day. We left her home empowered and encouraged by her courage and interest in others.

Listening to Beth

Listening to Beth confirmed that efforts to lovingly connect with our families, students, colleagues and parents are never a waste. This intention and focus is a powerful and integral part of what we as educators do. Our positive leadership and influencing others to become their best selves enrich our own life.  Beth’s focus, during the most difficult chapter of her life, is centered on others.  She has practiced it well and is now and forever reaping its benefits.

Start With The End in Mind 

As you go through the stages of life, how do you want people to remember you?  As Dr. Stephen Covey put it: “What would you like written on your tombstone?”  Dr. Covey’s, “Start with the End in Mind” has many applications that can help us focus our thoughts on what kind of legacy we want to leave.  For example, I want to be remembered as a person of integrity who was a kind, servant leader. One who dedicates his life to helping others reach their potential.  Beth decided to use her gifts as a teacher to inspire children through building relationships while modeling a lifelong love for education.  

Think about the leadership legacy that you want to leave to your family and your work relationships, then plan with the “end in mind”. One day your thoughtful intentions, actions and treasured values will be the legacy you leave to the world.

Leaders Building Leaders wish all of you the joys of the holidays and God’s blessings to you and your families..

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