Thomas C. Murray Personal & AUTHENTIC—Designing Learning Experiences That Impact a Lifetime
What is it about reading stories with real people doing both ordinary and extraordinary acts of heartfelt service. The author of these events often carefully craft their words with ideas interwoven with a conviction and mindset that the reader can then replicate and apply them to who they are and what they too can do. Thomas C. Murray author of Personal & Authentic, Designing Learning Experiences That Impact a Life has this gift as a writer and storyteller as evident from the many narrative accounts he shares in his book, Personal & Authentic.
One of the most powerful stories Murray shared was a personal experience that occurred just moments after he left a busy airport at the peak of arrival and departures. Upon landing at his destination Murray was notified by friends and family he has just missed a round of violent gunfire at the same terminal he had just departed from. He had literally missed being in the crossfire as an unvoluntary bystander by mere minutes and was beyond shaken. Although physically safe himself, he had left behind more than one colleague and new acquaintance who had not yet caught their own flights and had remained in the destructive aftermath.
Murray like many of us understands this horrific event is occurring too often in our communities across the country but did not expect to experience it so closely. He was physically and emotionally shaken, and likely in a state of shock. Going through the motions of making his way home he unexpectedly heard an unknown stranger singing a gospel tune with a “deep southern male voice”. This compelling melody slowly gave Murray a much-needed sense of calmness and reassurance. Curious Murray then made his way over to this man who he later learned was a professional shoe shiner by the name of Gus. The song ended and Gus addressed Murry asking, “Can I help you today?” This simple gesture allowed Murray to stop, pause and collect himself and experience the unexpected. Murray shared, “I’ll admit, I sat there in awe. Those ten minutes with Gus caused me to reflect not just on education but on life itself” (p. 174).
Murray’s messages from each chapter in his book Personal & Authentic mirror the lessons he learned from his conversation with Gus. “These ‘Lessons from Gus’ give incredible insight into what being personal and authentic as educators are all about” (p. 175). The job Gus loved to do and did so every day with great enthusiasm was to polish, shine, and care for other people’s shoes in a noisy busy airport. Similar to the role of great teachers and leaders who teach, support, and care for children every day in complex school systems.
There are five important life lessons Murray walked away with during his brief encounter with Gus. The first and most important lesson is how we interact with those around us is incredibly important especially to those we serve. The education of a child begins, ends, and is filled with teachers and leaders. It is critical to remember, “Evey child that walks through our school doors in an opportunity. Make every interaction count” (p. 175). Your mindset matters and Gus modeled this with every interaction.
Next, Murray learned not only did Gus love to shine shoes, but he also loved his craft. He was passionate to do his best with every shoe every day. He knew he could make your shoes look their best with a bit of elbow grease. Murray reminded us of the value of being passionate about our work in education. “Let the love of your work so radiate that it inspires others to give their best. Be proud of what you do and the impact that you have” (p. 175).
Gus also made each detail matter as he polished Murray’s well-traveled shoes. “He exemplified a true customer service mindset” (p. 175). Gus believed he was the best and he prided himself in the details. Murray listed both personal examples as well as recommendations to “Make It Stick” from educators all across the country how we can “own our own actions and know they speak more than your words ever will” (p. 176). These details matter to our students, our teachers, and our families.
Gus absolutely loved serving others. Do we genuinely feel the same about where we head to work every day? Who do you spend your time with during these often unavoidable hectic wonderful days? Who do you choose to surround yourself with? We can hang out with Gus’s who inspire us to serve and support others or not. Murray challenges us to, “Surround yourself with positive people who have a can-do mentality and will lovingly push you to be better” (p. 176).
Finally, Murray reminds the reader to “Be Present” just as Gus did as he was polishing his shoes. “Gus made me feel like the most important customer in the world every moment we were together” (p. 176). When we are surrounded by those we serve, remain focused on who we serve and why we do the work that we do. Murray quotes an educator I follow closely on social media and whose words and deeds mirror her actions. “In whatever you do, lead like you’re leaving your legacy. Every action and interaction that you have on a daily basis is something that people will carry forward for you when you leave” (p. 177), Jessica Cabeen, middle school principal, Minnesota.
“The work is hard, but our kids are worth it.
Be bold. Be fearless. Be proud. Be you.
Your story is not finished yet.”
Thomas C. Murray