When I am asked to accept the nomination as President-Elect of the Oregon Council of Teachers of English (OCTE) by the current President, I am gobsmacked. I joined my state’s professional development organization within the first week of landing here from New Jersey almost five years ago. (It was only recently that I stopped receiving updates from the New Jersey Council.)
I would never have agreed except that our current President is a force of nature, and a remarkable human—a kind dynamo, a one-of-a-kind dynamo! At my first in-person Oregon Conference, my husband and I arranged accommodations and drove the almost-five-hour trip from Newport to Ashland, an adventure, and an opportunity to introduce him to another part of our outstanding new home state.
Upon arriving at the conference site from our Airbnb, all bravado fell away. I knew no one here. Gone were the familiar faces and warm hugs from my colleagues in New Jersey. The banner announcing the OCTE event stretched across a brick wall at the school where it would be held. Thoughts raced and nerves pinged as I stepped inside. Smiles reigned—a good, reassuring thing, but one person actually approached me, put out her hand, introduced herself, welcomed me: I had met Laurie.
In the course of the conference I watched her calm attention, nothing harried, as she leaned in to listen and spoke in gentle words to address concerns, competent not blustery. I noticed how others deferred to her, how quick her smile, how busy she was without seeming so. I recognized real leadership.
Today I receive an email telling me that our virtual Spring Conference registration is live and Laurie has registered without a problem. I follow suit. As president-elect, I have tried to shadow Laurie through whatever challenges have come her way as OCTE’s leader—and there have been many: all in-person opportunities have been shifted to Zoom. Our organization’s finances are suffering as a result, but Laurie remains steadfast—and with good humor. Did I mention kind?
Often when we text, she’s en route to the food bank to volunteer, or walking her dog at the beach, or planning professional development for her staff, or in a meeting mentoring a new teacher. As I said: dynamo. In the last year, she has added traveling to babysit her beloved grandson on one of her out-of-the-office Mondays; the distance is over an hour each way. Her family depends on her, but her joy in it shines through.
She has gently reminded me that good leaders designate; they do not just do it themselves, rendering others clueless and unable to assume responsibility—”If you ask them, they will do,” a variation on the Field of Dreams theme. It is a lesson I struggle with, but in an all-volunteer organization, and in life, it is imperative. Laurie empowers others—leadership 101.
So when she asked me to undertake the role, I knew I would be a pale replacement. Some restive nights accompanied my decision.
But now, here I am. I have had the best possible example in front of me; I am learning from a master. A bit more time under her tutelage remains, thank goodness. And because she shares my appreciation of professional collegiality, I know she’ll remain a beacon for me.
My goal: Be more like Laurie, big smile, extended hand, sincere welcome. It will all work out.