Find “Your” Elephant!

By Jack Birmingham, IPLI Mentor and Assistant Superintendent at Union Township School Corporation

As we embark on another holiday season and begin to ponder on those things that we are thankful for, I felt that it would be appropriate to share something that has helped keep me grounded in my role as a building principal and now as a central office administrator. It was my elephant! Let me explain.

Three Christmas seasons ago, as I was wrapping up another fun day of Christmas room parties at my elementary school and making plans for a much needed restful holiday break, a little third-grade girl walked into my office and handed me a Christmas gift for me to open. With excitement, she said, “Mr. Birmingham you HAVE to open it now!” So as to not disappoint her, I took the little gift, wrapped in newspaper, and hurriedly opened it up. My gift was a small, gray rubber elephant!!! She smiled and asked if I liked it, and of course I said, “absolutely!” Without saying a word, like a Christmas elf, she scampered out of my office stopping at the desks of my administrative assistants delivering more newspaper-wrapped gifts. A horse, a turtle and a giraffe were the next small toys that were unwrapped, each filled with love that was seen in the eyes of this little girl as they were received.

As she left our office suite and headed back to class, all of the adults in the room smiled warmly about the sweet little gift we had received. Our hearts melted when we heard from her teacher that these toys, including my elephant, were taken directly from her home and her private collection. She didn’t have money to purchase gifts, but wanted to simply give and experience the feeling of giving! Wow…this blog could end now and be a pilot for next Christmas’ Hallmark season. (It would make this year, but Hallmark started their new Christmas movies around Labor Day.)

This little elephant that I received with such joy is one of THE ONLY gifts I keep with me in my office. It sits on my desk right next to my nameplate. I keep it there for two reasons. One, to display what the gift of giving is and remind me to give freely as this little student of mine did. Secondly, the elephant adorns my desk to strike up conversations with anyone who comes in for a visit. I meet regularly with our district principals, and I love telling the story to each of them so that they may “find their elephant!”

As building leaders, there will be many times that you will struggle to find your value and your worth with all of the challenges that are thrust upon you. Strategies, organizational skills, and conferences can help to ease your burdens; however, you will find no more gratification than when you find a moment that will bring you back to your calling. LOOK for it! It is the heart of a child that we so desperately want to help educate! SEEK a time when you experienced the unwavering love of a student. When that happens, be thankful for the position you are in and NEVER forget when you FOUND YOUR ELEPHANT!