By John Louis Meeks, Jr.
Litter taught me an important lesson on leadership.
When I was in the United States Air Force, I was stationed at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. As a young airman, I remember a quiet morning when my squadron was charged with participating in a FOD walk. This meant that we were asked, or ordered, to help collect and dispose of foreign objects on the ground that could interfere with incoming and outgoing flights. In the civilian world, trash on the ground is an ugly nuisance. In the military world, it can potentially get sucked up into the aircraft and cause havoc.
So, instead of preparing reports on occupational health for my base clinic, I was roaming the grounds of my base with latex gloves and a garbage bag. I walked alongside my comrades as the sun rose on the First State and listened to my fellow enlisted men and women openly grumble about how they had more important work to do.
Stooped over water bottles and other detritus, I paid little attention to my surroundings as I treated myself to a quiet meditation until I heard someone approach me.
“Good morning, Airman Meeks.”
I looked up and saluted as sharply as I was taught in basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas when I saw the hint of a silver oak leaf attached to a very well-dressed lieutenant colonel with a garbage bag firmly in hand.
“Good morning, Colonel Lee,” I replied as I continued to stuff my bag.
My mission immediately took on a new importance. I was not just taking part in drudgery that the minions and plebes had the duty to perform. I was part of something that Lt. Col. Lee felt was something that she needed to do alongside her subordinates.
I learned an important lesson from this. I asked Lt. Col. Lee why she was helping. She explained that she would never ask someone to do something that she would not do herself as well.
Today, I think back to this episode when I ponder the heavy lifting that teachers and education support professionals must do for our students under the watchful eye of superiors who watch from a distance. It is one thing to judge and criticize the work of others. It is another thing to actually get their hands dirty with the troops. As Lt. Col. Lee boosted my morale that morning and inspired me to work harder, it would be a shot in the arm to our school district to see administrators on all levels join the troops on the ground doing the important work that needs to be done.
Postscript: Duval County Public Schools and Duval Teachers United are conducting the annual FAME survey to measure morale at individual schools. I highly encourage all school personnel who received the link to the FAME survey in their email to complete this confidential survey. In my opinion, morale matters in our schools and it is up to us to speak out.