As we wrote in our special post for our Mom, 10 Things Our Mom Taught Us About Being a Teacher, one defining characteristic of our family, in addition to an abundance of love and humor, is education. All of our immediate family, including our husbands, are educators. As you might imagine, all things teaching, leading, and learning are common if not constant topics of discussion any time we gather.
For me and my sister, Cynthia, these discussions began as early as we can remember, usually around the dinner table. Mom and Dad would reflect on their days, toss around new ideas, or debate the current issues. Their passion and dedication to what they clearly knew was their calling, was obvious and admirable.
Our Dad spent 24 years in education. He began his career as a band director and 6th grade classroom teacher before serving 16 years as an elementary school principal. Several of those years he was not only our dad but also our principal. While he instilled so much faith and many life lessons in us, he also gave us both the foundation of what it means to be an excellent leader.
- To be the best, you must surround yourself with the best. Melody: Anything our dad has ever done, he has done it with excellence. He pours himself into any venture he’s on and pushes himself to grow and be the best he can be. As a principal, Dad knew that leaders were only as good as the people on their team. He was relentless in seeking out the kind of educators who shared his passion and understood the importance of hiring the best of the best. He would pour over good interview questions, analyze the needs of his school community, and then know that his time and energy were well spent when he landed an awesome hire. Our dad was the kind of leader that knew he couldn’t do it alone and to create a culture of excellence required excellent people.
- Chocolate milk can impact a life. Melody: Recently, when our dad had to be taken to the emergency room, he had an unexpected encounter. After the initial flurry of activity had settled, a family friend from church stopped by to check on things and announced that he’d run into a nurse who wanted to see Dad. The nurse asked, “Do you remember me?” Our dad looked at him for a moment and then realization passed across his face. The man said, “You used to come sit with me in the mornings and drink chocolate milk. I had a hard time in school, but Mr. Pruitt, I’ll never forget that.” Cynthia: There aren’t too many kids that love chocolate milk more than our dad. There were always a handful of students that were sent to his office over the years that he understood a consequence wouldn’t really make a difference in the child’s behavior. The kid needed someone to talk to and Dad would walk the students down to the cafeteria, get two chocolate milks and sit down for a chat. Dad didn’t need research on relationships, he didn’t need an understanding of trauma informed care, he knew kids needed to feel loved and he took care of that over a cup of chocolate milk.
- As a leader, you are accountable to everything. Melody: It was a particularly snowy Christmas season and while this makes for a picturesque holiday, inclement weather for a school usually means things don’t go as planned. I was nine and as we would have been heading home for our traditional Christmas Eve, Dad received a phone call telling him that the donated presents that were supposed to be delivered to students and families in need were still sitting at school. Dad leapt into action, bringing me along, for what ended up being one of the most special Christmas memories I have. We spent the evening delivering those gifts to delighted moms, dads and children and Dad taught me that night that not only is it important to give back to this world, but leaders take care of everything and everyone.
- It’s about the people. Melody: Dad cared deeply for his staff. Regardless of title, he took a genuine interest in them as human beings and made connections with them around their hobbies and interests. He spent time getting to know what made them tick and enjoyed building the kind of relationships that are the foundation of strong leadership. Whether it was traveling miles to attend the services of a loved one or delivering roses to each teacher’s desk the night before the first day of school, our dad knew that great leaders realize the real value is in relationships.
- A leader can’t please everyone. Melody: Even today, when we’re sharing a struggle we’re having as leaders, Dad will tell us, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” Our dad was grounded in his core belief that ALL students deserve the very best education and, as leaders, it is our job to make that happen. He knew that if you’re creating impactful change and doing things right, you’ll always have some people not happy with you. When the time came for a difficult decision, he never hesitated to be confident in knowing he was moving his school forward.
- Own your mistakes and apologize. Melody: Although our dad is stubborn (see below), he also knows that no one is perfect and certainly not him. Like all leaders, he made hundreds of decisions every day, some of them small and some much larger. But tiny or big, if Dad made a misstep or took a wrong turn, he never hesitated to step up and own the mistake. He taught us that, as leaders, strength is many times found in the vulnerable moments and to not be afraid to say, “I’m sorry.”
- It will all be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. Cynthia: This is one of dad’s favorite quotes and it fits him so well. As an administrator, Dad was resilient. When things got rough, when the job wore him out, he never lost hope that things would be better tomorrow. He woke up the next day determined to keep at it, doing what was best for his students and the community.
- Never, ever, ever, ever give up. Cynthia: If you ask people to describe dad using five adjectives most of them will list stubborn somewhere in the five. As an administrator Dad’s stubbornness benefited him more often than not. If he had an idea, something he thought would benefit his students and staff, he was like a dog with a bone. When coming across a problem dad would share his ideas at the dinner table then when the conversation changed you could tell the wheels in his head were still turning and an hour later, sure enough, it would come up again. At school and in life he has always been persistently insistent, which usually works in his favor.
- The door is always open. Cynthia: As an instructional leader during the day it can be difficult to get things checked off our to-do list when there are people in the building. Teachers, parents, students always stop by asking for help, and your to-do list either gets ignored or grows a little longer. I always think of how dad said it’s not just a part of your job, but it is your job. Everyone that walks through your door is yours to serve.
- Leaders innovate. Cynthia: One of the greatest things about our dad is the fact that he’s always taking a risk of some sort. I remember him bringing home a computer, hooking it up to our phone line and letting me chat with kids in Australia. I remember his elementary school being the first school in the district to get a computer lab and what a big deal that was. I remember him being so proud to turn one of his classrooms into an intervention room with a one-way mirror so that teachers could come in and observe model teachers. There was no idea out there too crazy, as long as it benefited his students and staff, that’s all that mattered.
- Laugh and have fun! Melody: First of all, we are certain that our dad owns the flagship store of “Dad Jokes.” He is always telling a funny story, sharing a witty, yet corny, pun, or doing some tricky word play that will have others laughing. Dad has spent his life and his leadership enjoying humor and sharing it with others to create ripples of fun and smiles. He also valued the importance as a leader to stop and have fun. As a fifth grader at his school, I remember the fall or spring days after barely making it down to his office after the last bell, he’d say, “Come on, Mel. If we hurry, we can make the last races!” With the school still buzzing with activity that I’m sure could’ve used his attention, we’d get in the car and head to Keeneland, our local (and beautiful) horse-track to get in free and enjoy the last of the racing day. Dad knew that, even as a leader, life is to be enjoyed.
Our dad is pretty unbelievable. He’s intelligent, devoted, funny, driven and just plain unforgettable. He has been dealt some obstacles in life and the way he continues to impact this world for the better is incredible. The lessons he’s taught us about the power of an educator and leader has inspired us to follow in his footsteps.
Which of these inspirational messages speaks to you? We’d love to hear from and connect with you! Tweet us @cynthiabruno and @me1odystacy or comment below!