WECA is Wisconsin’s largest association of childcare providers. In a recent member newsletter, Executive Director Ruth Schmidt shared her reflections on leadership. To honor the everyday leadership Wisconsin childcare providers exemplify each day, we share Ruth’s valued thoughts.
My father, Stephen, was an everyday leader. He passed away three years ago. I knew him as a dad, a loving husband to my mother, and a college professor. And for me, that was more than enough. He loved me and my siblings like a river that had overrun its banks, a mountain whose peak was always in the clouds going on forever. He challenged me to be strong enough to know that trust and vulnerability are the truest windows through which to view the goodness of my fellow human beings. He expected me to follow my passions because that is the sort of life we are called to give to this world.
Over 700 people came to the visitation after Dad died. I knew he was loved and respected but until that evening in September 2012 I had no idea the impact of his life. People who he taught in the 1950s as 1st graders came to speak of the lasting imprint he made in their lives, of how his influence shaped who they became. People who sang in the church choir he directed in the 1960s came to speak of the ongoing joy of music he left in their lives. Students who studied under him and were advised by him at one of the three colleges he taught at over four decades came and spoke of the better people they had become as a result of being challenged by him to be their best, to always consider the “other,” to question the accepted and live with integrity. Professors came and spoke of his relentless dedication to his field of study, but more importantly, to the art of teaching. There were mentions of his prolific writing that offered new insights, of his lecturing and public speaking that left you sure he was addressing just you in a room full of people, of the lifelong relationships he fostered and nurtured through letters, and phone calls and emails. People came from across the country to pay their final respects because they recognized that their lives were better from having known him.
An everyday leader. A teacher. A call to live fully, live passionately. A demand to question, to consider the “other,” to be open to what is new and hold in reverence much of what is old. An everyday leader. A teacher.
I have watched what you do. I have seen you with children; each child sure you are there for her alone. I have heard you sing your songs, and move your feet and clap your hands understanding why your voice and your movements and patterns are shaping the next generation. I have seen you make remarkable toys for your classrooms out of items many would have thrown away. I have looked at you deep in concentration gleaning everything you can from a conference workshop and challenging each other to learn more, create more, teach more, play more, and give more. I have listened to directors share the struggle you face supporting your staff, meeting your payroll, buying your program’s food and materials, filling out your forms, writing your handbooks, filing your taxes and so much more with few resources. I have listened to teachers tell of working two jobs because you don’t earn enough in the field of child care but don’t want to leave. I have listened to family child care providers who have taken out second mortgages in order to keep your program running. I used to ask myself, “why?” I don’t anymore. You are everyday leaders, in the most exceptional ways. You lead from your hands to your hearts. You lead in a quest for constant improvement. You lead by modeling, reading, rocking, holding and guiding.
From my father and each of you I have learned lessons to help me become a better leader in the work I do at WECA. Never have I been more aware of the fact that leadership is a lifelong quest than when I reflect on what I have learned in my 13 years at WECA. And never have I been more certain of the fact that we lead best when we honor the leaders around us. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart and the tips of my fingers, for your beautiful everyday leadership.