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Praising the bridge that carries you across

Kim Finger
Kim Finger is Director of Student and Family Services for Wicomico County (Md.) public schools.

My parents did not graduate from high school themselves but they stressed the importance of education to all of their children. We were poor, and we lived in a neighborhood described by others as a "ghetto," but I didn't know that at the time and never defined myself that way. As the fourth of six children and the first to finish college, not to mention graduate school, I know that "shepherding" from an early age is essential for developing leadership talent in others.

As a child, when someone extended an act of kindness to one of us children, my parents would always admonish us to, "always praise the bridge that carried you across." It is with gratitude and humility that I write of those "bridges" that have shepherded me as a leader. A shepherd is one who guides, protects and tends to the needs of his or her flock, and the development of leadership abilities, in my view, is strongly related to the development of the whole person.

Looking back, I see people and experiences in my life as early as fourth grade that began to shape the leader I am today. My fourth-grade teacher Sister David Michael encouraged my gift for reading and, through books, introduced me to the inspirational figure of Harriet Tubman. My best friend Carol was the only child of a college-educated mother who involved me in Girl Scouts; Carol's mother knew the importance of children's participation in age-appropriate organizations to encourage socialization and community service.

I also was matched with a Jewish "Big Sister," a young college student named "Sue," who came to my neighborhood faithfully each Saturday. Sue took me to museums and talked to me about her school experiences. She possessed a quiet courage and boldness, taking me to places where people stared at the two of us, a young white woman and a little black girl. My relationship with Sue has contributed to my ability to authentically relate to diverse groups of people in both my professional and personal life.

As I entered adolescence, my aunt and uncle, Diane and Carroll Lee, became two of my most important shepherds. Together with my eighth-grade teacher, Sr. Miriam Kevin, they nurtured my work ethic, intellectual curiosity and provided me with opportunities to see beyond my everyday world. My aunt Diane lovingly meted out high expectations and accountability, requiring me to share not only what my plans were but how I planned to achieve them. In my work with students today I find myself using similar strategies to assist them in identifying and reaching their goals.

My aunt and uncle were also the ones who gave me practical help with the college-application process and provided financial assistance for textbooks and other costs associated with higher education. My parents wanted the best for me but they did not know how to access or utilize the information and resources I needed to succeed. As an adult, I have worked alongside my husband -- a high-school guidance counselor and retired Army officer -- to assist students and families in understanding how to access such vital resources.

Throughout my college years and beyond my aunt and uncle remained faithful in their efforts to provide support and guidance. When I experienced the death of my father and an unplanned pregnancy, neither my aunt nor uncle nor mother allowed me to use these events as an excuse to give up and quit school. They told me it was all the more reason to push on and make a better life for myself. Their shepherding was influential in my completing college and marrying my wonderful husband with whom I have raised two great daughters.

There were times when I felt my aunt and uncle and mother were tough and unsympathetic but I now understand their coaching tactics. While working with students experiencing challenges I have, when needed, sought to validate their experiences while combining support, encouragement, and prodding.Over the last 12 years I have been fortunate to have four faithful shepherds who have helped me to find my way as a servant leader. In addition to Diane Lee, Dr. Ethel Hines, Mrs. Gladys Goslee and Dr. Freddye Davy have taught me powerful yet simple life lessons.

My profession gives me the opportunity to see daily the desperate need for young people to be shepherded and what happens when they are not. I am grateful for every opportunity I have to praise my "bridges" by sharing the gifts given to me by my shepherd and mentors.This leads me back to the lesson taught by my parents and first shepherds. Leaders, do you remember the "bridges" that have carried you across, and have you praised them lately?

By Kim Finger

 |  December 14, 2009; 5:50 AM ET |  Category:  Leadership development Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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