I recently finished a book called Brothers Forever, about the enduring bond between two best friends: Brendan Looney, a U.S. Navy SEAL, and Travis Manion, a U.S. Marine. The book shines a light on the leadership qualities that both possessed. They each made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and as I read, I highlighted many qualities I wanted to use with my students (and myself). Both of these men were amazing leaders and their lives can teach us a lot about leadership. The quote from Brendan Looney-- “Be Strong, Be Accountable, Never Complain”-- ties directly to the students with whom we work every day. If I can develop these qualities in my students, nothing can stop them from succeeding. This is a letter to my students:
Be Strong. High school is hard; the college application process is hard; managing your time so you still have friends is hard. But, just like every previous cycle of high schoolers that head off to college, you can do it too. You will have to be strong with your priorities. You often will be stretched in many different directions and want to help everyone. Well, being strong isn’t about trying to do everything, it’s about doing your most important tasks extremely well. If you know you need a higher ACT or SAT score, but you find yourself helping a friend with planning a social event, or taking on extra responsibilities with a teacher after school, the consequences of not being strong and focusing on your priorities can be damaging to your goals.
One way you can be strong is by saying “no” to projects that are not in line with your personal goals. It is not easy – but it will be one of the most important words you use throughout your high school career. Make decisions with your ultimate goals in mind every single day and make your actions match those goals. Be Strong.
Be Accountable. I hear excuses from students every single day for why they didn’t achieve the results they wanted: “the teacher never said there was going to be a test,” “I didn’t know the teacher was going to actually grade the homework,” “I was just too busy yesterday and didn’t get home until late.” When a student says something like this to me, I respond with “be accountable.” Each of my students understand they chose those outcomes. If they choose to participate in an activity that caused them to be out late at night and unable to complete their homework, or study for the quiz that was the next day, there simply isn’t anyone to blame but themselves. The world is not out to get you and you are not a victim. Every human has twenty-four hours a day, how you manage that twenty-four hours is completely up to you. If you want the high test score, or the high grade in a class, you must put in the work required to achieve those results.
Learn to become accountable to yourself. If you hold yourself to a standard of excellence that is unmatched by anyone else, you are on the path to great success. That isn’t easy and everybody struggles with being accountable. But if you make a mistake, if you don’t put in the effort to increase your test scores, if you don’t complete every assignment in your classes, don’t look at anyone but yourself for the average results you will receive. Be accountable.
Never Complain. As I write this I feel like a bit of a hypocrite. Not complaining is hard. Writing this essay was extremely difficult in the middle of the college application season, and I found myself not being accountable to the responsibility that I volunteered for. One moment I was complaining to my wife that “I just have too much going on to write this essay,” and the next moment a student is complaining to me about how busy they are. My usual response is that they “made their choices, now live with them and get the job done.” It is very easy to say “I have a newborn at home,” “I’m working 14-hours a day,” but the reality was I made a commitment that I was not holding myself accountable to and was complaining about having to complete.
As a community of educators, our students should know we all have trouble with everything I have written about here. You will not be perfect; I’m not. But, then I took responsibility for my decisions and used my shortcomings for the basis of this essay. In general, I hold myself accountable for my actions and decisions and rarely complain because I know it will not make me a better person. I lead a team of amazing mentors, I teach a group of amazing students. If I’m going to be the leader they need, I must be strong, be accountable, and never complain.