A few years ago, I was the featured speaker for the faculty/staff professional development day for an entire school district. The session was going great, as the audience seemed to really connect with my message and had a lot of fun participating in the activities that I had planned. Then I asked the question: Where are the members of the cafeteria staff? After a moment of uncomfortable silence, one of the principals informed me that they had not been invited to attend.
I always like to joke that one of the wonderful things about speaking is that you get to say whatever you want, and then you can leave. So, in this case, I took this opportunity to share an important message: every single person counts. Indeed, I made the case that the cafeteria workers could be among the most important people in any school, since they may be the only ones who see every student every day. If Mark’s eating habits have drastically changed or Keisha’s behavior has become quite different in the cafeteria, these individuals might be the only adults who will notice. And if they feel like equal partners in the educational process, they can share this information with others who can intervene and make things better. Regardless of title or degrees, all of us are important and should be valued.
At my last school, the woman who worked the cash register for years like a soldier guarding the base ended up dying unexpectedly. The students were devastated and organized several tributes to Ms. Ruby, far more than had been ever seen for any faculty member or administrator who had passed. She didn’t make much money, but clearly, she had made a huge difference.
That’s why whenever I get great customer service, I ask the workers for their names. At first, they worry that I’m going to complain about them! But then, I send an email to their supervisors offering praise — since you never know if anyone ever hears good things.
Let’s all resolve to be more cognizant of how we treat one another… to celebrate achievement wherever it exists… and to fully embrace inclusion in our personal and professional lives!