Gerry Brooks, one of the most sought-after speakers at teachers’ conferences across the United States, took to the stage last Friday in the North County High School auditorium, where he charmed his way into the hearts of faculty members from the North County R1 and Sunrise R-9 school districts.
Brooks, the principal at an elementary school in Lexington, Kentucky, who gained fame in recent years with his humorous, educational videos recorded in his car, is followed on social media sites by more than 3.1 million people. He spoke for 90 minutes on a wide range of topics that rang familiar to those in the audience, who listened to his every word with rapt attention.
Profession development presentations can sometimes be tedious and downright boring, but Brooks addressed an array of talking points that he would introduce by using various videos he had created that had the audience laughing, nodding in agreement, or simply absorbing the moment. Using humor, satire, and emotion, all wrapped up in a rapid-fire delivery, Brooks held the audience of educational professionals spellbound from beginning to end.
Brooks told the audience, “I hope that you, no matter what position you hold, are going to walk out of here with one or two things that you needed to hear, that you’ve got one or two things that you can talk about at lunch, you can text your friends, you can talk about at a team meeting, but more importantly, that you understand the importance of your job.”
One of the areas Brooks emphasized was the importance of having good communication skills.
“I have 750 kids at my elementary school,” he said. “We’re the largest elementary school in Lexington. We have been designated to be a neighborhood school by our district. Because of that designation, it means everybody but the liars live within a four-mile radius of my school. I’ve got a lot of lying people trying to sneak into my building. So, 750 kids — everybody but the liars — live within a four-mile radius. And because of that, I have 19 buses that service my school. My bus rider line is crazy long for an elementary school. Five years ago, we had a knock-down drag-out between two 80-year-old bus drivers that included slapping each other in the face, spitting on each other, cussing at each other, and all the fifth graders standing in a circle going, ‘Go, go, go, go, go!’ And they got into this huge fight because they both wanted to be first in the bus rider line. We get out of school at 2:45. They started pulling in at 2:15. And then they started coming in at 2 o’clock. And THEN they started pulling in at 1:45, trying to beat the other bus there.
“And it culminated in this big, huge fight that the kids still talk about five years later when one of the bus drivers started pulling his bus in at 9 a.m. after his morning route and having a friend pick him up so that no matter what time the other bus driver got there, his bus was parked there all day long. They literally got into a huge fight in front of these kids. And when I went out there and said, ‘What in the world is going on with two 80-year-old men fighting in front of these kids?’ One of the bus drivers said, ‘If I’m not first in line, then I’m 10 minutes late every afternoon to pick up my wife from her dialysis appointment.’ Do you know how easy that would have been solved? Communication. See, that’s the key. The key to you being on the same page with your front office, with your custodians, with your librarian, with your art teacher, with your tech, and with your coaches is simply communication. Because when you communicate, you are always on the same page.”
Brooks went on to explain why this was the case.
“This is what we believe, especially in the United States,” he said. “We believe that being on the same page means I get my way, and I like the decisions that are being made. If nobody’s told you, let me be the first to tell you that being on the same page does not mean you’re going to get your way. It does not mean you even like the decisions that are being made. Do you know why? Because sitting in this group of people, you are going to walk away from a meeting and not get your way. You’re not going to get the problem thing that you thought was best. You’re not going to get to place the kid where you think they need to be placed. You’re not going to get to hire the teacher that you think needs to be hired and did best in the interview. You’re not going to get to call the play that you think is going to win the game.
Do you know why? Because you are sitting in a room with people that have different years of experiences, different priorities, and different knowledge bases. But it doesn’t mean you’re not on the same page because even when you disagree, you can still be on the same page as long as you communicate with the people around you. And when you sit down and listen to your colleagues — are heard by your colleagues — you are always on the same page even when you disagree. Being on the same page doesn’t mean you get your way. It doesn’t mean you even like the decisions that are being made by your grade level, by the department, by the principal, or by the superintendent. It simply means you understand the decisions because you’ve communicated as a group, and we’ve got to always be on the same page.”
Another topic Brooks touched upon at the teachers’ conference was the importance of “climate culture.”
He asked, Do you know who’s in charge of climate culture in your building? You. It’s not your administration team, it’s not your counselors, it’s not your PTA, it’s not the parents that bring you Starbucks, which, by the way, I drove 10 miles to get Starbucks today. It’s not that. It’s you. And if you’re in a situation that you don’t like or people are not getting along, you can change that. And if you love your situation, you’re in a great climate culture, you don’t want to lose your secretaries, you’ve got the best volleyball coach ever, you don’t want to lose your parents because they’re amazing, you can add to the climate culture of your building. If you’re waiting for someone to change around, get a new principal, or move a grade level so things will be better, you could be waiting forever. And let me tell you what could happen. You could get in a worse situation. If you’re waiting for someone to change something, you could be waiting forever. You can step up and change or add to the climate culture of your building if you choose to.
“As we get close to Halloween, I have something you can do that will bless your colleagues at school or at work. Go out and get yourself a Purple Prize Pumpkin from Walmart. They’re only a dollar. And I’ll fill it with tasty treats, and the teachers can reach in and pull out a tasty treat and be like, what is that? Oh, well, I got a Payday. I got all sorts of fun things in here. Here’s a chicken leg, chicken drumstick. Everybody loves drumsticks. I got some M&Ms in here. Those are delicious. This is a great, tasty treat. It’s a Ginger Biscuit. They’re an extra blessing because when you hit them, they go ‘tha-thup,’ so that’s fun. And then you get to eat them. Here’s an Almond Joy. That’s always delicious. I got me a Speedway hot dog, and I have rubber-banded some onions to it, some ketchup and mustard. That’ll be a real big blessing to your staff and your friends. Here’s some Tic Tacs. This is my favorite. Here’s some boiled eggs already ready but look what I did. I take some Miracle Whip, and some pickle relish right there. The teachers will be able to make deviled eggs right there in their classroom. What a blessing is that? So go out and get yourself a Purple Prize Pumpkin from Walmart. You’ll bring blessings here at the Halloween season.”
Concluding his presentation, Brooks said, ”My real goal for you to understand — whether you’re a driver, a secretary, a custodian, whether you’re a coach, a parent, or a teacher — every single one of you on a daily basis has a child waiting for someone to love them, respect them, encourage them, and allow them to walk away from their peers and your peers with their dignity.”
Education takes many forms, and as Gerry Brooks reminded his audience through his passionate yet light-hearted presentation, we are never too old to learn and should never be too busy to listen.
Dan Schunks is a staff writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.