Defining a Role Model

Growing up in Philadelphia, I was always a big Philly sports fan.  I loved all the colorful personalities through those years.  None were bigger than Charles Barkley.  The Round Mound of Rebound was such an anomaly as an athlete at barely 6’5 and arguably far too overweight to play with the gazelles in the NBA, let alone dominate games from the power forward position.  One of the things I remember Sir Charles saying was that he didn’t want to be a role model, but that parents should be the role models.  ( Whether he wanted to be a role model or not, Sir Charles was one. 

I was thinking about what it means to be a role model, and of course as an English teacher, I broke down the term and thought about all the various applications of the terms.

Merriam-Webster defines role as:

(1) :  a character assigned or assumed <had to take on the role of both father and mother> (2) :  a socially expected behavior pattern usually determined by an individual’s status in a particular society

(2):  a function or part performed especially in a particular operation or process <played a major role in the negotiations>

The word model has a much more elaborate and extensive definition, so I chose the 5th meaning listed for our purposes.

(5):  an example for imitation or emulation

And finally, Merriam- Webster defines role model  as:

(1)  someone who another person admires and tries to be like

(2)  a person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others

As educators, we have many complex responsibilities in helping everyone in our school have the best experience possible so that every one of them can go beyond our walls to share their gifts, talents, and passions with the world to make it a better place than the one they inherited, while also striving to live lives of meaning and purpose.

Whether we like it or not, as educators, we are role models not only for our students, but also for each other, and for parents.  We have a tremendous opportunity to model the behaviors and attitudes that will help us achieve a life of meaning and purpose.

If you have read my blog, you know I am a strong believer in relationships being at the center of great schools.  But beyond the brick and mortar of the building, strong relationship skills are integral to any successful endeavor.  Modeling the initiation, nurturance, strengthening, and reconciliation of relationships for students, colleagues and parents is undeniably part of our daily role as educators.  Modeling trust, respect, and humility will allow others to emulate them.

In the past decade, terms like lifelong learner  and community of learners  have found their way into school language and mission statements.  In order to inspire in our students, colleagues, and parents the mindset of a lifelong learner, we must model the behaviors, mindsets, practices, and attitudes associated.  Grit, resilience, creativity, fearlessness, curiosity, hard work are all central to developing the passion to be a lifelong learner; and a community that boasts a collective group of children, adolescents and adults who embrace and develop these attributes will certainly exemplify a community of learners.

Finally, I want to comment on another trait that I have not written about all that often, but I feel is important as a parent and as a teacher.  We need to model authenticity in our interactions each and every day.  I always say that we can’t be one type of person and another kind of professional.  I am not perfect- far from it.  But I always strive to be the same man at home as I am in school, the grocery store, at the play, etc.  This shows my children, my most precious pupils, the importance of authenticity.

I embrace my role as role model – not doing so would be modeling behaviors that I wouldn’t want my children, students, colleagues, or community members to emulate.



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