This beautiful soul retired from her career at the Sumner Bonney Lake School District this week and I had the honor of telling her exactly what her leadership meant to me.
Coincidentally, the day prior I was being interviewed by Ron Rael and was asked if I had a mentor. Without hesitation I said Sandy Miller. Anyone else, he asked? Nope, I said.
I met Sandy when she was interviewing me from across the room in panel format. The next day she called me … and out of dozens of interviewees she wanted to talk more to me about her vision for opening up a new STEM school at Tehaleh. The job she was proposing had no concrete description other than to make magic happen with the kids and with the community. The most striking thing about this conversation, in my memory, was that she seemed absolutely positive that I was the one that could do it. She believed in me, hardly knowing me, and told me so in a way that even I couldn’t argue with. Within weeks I found myself sitting beside this blonde haired, blue eyed force of a women in her red convertible as we cruised down Cascadia Boulevard on the way to the construction site. This intoxicating woman had somehow permeated her way into my mind with how she used words and spoke about what was important in life, and I had an almost instant admiration for her as I watched her hair flow in the wind as easy as her spirit. I worked alongside Sandy on projects and plans like I’d never worked with anyone before. And magic just seemed to ensue.
Two years later, in January of 2020, I sat in Sandy’s office with watering eyes and told her that I had to go and pursue an opportunity at a rundown foodbank. That I had no idea why I wanted to leave our magical school — it made no sense — but that something in my gut said I must go. We agreed that our work wasn’t over, but that I needed to trust my gut.
What I didn’t know then was that I was about to have my own leadership tested in an unprecedented way. This amazing woman somehow managed to prepare me for every challenge I was going to face, and she did it in 2 short years of magic. I refer to it as the Sandy Miller Accelerated Learning Program. My favorite lessons from my teacher are as follows:
Have the audacity to dream big … really BIG. Be unapologetic with that dream. Say it out loud.
Show up wholeheartedly into any situation, even when you’re mad or scared. Especially when you’re mad or scared
When people show you who they are, believe them first time. Even when that truth is painful.
Advocate fearlessly for those that don’t have a voice. Do not negotiate in protecting that ONE important thing. And never break a child’s heart.
Go home to your family. Work will still be right where you left it. Staying longer doesn’t mean more got done.
You don’t need to be an expert in anything to be the best at it. In fact, it might be to your advantage.
The truest way to shine as a leader is to share the spotlight. Find everyone’s magic and make sure they know you see it, even if they don’t.
Be curious. And playfully learn about new things with eyes of a child.
Mistakes are inevitable. Look at them not as failures, but as a very important part of the process.
Getting people to show up for you is about creating stakeholders in what the ONE important thing is. In her case, it was kids and their futures.
“…and remember Stacey. You’re going to feel scared sometimes. Especially when you feel things and see things like you do. But the only person that needs to show up for you … is Stacey. She’s never let you down.”
Sandy Miller, you quite simply changed my life. You somehow raised me at the age of 42 and I can’t thank you enough.
My Teacher. My Mentor. My Friend.