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A Discussion with Steven Foxworth About Balanced Leadership and the Importance of Inspiring Young Minds

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Steven Foxworth did not always see himself as an educator. Upon graduating from the University of Mobile in Alabama, he began his career in a local credit union. Although he enjoyed the position, it did not provide the fulfillment he sought. He wanted to have more of an impact on people and this desire eventually led him to teach.

After receiving his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Concordia University, Steven initially taught at an alternative school, which was a rewarding experience for him as he helped guide students with emotional or physical challenges. He later moved on to teach American History, followed by Leadership and Law Studies and is now teaching technology and engineering, while also being a part of the school’s Leadership Team.

Tell us a little about your industry and why you chose to be a teacher?

My grandmother was a teacher. Both of my parents were also teachers. When I went to college, I almost purposely chose a major that I thought would lead me away from the family business. I originally began in computer science, but that just led to math and history as I continued my studies. My first job out of college was as a member services manager at a local bank. While I enjoyed the interactions with different people, the sales aspect was just not something I found very pleasant. I can sell, but I wasn’t as enthusiastic as I’m sure the bank would have liked. I didn’t want my career to be about helping the bottom line of a company. I wanted to make a difference, to inspire others. Teaching ended up being a natural progression for me in that capacity.

What do you love most about teaching?

I love seeing that ‘ah-ha’ moment when I watch students shift from dry, uninspired textbook-based learning to really genuinely love what they are learning. I’ve had students start the semester saying they expect to hate the class, but then end the semester by making sure they are enrolled in my class for the following year. It’s not the role of education to jam knowledge into anyone’s head. We should be preparing students for the future. I tell my kids often that I want them to choose the best path for themselves, whether it be college, vocational school, or even the military.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Being on the Leadership Team, I come into work very early, sometimes at 6 am. I’ll help with cleaning or anything that needs to be done. A lot of schools are short-staffed of bus drivers and custodians. We still have to keep the building sanitary, so I like to do my part and help our custodian crew. Just this morning, I cleaned the floors before school started. I then take care of my administrative duties before my classes start for the day. I have three classes right now. Each one is focused on teaching different things within the technology and engineering realm. In the afternoon, I will again help with whatever the administration needs. That may be cutting the grass or handling discipline situations. I like to help out wherever I am needed most at the moment.

What keeps you motivated?

A lot of my motivation is my belief in the education system. A lot of teachers have left the profession because they have lost faith in the direction of our education system. I want to make sure students have the same opportunities that I had when I was in school. Obviously, the technology is far more advanced than when I was a student, but my school had courses like agriculture and wood shop. We were given opportunities to learn something outside of the classroom and I think it is so important our kids still have that option. Life doesn’t have to be created out of a textbook. You can work with your hands and be successful. The idea that my students will one day find success from the foundation I created here keeps me motivated.

How do you motivate others? 

I like to encourage the students. I use praise often and I like to remind my students that I do believe in them and that they can honestly accomplish whatever they put their mind to. You don’t always know what’s going on in their life outside of the classroom, but what if the words of encouragement they get from me are the only motivational statements they are getting? It’s so important that young minds be elevated and reminded that they are important—that they matter.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

The lab I am in right now is what I call a ‘maker’s space.’ We create things. I like to look for inspiration all over. I look at other teachers or new designs. Inspiration might come from another artist and then the students and I will recreate it in our own way. Actually, a lot of engineering is just redesigning something that already exists. Working with the students to take something that is already out there and make it better is so inspirational to see.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone starting in your industry? 

I would say teaching is not a short-term job. It’s going to be full of ups and downs and you will want to prepare for that. You will be dealing with students, parents, administrators, and the community as a whole. It is not a career that will necessarily bring you wealth in regards to money, but you will be paid so much more in intangibles. You are literally creating the sparks that will lead your students to a successful future, and that is so much more fulfilling than a large bank account.

How do you maintain a solid work/life balance?  

That has not always been the easiest for me. I have two children of my own and sometimes I have to remind myself that they will only be this age for a short time. They are growing so fast and I don’t want to miss the milestones. Some teachers are really good at putting their work life aside and really having that focus at home. I still struggle with it from time to time, but it is definitely something that I am actively working on.

Who has been a role model to you and why?

The former teacher for the class that I am currently teaching was an excellent role model for me. She helped me engage the first couple of years here, even while I was still teaching American history. She is a very positive person and always knew how to encourage coworkers and students effectively. Even now, I will reach out to her when I need some guidance with my class or with a particular situation. Her knowledge and leadership are something I aspire for and hope that I portray to my students.

What traits do you possess that make you a successful leader?

I am good at seeing both sides of a situation. I think I am a force for equilibrium on our Leadership Team. I’m not the strong iron fist, I am more the person behind the scenes who listens to the issue and can present solutions that would be effective for both sides. Our own government is designed to be run by a group of people representing multiple sides of a given issue, and I think that’s an effective model. Being part of the Leadership Team allows me to be a part of something that can truly make a difference, not just in my school, but in the district as well.

 

 

CEO of Penske Media Group. Experienced Content Editor with a demonstrated history of working in the newspaper industry. Spoken on stages around the globe - NYU, US Embassy, P&G Toronto, and much more.

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