Leadership – Cool to be Kind

A parent made an astute observation yesterday.  She said that it’s rare – very rare and instinctual for somebody to speak to people with disabilities in a way that is not demeaning and still appropriate.  

I struggle with learning to make space for others in conversation and not talk over a person who is naturally quiet.  I struggle with dead space and thoughtful pauses.  I talk a lot. 

I’ve tried to figure out how to incorporate “tone of voice” into our trainings. And it falls flat. I can feel that the message isn’t landing and I’ve seen really educated and well trained people in the field talking down to clients in a way that makes me squirm. 

So it’s my job to figure out how to teach it. 

I had the benefit and the honor of some early and profound mentors. They taught by example of how Dignity, Humor and Love are the keys to success in this field.

I went to a high school in the suburbs of Sacramento.  It was a public school, not too fancy, nothing special about it. Except for one thing.

“Gary’s Kids.”

Gary Hack was a special ed teacher. He pioneered what he called “Life Skills” for his kids who were mostly Downs Syndrome students. Gary was a young teacher – handsome, fit and funny. Not only did Gary connect with his students, he joked with them, he played with them, he adored them. Gary never talked down to his kids. And then he went further.

Gary created a culture at our suburban high school where all of the “cool kids” petitioned to work in his class.  The cool kids knew Gary’s students by name and they followed Gary’s lead and treated the students with care and dignity and good humor. And if they didn’t, Gary would fire any cool kid who thought they were “too cool” to treat his students well. Consequently, Gary’s students were by association, also cool kids.  They were protected, cared for and VALUED. 

Gary created a culture where it was cool to be caring. He made it fun because he adored his students and adored their innocence – he valued their strength – their sweetness and simplicity and showed us all how refreshing it is to be around people that are fundamentally sweet – and he made it COOL. 

Gary was a leader and he did his work magnificently. 

I am grateful for powerful mentors. 

I Googled his name this morning and found nothing.  Nothing of where he is now, of his work of any further achievements he made. I can tell you that he made an impression on me and on my brother. Mr. Hack, wherever you are – thank you.

3 Replies to “Leadership – Cool to be Kind”

  1. Beautiful remembrance, Joell. Our greatest heroes often go unsung, and yet their contributions can’t be calculated.

  2. Gary Hack – I was invited to teach Healthy Relationships/Family Life Classes in Gary’s special Ed class at Del Campo High. Gary possessed a special talent of pushing his students to be be responsible and do their best.

    I remember he received a prestigious teaching award which involved $25K. I my memory serves me he used that money move him and his wife to New Zealand. I recall seeing him at the Recreational Dances that were put on by the County Parks and Recreation on his free time. He told me the key to success with his students is to raise the bar of expectations and not coddle them and let them get away with inappropriate behavior. My curriculum was somewhat graphic and Gary was comfortable with it and knew they needed upfront information taught in a realistic fashion. That was well over 30 years ago and to this day I run into some of his students in the community. They are some of the most successful and independent.adults with intellectual challenges that I know. Bravo Gary. What a legacy.

    David Stincelli
    Relationships for Life

    1. David,
      I’m so grateful for your commentary. Gary was an icon and someone to admire. Are you still involved in teaching relationship skills to people with developmental support needs? If so, I’d love to have a conversation as it’s a critical subject.
      In gratitude,

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