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A View From the Bottom
Renee’ Ehmke, March 15, 2005, Motivational Message to the Council of PTAs

FISD Board Member Renee EhmkeI have heard speeches before about “A View from the Top”. Because I’m a lowly freshman school board member, I’m going to title my short speech to you today, “A View from the Bottom”. Robert Fulghum said that everything he ever needed to know he learned in kindergarten and some of those same lessons apply to what I have learned in eight months on the Frisco School Board.

Lesson 1: Listen. I don’t know it all, actually, I don’t know a lot about a lot of things, but there are people who do know, and, if I am smart, I’ll let them teach me.

Lesson 2: Listen. That’s not a typo. The other part of listening is that people just want to feel like they’ve been heard. They want to know that somebody has heard their complaint, their gripe, their comment, their voice. They want to know that they matter, and by listening, you help give them that. I can’t always do what they want me to do, like not build a school in their neighborhood, or build a school in their neighborhood, but I can always take a few minutes and listen. It doesn’t cost me anything, but pays off in huge dividends both for them and for me. They feel better, and I’ve learned something in the process.

Lesson 3: Share. I have learned that in sharing the glory, it makes it easier to also share the blame. Nobody wants to hang out in the wind by themselves when things get ugly or don’t go the way they want, but a lot of people want to stand in the sunshine all by themselves when things go right. If I am willing to share the sunshine, I will have people hanging with me in that not-so-pleasant wind.

Lesson 4: Play nice. I am not always going to agree with other’s opinions. Sometimes I will want to take my ball and go home because they don’t want to play by my rules, or my way. Unfortunately, I’m a grown-up and I have to keep my ball on the playground, whether I want to or not. So what I have to do is play nice with the other kids, and find a way so that we can all play the game together. We don’t have to agree on each and every rule, but we do have to agree on the game as a whole, the big picture as it may be, or nobody gets to play at all and we all have to go home.

Lesson 5: Mind your manners. Sometimes people are cranky. Sometimes I am cranky. I felt a little cranky this morning when that alarm went off after getting home at 11:30 p.m. from the board meeting, having a husband in Paris, France, and a kid who had to be at sectionals at 7:00 a.m. However, that doesn’t give me the right to take it out on you. Or my other kids. Or anybody else. When I am dealing with cranky people, I have to treat them with common courtesy and respect, whether they deserve it or not. People don’t know or really care, why I’m cranky, and it shouldn’t matter to me why they are. My job is to keep my side of the street clean with my own behavior and that means being nice, even when I don’t feel like it.

Lesson 6: Tell the truth. This doesn’t mean that I get to tell the cranky person that they are cranky. This means that I have to be accountable for my own behavior, give people honest answers, which sometimes may mean saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out,” and tell them the hard answers even when I know they won’t like it. Doug Zambiasi said something during my orientation with him that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “People may not like what we say, but it shouldn’t be because of how we say it.” I can tell the truth, but if I am coupling it with my other lessons, being nice, using good manners, and listening to their side of an issue, it usually goes down better.

My learning has miles to go when it comes to the school board. I will keep plugging away, because I owe it to the people who voted for me, and to those who didn’t. I owe it to all of them to be the best board member possible, which means learning, listening, playing nice, sharing, minding my manners and telling the truth. I’ll tell you the truth—it’s hard work. But you as volunteers, the time you put into this district to make it such an awesome place to be, and your children, especially your children, make it all worth it. Thanks for your time and for all you do.