By LISA A. DAVIS
When Gerry Brooks appeared on computer screens streaming live the afternoon of May 21 to address an audience primarily of Florida private school educators, the first thing he did was pat his hair to fix a poof of gray strands that stood above his crown.
“Oooh,” he said, catching a glimpse of his misbehaving hair on the screen. “Look at my hair sitting this way. I should have done something beforehand.”
Brooks immediately brings a smile to your face and makes you feel as though you are old friends, even through a computer monitor. His accent is thick with a twang, perhaps a mix of his native Florida and Lexington, Kentucky, where he has built a successful 20-year-plus career as an educator.
Brooks has a lot of experience in front of a camera addressing a large audience.
Five years ago, his world changed when he posted a video on social media that went viral, and ever since he continues to post comical videos about his real-life educational experiences like this. Today, he has amassed more than 2 million followers on social media channels, including 1.7 million on Facebook. He has taken that fame to the national speaking circuit to encourage educators in their career to becoming the best they can.
On this day, he was speaking to a live audience of nearly 1,000 strong during Step Up For Students 2021 Choice in Education Celebration: Boosting Learning Through Laughter.
Despite his viral fame, one thing was immediately clear to the audience of mostly educators: he was one of them.
He’s smart. He’s funny. He’s down-to-earth. He knows what he’s talking about. His goal is to share that knowledge and empower other educators.
During Thursday’s event, Brooks taught educators about eight “object lessons.” Well, those and his love affair with the Dollar Tree, where he frequents.
“So, what I’ve done is I’ve gathered some of my favorite things at Dollar Tree and I want to share them with you to hopefully be able to encourage you, in the position that you are in, to be better in whatever it is,” he told the audience.
Lesson One: Reading glasses.
“I collect these for my teachers,” he said holding up a pair. “When we go back to school in August every one of my teachers gets pair of reading glasses.”
“You will never be as good as you are supposed to be or fulfill your calling until you can look through the lens of other people. Because when you are only looking through your lens, then you’re only looking at how a situation affects you as a teacher, as a PE teacher, as a music teacher as a classroom teacher because you are only focusing on how it affects you.”
Brooks said you have to consider the perspective of those around you: the student, the parents, and others. If you don’t stop to think about where they may be coming from when a child is late for school, (it could be because of a divorce, a job loss, an illness, not enough money to pay the electric bill), you might not interact with them in a way you should. When you look through other people’s lenses, he noted, you gain “sympathy, empathy and understanding.”
“You can’t be great until you start looking through the lens of other people,” he said.
Lesson 2: Light switch (not from Dollar Tree)
Brooks said a teacher he met would buy light switches for each of her students and have them paint them as an art project. Then they would keep them on their desks. If the children were having a hard time transitioning from recess to math, for example, she would have the students flip their light switch.
“She used this to remind students the importance of moving our minds from one activity to another” he said. “…Everybody turn off your recess light. Ok, guys we’ve got to get in our math minds. Turn on your math light.”
While it’s great for students, it’s equally as great for educators to remind them you have to turn off work on a regular basis so you can enjoy your personal life and don’t burn out on your professional life.
“You in education have to be able to turn off your professional mind on a daily basis because – here’s why – if you can’t turn off your professional mind, then you’re no good to no one,” Brooks said.
Lesson 3: Pacifier
“This represents someone’s baby,” he said. “Here’s the reason I give this to all the teachers because they are dealing with someone’s baby.”
Brooks said it’s important that educators remember they are helping raise someone else’s baby. When talking with their students’ parents, even if it’s a difficult student, you have to look at it from the parent’s perspective and think about that when you have a conversation with them about their child.
Lesson 4: M&M’s
His local Dollar Tree has a dozen varieties of M&M candies. He urges administrators to know which kind each staff members likes so they can buy them their favorites. This is an example of relationship building, he said.
“The number one thing to job place happiness and staff retention is relationships,” Brooks said.
Lesson 5: Butterfinger candy bar
This is a two-for lesson, he told the educators, and “BF” is key.
“Bye Felicia,” he said, referring to a pop culture reference from the 1995 film “Friday,” which is a dismissal of a person. In this case, Brooks said, it’s moving away from negative people. These are the constant complainers, he said, who talk negatively about the administration, policies, children and their parents.
“We need to get negative people out of our lives,” he said. “If you hang out with people you become negative.”
The second meaning of BF is for best friend.
“You need a professional best friend who you can go to,” Brooks said.
Because everyone has times they have to vent, this is the person you can go to who will give you “sympathy, empathy and understanding.” They will help you get through the bad days and not spread the negativity to the rest of the school.
Lesson 6: Magic 8 ball
Brooks remembers being a kid and using a Magic 8 ball to ask it all of life’s questions and receive all the answers. Unfortunately, he said, that doesn’t work in his professional world.
“Guess what? There’s no Magic 8 ball in education,” he said.
He said people need to realize that what works for one school, or one classroom, won’t necessarily work for the next. It’s the same with students. Education is not one size fits all. Beware of those who think there is a Magic 8 ball in education.
“When you try to push a Magic 8 ball on someone it’s going to backfire on you,” Brook said, reminding educators to consider what works for their students and their environment.
Lesson 7: Peanut butter and jelly
This P&J in this case is professional jealousy, Brooks said.
“If you allow P and J into your life as a professional, you can’t grow,” he said. “We need to guard ourselves from professional jealousy.”
Lesson 8: Peeps
Brooks said he enjoy the seasonal sugary treat all year round, so he has to plan ahead and purchase them around Easter and freeze them to have the rest of the year. The lessons here, he said, is “seasons come to an end” and “this, too, will pass.”
The pandemic is a season, he told the educators. And it’s been a rough one.
“I know some of you need to hear this,” he said. “We are in a season. And this season will pass. Hang in there.”
For more lessons and comical stories about being an educator, check out Brooks’ YouTube channel here.
Educators, have any friends, family or children who may meet our new guidelines for our private school scholarships or any of our Florida scholarship programs? Please send them to our website to apply for scholarships at www.StepUpForStudents.org.
Lisa A. Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By LISA A. DAVIS
More than a year after the pandemic shut down most of the nation, Step Up For Students and its leaders in the Student Learning & Partner Success Department knew just what educators needed: a good dose of laughter, the best medicine.
And that’s just what nearly 1,000 private school educators got May 20 virtually from longtime educator turned social media star Gerry Brooks when they logged onto computers from their schools, homes and watch parties for the virtual Step Up For Students 2021 Choice in Education Celebration: Boosting Learning Through Laughter.
Last year’s annual Step Up for Students Choice In Education Conference was one of the casualties of COVID-19. So a Step Up team created an event to not only bring some belly laughs, but also take a moment to celebrate educators in what may have been the most challenging time in their career.
Among Brooks’ eight-lesson presentation, infused with laughter and serious advice, is that educators need to remember that this challenging time will not last.
“When you are in the midst of a season, you can’t see your way out. Things are going to get better. The season is going to pass,” he said, holding a package of Peeps. The springtime seasonal candy is among his favorite sugary treats. He saves a stash in his freezer year-round.
Brooks shared with Step Up’s audience eight “object lessons” to really drive home points about educators’ personal time and culture. He held up everything from Dollar Tree reading glasses to Butterfinger candy to peanut butter and jelly.
“When they see the object that you show them then, hopefully, they will remember that lesson weeks down the road,” he said.
The objective of this virtual lesson: “My goal is to be able to encourage you as an individual and open up some doors,” he told his audience. “… I believe if you have positive personal climate and culture you can get through anything.”
In the talk that lasted more than an hour, Brooks told stories about being a kid and when the “Mr. Magic 8 Ball” could predict which kid was in love with whom. He talked about a lot of serious things, too, while still getting many laughs like he does from his viral videos. He did this while wearing a bright blue shirt saying “Erducator Strong!”
“I like misspellings,” he said, his southern accent thick.
Before he took the virtual stage, Step Up For Students Founder and Chairman John Kirtley applauded educators.
“I know I’m stating the obvious when I say that we at Step Up are grateful for the incredible efforts you have put forth during the pandemic,” Kirtley said. “It may be obvious, but it still needs saying. Here at Step Up, we know how hard it’s been for you.
“… You adapted, you worked harder than ever, and frankly, you took risks for your students. Step Up knows that, and we are very grateful.”
Paula Nelson, senior director of Student Learning & Partner Success, said after the event she couldn’t be more thrilled.
“I think this has turned out to be even better because it came at a time when we really need to have a celebration,” she said. “The message was so timely and powerful. I think there’s a chance we may do it again.”
Lisa A. Davis can be reached at email@example.com.