Jerry Buelter: In recognition of Harlan Lear’s service to schools, community
Sometimes, you just get lucky. I was fortunate to have Harlan Lear as my first assistant principal and athletic director. I was saddened to hear about his recent passing. When you are young and inexperienced, people in positions of higher standing can have a strong influence on who or what you become. I am forever grateful that person was Harlan.
I first met Harlan during my interview for a social studies/coaching position at Steamboat Springs High School in the spring of 1980. My first impression was, “Oh my, I sure hope I don’t make this man mad.” He had the build and the shoulders that had made him an outstanding lineman at Colorado State University. His size alone was intimidating.
As I came to know over the next few years, his size camouflaged the kind of caring and genuine concern he had for others no matter their background. He was in fact tough but fair. He was nonjudgmental. He very seldom volunteered advice, while only willing to share when asked. And he taught me many important lessons.
When he later became principal, I believe his greatest strength was his ability to establish positive relationships with his staff. Harlan showed me how to treat staff with respect. If I wanted to be treated as a professional, then I needed to act like one.
The expectation was to do your job to the best of your ability; meanwhile, he trusted in you to do the work. Sometimes, the most important role of a principal is in the building of trusting relationships between all staff. In a relationship where there is trust, the growth of teachers is the ultimate result. As teachers grow, so do students.
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Harlan saw little value in complaining about life’s circumstances. He taught me to follow my instincts and take responsibility for my actions. If work needs to be done, do it. If you cannot do that, another form of work may be better suited for you.
I only heard him complain one time, and it was more an observation than complaint. He said, “You know, when I first became principal, I would threaten to call a student’s parents and that seemed to straighten them out. Nowadays, the first thing a student says when they come into my office is, ‘I want to call my parents.’”
Harlan taught me how to act as a parent. I was fortunate to teach and coach both of his teenage children. Never once did he question my decisions, at least not to my face. Years later as my children went through the system, I tried to follow his lead. They knew the principal, teacher, coach or other staff member’s opinion carried the most weight.
The one thing Harlan taught me that had the most influence on me personally and professionally was something he said to me after a hard loss. As a young coach, losing and or criticism can become quite paralyzing. Harlan picked up on my somber demeanor right away. This may be the only time he volunteered to give me some advice. Harlan took me aside and said, “Jerry, remember that 80% of what you do goes unseen. Make sure to concentrate on that 80%.”
The more it guided me, the more this rang true. Not only did this apply to coaching but to everything else I was involved with. The amount of time developing lessons and practice plans often goes unnoticed. The focus should be on the day to day. The end result, however important, should not be the only thing considered. Whether we won the game or scored an “A” on the exam is only a part of the learning that takes place.
Hardly did a day go by when I was a principal, teacher, coach or parent when I did not reflect on the things I learned from Harlan. I know he would not be happy with me for drawing this type of attention to him. No doubt in my mind that he would “snap my lip” for just bringing it up.
Sometimes, you do get lucky and sometimes the community in which you live does, too. Steamboat Springs is very fortunate to have had someone like Harlan Lear serve as a member of its schools, town, community, and I would add the word “lucky” as well.
Jerry Buelter taught and coached at Steamboat Springs High School for 20 years and served as an assistant principal and principal at Steamboat Springs Middle School for 17 years.
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