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It started with an offhand compliment. In passing, our principal told Dan that he was quickly becoming the new star of the district. This irked me. My husband, Dan, and I relish a little friendly competition. While teaching English in Japan for the same private school, more classes were added to my roster because I could teach French. And the boss gave me extra clerical tasks because I’m a fast typist. But in our boss’s eyes, Dan was the clear favorite. She lit up when he was around. Actually, the entire office staff did. At the time, I concluded that my contributions made me the really valuable employee, and that Dan was only popular because he’s cheery, funny, and handy with computers. I got it partly right.

A few years later, we were hired together to work for a public school district in rural Arizona. I taught 1st grade, and Dan taught 6th grade. It wasn’t even March of our first year there when our pleased principal gave Dan that compliment. A dozen other new teachers were recruited along with us that year, adding to the 150-odd employees teaching for the district. Dan was a star employee; it was Japan all over again. Surely charisma alone wasn’t that valuable. So how did he do it? We sat down to figure out what he was doing that I wasn’t that made him so indispensable to the administration.

A can-do attitude

During the first month of school, a colleague mentioned that our school needed a track and field coach. I thought to myself, “It can’t be me. I don’t know anything about coaching

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