Dr. Mike Dawson has been the Chief Learning Officer for Springfield Public Schools since 2015. He is also married to Dr. Wendy Dawson and the father of three great kids: Emma (17), Jack (13), and Christian (11). “Each,” he says, “has a distinct personality.” Emma is class president, an “achiever” and very concerned about social justice. Jack is “joyful” and an athlete who loves cross country, wrestling, basketball, and track. Christian is “all things Star War” and Legos.
“My kids,” claims Mike, “make me a better person.”
Learning to be a Good Dad
How did Mike learn to be a good dad, one who cares not only about his own children, but all the children in Missouri’s largest school district? It’s not what you might expect.
“When I was 12 and my brother was 18, we were getting dressed for one of our mother’s weddings. (We had five different step-fathers, so I don’t recall which one this was.) We stopped, looked at each other, and said, ‘We are never going to do this to our kids.’ And we never have. We have both kept our promise. We have both been able to be there for our kids.”
Mike also credits his wife, Wendy, as playing an important role in helping him create the kind of family environment he wants for his children. Over the years, he says he has also made time for mentors and role models – “coffee buddies” – who helped him become the kind of dad and man he wants to be.
How does someone as busy as Dr. Dawson make time for his kids?
Mike says taking the “long route” while driving his kids to one of their activities has been helpful. It gives them time to talk more, to discuss concerns and ideas.
“We have serious conversations,” he reports, “I am purposeful about the 20 minutes in the car. This includes taking the phone away from the passenger in the front seat.”
Keeping it Light
Overseeing the learning of 25,000+ students is serious business, especially when it includes your own children. It would be easy for Mike to live on the somber side of life, but he says he tries to avoid that. His advice: “Don’t take life too seriously. Laugh a lot. Some sarcasm is okay, but keep it light-hearted.”
Some of Mike’s favorite things to do with his kids include piling into the car on Sunday morning, worshiping together, watching Emma lead worship, and going out to eat together.
Words of Advice for Other Dads
How do you become a better dad? Mike suggests seeking mentors and building a trusting relationship with them. He points to men in his life who did this for him.
“Become coffee buddies,” he says. “Pray. Share your heart with them. Be vulnerable.”
Taking care of your own heart and soul, it seems, is critical to caring for your kids.