Gerry Brooks: school administrator and social media star.
Brooks, principal of Lexington’s Liberty Elementary, has become a YouTube and Facebook sensation, with humorous videos about the experiences of K-12 educators.
One video, about kindergarten lunchroom duty, has more than 1 million views. In it, Brooks says kindergarteners are wonderful, but he doesn’t have time to debate whether a pony is a good inside pet while he’s opening 47 Lunchables. Kindergarteners are often excited to talk to him in the lunchroom. One boy told him, “My grandma’s got six toes on one of her feet.” Brooks’ reply: “Your grandma is so fancy.”
On Saturdays and vacation days, Brooks goes on his “Hall Pass Tour” — a stand-up version of his videos — or speaks to educator groups. He has appearances scheduled in several states this summer. His focus is on encouraging teachers to improve their instruction and helping administrators lead their staff in a constructive manner, so they all have “a positive attitude about the school year.”
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Brooks touches on “motivational topics that address the real lives of educators, the struggles and the celebrations and the funny things that happen.”
Michelle Bily, a fourth-grade teacher from Orange Park, Fla, saw the Hall Pass Tour in Tallahassee. It was “one of those moments where the universe knew exactly how much humor and professional advice to dump on me at just the right time,” she posted on Brooks’ Facebook page.
One show in Knoxville in July is sold out, and he gets requests on his Facebook page from teachers across the country:
“When will you come to Western New York? How can we convince you to make the trip?” “What about Southern California? We’d love to see you!!!
Brooks, 51, said he doesn’t let his motivational speeches and his social media popularity — he has about 600,000 followers through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube — interfere with his job.
“My Facebook media influence is completely separate from my Fayette County career. I don’t want them to get mixed up,” he said. “This job comes first and foremost.”
Before he arrived, Liberty was classified as “needs improvement” by the Kentucky Department of Education. Its most recent classification, for 2015-16, is “distinguished.” The state designated Liberty earlier this year as a model for instruction. It will add Liberty to its website as a resource, highlighting effective programs and exemplary practices for other schools to emulate.
He shoots the two-minute videos at night, spending about 12 minutes on each. “It’s my personal opinion, so I do them off campus. If someone is offended with something, I don’t want them offended with the district or the school, because those are ... my personal thoughts and my personal experiences.”
He posted the first video in June 2015, mostly to communicate with his school’s teachers over the summer. By that December, the videos had gone viral.
The National Education Association’s Facebook Page, NEA Today, recently posted a Brooks video that has more than 1.5 million views. It was about bumper sticker numbers for teachers: 967 for the $967 teachers spend each year on classroom supplies, 300 for the minutes (5 hours) that teachers can go without a bathroom break.
Brooks’ résumé includes six years in the classroom, two years as a specialist for struggling students, and 12 years as an administrator. He was an elementary principal in Bourbon County before coming to Liberty in 2014.
Professional Educators of North Carolina has asked him to speak at its annual conference. The theme is “everyday heroes.”
“We wanted someone who would be not just motivational but who could bring a lighthearted message to folks who are in the classroom every day and facing very, very serious matters,” executive director Carol Vandenbergh said. “There’s a lot of stress and pressures associated with being a teacher.”