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an image of Kim Friede
David Jacobson

A strange thing happened to Kimberly Friede on her way to becoming a teacher. She had to pay off her student loans, so she joined the National Guard for 24 years.

It was not until 2006, when Saint Thomas Academy beckoned, that Friede retired from military service to instead serve the Academy and its Cadets as a Military Leadership teacher, moderator of the Honor Guard and Color Guard, and eventually as a cross country and track and field coach. “When I was a young girl,” she recalled, “I wanted to be a teacher, but then I let it go. Life takes you on your journey.”

Friede’s journey took her many places. Her father’s work for IBM moved the family so often that she says she is “from Scranton, Pennsylvania; Horseheads, New York; and Danbury, Connecticut.” When her family moved to Minnesota during her high school years, she wanted to “put down roots” in the state and did so by joining the Guard in 1983. “I joined as a weekend warrior, a part-time soldier, and absolutely fell in love with the military and all it has to offer.”

She also fell in love with Roger Friede, her husband of the last 36-plus years, who was then a journalist in the Marine Corps assigned to write an article about her and now coaches runners alongside his wife. “I found that I could be on active duty and still do life,” she said. “Plus, in the military, when you are leading, you are teaching. Teaching is about sharing your passions and helping people see the same things that you see.”

While Kimberly Friede’s Minnesota National Guard positions included personnel manager, then facility manager, and then branch chief in the human resource office, she and Roger raised their children, Connor ’11 and Erica, a 2007 graduate of Visitation. The couple expects their third grandchild in November. As far as putting down roots: mission accomplished.

Her experience as an Academy parent convinced her to join the faculty, she said. “I thought it would be a wonderful way to pay forward the ways my children benefited and a way to share the wonderful experience I had in the military. It was scary, because it was so different to come here and teach, but I feel lucky to have gotten the job. Plus, when parents come into back-to-school night, I tell them I once sat in their seat, and I believe in the mission of this school.”

Lessons learned from the Guard informed how Friede – known in military parlance as “Chief Friede” – teaches Military Leadership. Those lessons include “being flexible, working with all different types of people and finding out what makes people tick, what motivates people, because everyone is so different. Leadership is about building relationships, getting along with all different types of people, and convincing them that your goal is their goal, too. It’s so much deeper than the kids think, deeper than ‘I’m in charge, and I’m giving orders.’ It’s much more human than that.”

The ability to lead, Friede said, stems from self-knowledge. “I place great importance on understanding self before one attempts to discover their leadership identity. I want my students to truly know what is important to them and how they outwardly demonstrate that, as well. Next comes an understanding of how their values influence their decision making and drive their conduct. It is only then that they can begin to understand how and why they'll lead.

“Finally, leadership is influence, and influence is relational in that it requires a solid relationship to be effective. I have to know myself and know you and what makes you tick. This is why many of my Military Leadership classes are much ‘softer’ – some say warm and fuzzy – than one might expect.”

However, in Friede’s classroom, soft, warm, and fuzzy meet discipline and accountability. “I’m not laid back,” she said. “I’m definitely very strict. I’m a rule-follower and students know that. Lack of attention to detail can destroy their grade. I have that reputation, but they know that if they do their work, we’re going to have fun in the room.”

To reinforce themes Chief Friede teaches, her classroom environment emphasizes self-knowledge and sharing of oneself so that others will reciprocate and form bonds. For example, Friede said, “the first thing you notice is that my personality is all over this room. I celebrate the experience here. I want to make this a welcoming environment and one that students feel a part of. It’s not my room, it’s our room. We have a custom painted Chief’s Wall of Fame, with signed photos from students who stand out in their sports or activities. My daughter tagged the wall with graffiti that says Chief’s Wall of Fame.

“Ohio State is all over the room because I’m a huge Buckeyes fan. I’ve got pictures of my coaching and all my athletes, cards from students since I started here, pictures of myself and colleagues who run the Rugged Maniac together every year, and so many student photos. I want students to know that I look forward to coming to school every day, and this is not just a job for me. That needs to show in how I carry myself in the room, too. If students know I’m excited, hopefully that ignites a passion in them, too.”

Sharing herself from the moment students walk into the classroom helps them do the same, despite some challenging circumstances. “It’s important that I make those connections,” Friede said. “It’s hard, because we’re in uniform, and they have to call me ma’am, and they’re intimidated, and we have to find a way to bridge that. I do things that help build relationships. They fill out an index card telling me things that I promise I’ll lock up in a box, but that I want to know. I ask them to list their top three, and I don’t tell them top three what. They tell me what’s important, and what things I should know about them. I get wonderful responses like, ‘I’m a visual learner’ or ‘I’m really scared.’ ”

Getting adolescent boys to open and show vulnerability is not easy, but Friede has her ways. “It’s finding common threads,” she said. “What can we talk about in a big group first, just to relax them? ‘Who went to the game on Friday?’ Just chatting with them and sharing an experience I’ve had and then trying to connect it to what we’re studying.

“Also, I don’t stand behind a podium. I use a remote mouse and walk around the room and sometimes sit down. I try very much to be a conversation facilitator, rather than lecturing. I’m tough but I’m human. I’m Kim, and they can’t call me Kim, but I’m somebody’s wife and somebody’s daughter.”

Friede brings that relatability to her other roles on campus. “When I coach, I run with kids. I’m not just blowing a whistle, and that goes a long way. It’s important for them to see us as adults and teachers in all different roles. They see me as Chief Friede in the room, and then they see me out running and sweating and hurting with them. And then I show up at a game and I’m watching and rooting for them. It’s time consuming and exhausting, but so rewarding and it helps me be better in all my other roles.”

Ultimately, this lets her excel in the role of leader and teacher of leadership, helping boys be their best. For example, she said, “Don’t worry that putting a goal down on paper now is etched in stone and you can’t change it. Good grief. You’re 15 years old. It’s OK to make changes. Life happens. I tell them my story. I wanted to be a teacher. I had no idea I would go into the military, and look where I am now.”