Ok. Here goes. This post has nothing to do with education, it has nothing to do with leadership. But it has to be written. This post is about me and a journey.
As of late, I feel as if I have been living in a snow globe. One that has been picked up a few times, turned upside down, shaken and then left on the shelf. My mind and my heart have been spinning and swirling from the shake ups. But it has to stop. It has to.
Yesterday, I realized something as I was walking around campuses...I seem to have lost something, actually a couple of things. I seem to have lost my smile and I seem to have lost my shine...and that is unacceptable. Because if I don't have those two things, I am just not me. One of my good friends calls me her "carbonated friend" because I am typically bubbly, positive and light. And I have lost that. But now I am taking it all back!
Author Glennon Doyle compares the rough spots in life to a sand sifter. When in struggle, we are forced to sift though everything and what is left at the top, is what is actually real. So I am in the process of sifting...and here is what I am left with. Here is what I have found to be true:
We can't control our circumstances and we can't control others. There is very little that we have control over. But what we can control is the most important: US. WE have the power to choose how we react and act. We have the ability to control our attitude and our gratitude. We choose what lens to live life through. When our snow globe gets shaken, it is only up to us, to decide how to pick up those pieces, once they land. I have chosen to try every day to find my way back to me...to find my smile, my shine and my carbonation. To continue to live my "why": To inspire and support others. To make school better for kids. To do this, I need to regroup, reassess and redo. To do this, I needed to sift, and here is what is left...
People show up. I have been amazed and humbled by the kindness and support of others. I'm not going to lie, it is difficult for me to lean on others, and I believe this is the first time that I actually have allowed myself, fully. When I sift through it all, what I have found is an amazing group of supports. Incredible people who have lifted me up, when I am down. Many are not even aware of their impact on me. I have received many texts, calls, messages and face to face conversations filled with amazing, humbling and path altering words. I have learned that sometimes we need others as much as we believe they need us, and for that, I am grateful.
We make an impact: This one is still hard for me to wrap my head around. We go through our lives, day to day, often just trying to survive. But what we often don't realize is that what we say and do has an effect on others, whether it is intentional or not. THAT is huge! What do you want your impact to be? A friend of mine and I used to talk about this concept of "Eulogy Virtues"...although a bit morbid, it often grounds me. What do you want to be remembered for when you are gone? What spot do you want to leave? For me, this is where I think about "Walking Your Why". As we go through our day to day, rarely do we actually find out what mark we are leaving...until we do. I have been blessed with many people sharing this with me, as of late. Sharing things that I never even realized were impactful, and I have been truly humbled. Thank goodness, they have been positive, but I'm sure there are some that aren't. But, what I am thankful for is the reminder to check myself...alot.
Find the learning. I have often said, that I try to take the learning from every situation and every interaction...and this is true. This is often what keeps me moving forward rather than down the rabbit hole. The last week or so, I found myself doing something and I didn't know why. At the end of every day, I created a quote and a graphic of my learning...and I shared it out. I doubt if anyone saw or read them, but I now realize why I did it. I did it for this very reason. I needed to record my learnings so that I could go back and reflect. What it has done, is it has caused me to pause, regroup and refocus. When I go back and look, they are pretty random, yet to me they are all intertwined. When we try to find the learning, at least for me, it puts a lot of things in perspective and it grows me. Here is what I have learned...
My call to action is this: We all have had our lives shaken and we will continue to. When this happens, take a moment to breathe and reflect. Allow yourself to see the good in others and in yourself. Look for the bright spots, reflect on your impact, find the learning and allow others in.
Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Leadership 3.0 conference in San Francisco. I co-presented on each of the three days with three different groups of people. These were three brand new presentations that focused on three different themes. But what I realized as I spoke in each session, there were three big themes that I weaved throughout them all. It is my hope that participants were able to take away something from at least one.
Walking Your Why
It is much easier to make decisions and take action if we are grounded in our fundamental purpose. For me, my "why" is "Make school better for kids". Everything I say, write, do...is tethered to that anchor. When I am in struggle, I always center back to that. If what I am doing, is aligned with it, I keep moving forward...fighting the good fight. If my actions or words do not meet my purpose, I stop and reflect, rethink, revise or redo. Sometimes the conclusion is just to abandon the idea and move on. "Walking My Why" has allowed me to have both the strength and the freedom to make those decisions.
Everyone Should Have A Seat At The Table
What does this mean? It means that there needs to be a good mix of people, roles and titles in these discussions. This means that all voices are heard and listened to, regardless of their rank, role or title. If we open up our minds to that, we may just find some answers from some unlikely sources.
Someone whose "why" is to increase student achievement on test scores, will start with the data. And data is great and data is needed. But it can not stop there. First of all, there needs to be multiple measures considered, not just the one public display. *And I realize why that one test IS important to look into because that is where a lot of outside judgement occurs.* But after data is analyzed and strengths and gaps are identified, we need to move beyond that.
Someone whose "why" is to make sure that allocated funds are properly spent, may be looking for a "fix" in the way of a program. What curriculum, survey or online program can we buy to help students achieve higher? But is a static, ready made program going to reach students or is it a teacher?
There should be many more voices at this table, but I will not go into that now. But I will explain my "why" in this scenario. I try to bring it back to the fact that we are talking about people here. Big ones and little ones. So in considering all of the other factors, we also need to consider our end users. Who are they? What do we want them to accomplish and what can we provide to support them in this? I try to switch the conversation away from student "achievement" onto student "learning", because that one word replacement changes the conversation. Do we want our kid achieving or learning? If we want them learning differently, they need to be taught differently. And if we want teachers to teach differently, we need to show them different. Not only that, we need to provide them with the professional development and resources to do this. Which leads nicely into the next theme...
Designing To The Edges
Take the time to really get to know those who sit in front of you. Then use this information to help them succeed. The second piece that is needed is a teacher "tool kit" of strategies, activities, tasks and resources. If teachers are going to have to teach in multiple ways to meet their students multiple needs, they need to have the professional development to gather those "tools", the supplies needed to create rich tasks and the ongoing support. Support in terms of professional development as well as support from administrators to take risks and fail forward.
When I reflect back on these three themes, I realize that these are my three current passions in education. These are the three things that are interwoven into everything I do. Reflection matters.
My call to action is this: Take some time to reflect on these three themes and how they play out in your own role in education. What would you keep and what would you change? There is no time like the present.
*Thank you to my co-presenters: Aimee Spurbeck-Boin, Terri Leon, David Culberhouse, Jon Corippo and Jay Sorensen.
I have been wrestling with this post for days. I knew I needed to write it, I just wasn't sure how or what it would look like. But over the last few days, I have had this reoccurring picture in my mind. It was that of broken windows. I grappled with this idea, trying to figure out the meaning. I am writing this today, to help me work through this process...let's see what happens.
So, how does this relate to broken windows? Well, I often speak about looking for the bright spots, the light when things are dark. Windows were created for that exact purpose...to shine light. But what happens when a window becomes broken? There are three options right? Leave it, replace it or cover it. Well, if you leave it...the light that is let in has a much stronger effect, no filter. If we replace it, everything goes back, just the way it was. If we cover it, the light is just blocked and basically disappears.
Now...rather than us talking about windows, let us talk about US. Throughout all of our lives, there have been incidents that have changed our light...that have altered our shine. You know what I'm talking about...they are vivid and they are real. We all have these broken windows...all of us. That is part of being human. When a piece of you is broken...it hurts, it cuts, it crumbles. But as my good friend Jon Corippo said in that same session "Pain is mandatory, misery is optional". So what do we do with our personal broken windows?
If I were asked that question about a year ago...I would say COVER IT UP! No one wants to see it, know one wants to hear it, know one wants to know it...no one wants to deal with it...especially me. But if we continue to cover up the light, our light will eventually get lost. I've tried to go dark...it doesn't wear well on me. For me, this one is no longer an option.
In this metaphor, if I simply replace it and ignore it...there is no chance for learning and growth. "Nothing happened here, keep on moving...nothing to see." And for me, that is a missed opportunity to create some great.
So...what am I left with? Leave it. Just leave it and live with it. Why? Because it is a part of me. Like I stated above...everything we have done up to now, was in preparation. But to think about walking around with broken parts...it just seems painful and depressing...and it is. Unless.
Unless we choose to look from a different perspective. When we become broken, we also become vulnerable...and although vulnerable is scary, vulnerable is good. It is in our vulnerable times that our windows are cracked open, ready to receive something different.
Here is what I have learned over the last few days. Even though only a part of me showed up to the table - a much better, more complete me left it.
Let me explain without explaining:
I have been looking forward to presenting and attending the Leadership 3.0 conference since I left last year's. It was by far one of my favorite conferences. This year I was so excited to actually be on the other side of the room. I was blessed with co-presenting a different session (with different co-presenters) each of the three days. But as I was actually packing for the trip the night before...I picked up my phone many times to send messages to my various co-presenters to let them know I wouldn't be joining them. They didn't need to know why, they just needed to know. My windows were broken and jagged and I was just raw. But one thing about me - my integrity means everything to me...and that means always showing up, always being real and always keeping my word. So those texts were never sent. And THANK GOODNESS!
I needed to go. I needed to put my mind and energy into sharing my passions with the educational leaders there. I needed to talk about "walking your why" and sticking to your purpose. I needed to share my voice, in my why, "making school better for kids". I needed to challenge thinking to remind us to focus on the end users in this education game...the students. I needed to not only share it out but I needed it for me. With every presentation and conversation, something began to happen with those broken windows. The light began to shine through...and eventually it was brighter than before...no filter.
On the flip side, due to the incidents that were thrown at my windows, I struggled to be fully present. I think I would be generous by saying I was half present. This upset me even more, because I let it hinder my experience. I knew there was so much learning and inspiration to be had, that I lost out on. BUT...
I am still in awe of the amazing experiences and incredible people that I just left. Being surrounded by positive, supportive, genuine people- wow- all the difference in the world. People didn't care that I wasn't a "leader", an administrator. They didn't treat me any different, when they looked at what was typed on my name tag. In fact, it appeared they were actually listening to what I had to say...this was kind of new...And to me, that was eye opening! I still haven’t wrapped my head around it. The openness and kind words of the participants in our sessions were amazing. The "after party" conversations...incredible. The "post-conference" reflections I have seen...unbelievable. I want this light that is now shining through my cracks, to inspire and encourage others. I want to share this forward! THAT was my original "why" four years ago...and I am so thankful that I was reminded of that this week.
So now I realize...broken doesn't mean bad...instead, it just creates a space for more light. So I will proudly leave my broken windows, because that is what I am made of and that is me.
Growing up (in fact up until about a year and a half ago) I tried to stay small and quiet. I never rocked the boat, I went with the flow...basically, I was compliant. I am a born people pleaser, and that was my role. But apparently, we have the capacity to change. I did not realize this until a friend said something to me a few months ago. We were discussing why I didn't get a particular job...he told me "You are a disruptor, and that scares people." Little ol' ME, scary? WHAT? I will admit, at first, I think I was offended. I was not one to create waves. I didn't want to be seen as "difficult". Especially if this was a reason to not get a job. To me "disruptor" was a negative word.
But, my good friend David Culberhouse often talks about a "disruptive mindset", which was always intriguing to me. It wasn't a negative, it was just different. And it was a positive different. But I always thought...well that is you, that ain't me!
But here I am, two years into writing this blog, and if I go back and read the evolution of my writing and my ideas, I see it. I see how I have finally found my voice...after *2 years on this earth. And this voice is no longer the quiet, compliant one. It is the one that has chosen to stand up and speak up for things that align with my "why", my purpose. I think I have finally narrowed that "why" down to one sentence (with the help of a friend)- "To make school better for kids."- That's it. Simple. Well, not so much. Under that as an umbrella, there are so many different facets or "hills" to die on.
When I talk with others that begin to get overwhelmed with the magnitude of ideas, my advice is always this:
Because if our energy is split too many ways, it isn't available to do the great that is needed. So I have chosen three "hills" to focus on, in my path to disruption:
1) Make learning sticky: I have written and spoken quite a bit on this subject. I went though school and not much of it stuck. I have many holes in my learning because of this. I think our kids deserve better. How can we create experiences to help engage and empower kids that can solidify their learning?
2) To change learning, we must change teaching: This is when #knowbetterdobetter comes in. Are educators given the proper training, resources and ongoing support to teach differently? We can't expect them to do different, if they don't know different.
3) Be the mirror for others: We are all doing the best we can, with what we have, at any given moment. Without feedback, we have no idea if we are on the right track. And without that information, we tend to make stories up in our heads to connect the dots (at least that's what I used to do, and it wasn't pretty). Let others know what you see in them (children AND adults). Let them know their worth and potential because I can bet, not many can see that for themselves.
I am still learning to navigate how to play this so that I can be heard and not just be dismissed as "causing trouble". I am nothing, if not a work in progress.
This "disruptive mindset" tends to make others uncomfortable, but I no longer think that is a bad thing.
"It is when we are uncomfortable, that we should seek to understand. "
I have found that people do not really appreciate when someone asks questions from a different point of view and that makes me sad. I believe that the only way to make informed, positive decisions is to include many differing voices and points of view. I didn't always believe this, as I used to take someone disagreeing with me, quite personal. Now I know better. When this is done in a safe, respectful way in an environment of trust, it can actually be transformational...we just have to be open to it.
I know that I am not a "leader" by title, but I do know that in whatever leadership role I will have in the future, I will use my experiences to drive my future. I believe that team members should be used for their skills and passions, regardless of their role or title. Some of the most profound ideas come from often untapped resources. We need to be open to listening and learning. I also believe that decisions that are being made that affect teachers and students, should include those end users. How can we make decisions if we are not with or don't intimately know those in which we serve? I don't know if we can.
My call to action is this: Focus on your "why" and let it drive you in your words, actions and decisions. Don't be afraid to cause some disturbance (respectfully, of course) if it will help move forward with your why. If you are a leader, I encourage you to get to know those in which you lead. They may have strengths and knowledge that are yet unknown, that could be of great benefit to the overall organization.
Mother, Teacher, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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