Permissioning Culture

We’ve reached the end of July and packs of crayons will be flying off shelves. For many of us, dreams about the upcoming school year feel like New Year’s resolutions. I’m working on paying more attention to who I want to be and paying less attention to my to do list. If we do our internal work, the external work goes a lot smoother. Our thinking improves and with better clarity of thought and calmer emotions, we make better decisions and do better work.

So, as I continue with self-reflection and thoughts of the upcoming school year, I’m paying more attention to messaging. Messages that welcome back administrators. Messages that welcome back teachers. And thoughts that teachers have about welcoming back their students.

I can’t help but think that out of all the planning we do over the summer, one of our most important plans is our plan for welcoming people back. This sets the tone for the school year. How we welcome current and new employees into our ecosystem tells them what we value.

So, if we don’t spend time being purposeful with our welcome, by not sending a message, we send a message. We send the message that you are more important to us as human doings than a human beings. First days or first days back are peak moments where we can create meaningful moments of connection. I’ve enjoyed revisiting The Power of Moments by Dan and Chip Heath. I might go back and reread it every summer for this exact reason.

If we aren’t careful, our fears about what could go wrong this school year will be the loudest message received. If what we say and send is mostly focused on what NOT TO DO, we send messages of fear instead of messages of hope. If we spend too much time focused on what people can’t do, we send the message that we don’t trust you as professionals and students.

And if we don’t trust you as professionals and students, then perhaps you shouldn’t trust yourselves as professionals and students.

If the people can’t trust themselves in our organizations, expect a lot of questions about what they are allowed to do both big and small. Expect that many teachers won’t take risks and won’t try new instructional practices. Expect that students won’t practice critical thinking and won’t exhibit leadership skills in the classroom, in the hallways, in the lunchroom, on the bus, or playground. Expect that some people will break school rules just to feel some sense of control over their school lives.

Because we are human. And this is what human beings doing when we don’t center our humanity. When you take the heart out of the welcome back, there is no heart in the welcome back.

It’s not just the welcome back that matters. It’s the messages we send with little things we say, what we do, and how we spend our time on a daily basis. According to Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering, people are most open to an emotional connection at the beginning and end of a meeting. I would venture to say that the beginning and end of a school year are also good times for high levels of emotional connection.

So, before you send that welcome back email with a list of what people can’t do, remember that teachers often create what they experience. Is the tone you’re setting also what you want for students?

Sure, there will be safety elements that are important and must be communicated.

But if you notice that students and staff are often knocking on your door asking for permission to do things that feel like a “no brainer” to you, then take a closer look at yourself. Perhaps there are moves you’ve made as a leader (while well-intentioned I’m sure), that have sent the message that you don’t trust their hearts and minds.

We need people in our schools with nourished and encouraged hearts and minds. So, let’s get to nourishing.

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