This is the Work

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been walking the halls of the middle school. During these walks, I’ve run into many former students from my time as an elementary principal.

Every one of them has either yelled, “Ms. Lawson!” to get my attention, or they’ve whispered to a staff member that they know me. When we are brought together for conversation, the looks on their faces are always the same.

They stand before me, shoulders pulled back, and they look me in the eyes, smile and wait. They wait for what I might say. For me to see them and celebrate them. Truly. It’s always the same proud, silent stance for approval. They are certain that I will have something good to say to them and about them, and I do.

I recently ran into a young man who ran for student council and was voted into office. He and I used to talk a lot at recess about leadership and sportsmanship during playground football games. He worked hard to play fair, include others, and let disappointments roll off his back. I told him, “I always knew you were a leader. Remember all of those good talks we used to have about leadership?”

He said, “I do. I do remember that.” And smiled.

Our students want what the rest of us want. We want to be seen and valued for the unique gifts and talents we bring into our schools every day. None of us want to be reminded of our flaws and deficits.

Sometimes, it’s easier to read younger children than it is to read adolescents and adults. The way many kids stand before me in these small encounters makes it so clear how they feel and what they need. Acknowledgement. Connection.

But there are adults in our schools who need the same. Acknowledgement. Connection. To feel valued for their unique contributions to our school communities. And yet, adults don’t often stand before us in silence, shoulders back, waiting to be celebrated. Many of them are hustling away in classrooms with closed doors. Many of them of them hide behind sarcasm when you pass them in our hallways, “How are you?” “Livin’ the dream!”

When we care for our teachers, we are caring for our students. Don’t ever underestimate the power of a kind word, a thoughtful note, a quick and kind classroom visit, a little snack left on someone’s desk.

Growing up, I hid a lot of my pain from teachers-especially in high school. My stepdad was not an easy man to live with. After my senior prom and after prom, I came home from a long, fun night of no sleep, hair and make-up still done, rhinestones in my ears, and he was waiting there to tell me that my car was leaking some oil on our driveway. He demanded that I get out there right this second to scrub the oil off with a bucket and some soap and water. And there I was, sleep-deprived, full-face of make-up and an up-do, on my hands and knees sobbing and scrubbing for neighbors to see.

That is one small example of many painful, cruel memories that I never shared with a teacher. They will never know all of those small gestures and kind words that helped fill my bucket.

Our students don’t live in a vacuum. There are no two worlds. No two lives. There is one life. There is one real world. School stuff impacts life outside of school. Life stuff impacts stuff inside of school. It’s messy and complicated, but it can be beautiful.

Knowing this gives us great power. Every word and interaction has the power to grow hope in other people. We can grow a sense of hope for the future. We can grow their belief that they are capable beyond on measure. We can grow everyone’s sense of wellbeing. We can remind others that there are good people in this world who will stand in their corner, have their back, and cheer for them.

Kids need that.

Adults need that.

We all need it.

So, don’t think twice about going down that slide at recess, playing, and talking with kids. Do it. This is the work. Don’t worry about whether people will judge you for setting aside that lesson to connect with your students. Do it. This is the work. Don’t stress about whether someone would like that nice, little thing you want to do for them. So what if it’s corny?

Do it anyway. This is the work.

How might you take 30 seconds this week to truly see and celebrate someone else? You might be surprised how your sense of wellbeing will grow through it too.

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