Saying No

Wow, we’ve had ourselves a school year. Am I right? And it’s December. Deep sighs. Lately, the unpredictability and challenges of the school year feel heavier on top of a busy holiday season.

I’m noticing when I get dangerously close to my breaking point. I can get more irritated than normal about crowds, traffic, late packages, incorrect orders…

At the end of the day, these are all small things. But when the world feels particularly heavy, any little thing can feel like a big thing. And I will pause for a second to say this – imagine how it feels when you are a child. When your coping skills, life experiences, and frontal lobes have not been fully developed. No wonder we see all kinds of interesting behavior in schools this time of year. Especially with our students who may not be looking forward to time away from school over the break.

I will get back to those kiddos in a moment.

But as for me, I have quite a bit of agency in my life. I can say no to certain things. Certainly, saying no means I’m risking how others will feel or the impression they will get of me. But sometimes, we have to say no to others, so we can say yes to ourselves. This past week, I said no to two different week night events. I also said no to leading a PD session. And here is the thing, I’m still overwhelmed. But I’m not in a ditch. I feel like I’m holding it together a smidge better because I’m being ridiculously in control of what gets my time and attention right now.

Sadly, many of our students don’t have that same kind of agency. They don’t get to make many choices in their day. They don’t get to decide as often what they can say yes to and what they can say no to – we don’t let kids say no very often. In fact, “no” is often treated as disobedience. Sometimes, no isn’t an option. I get that. But I’m curious what it would look like to allow our students to make more choices in their day. We often wonder why our students struggle with critical thinking. However, if you look at the way we do school, our students are often told every move to make. Down to “take out your book and turn to page…” and when they can use the restroom.

I wonder what it would look like to get deeply curious about our students and their experience throughout a school day. To get curious about the amount of decisions they make in a day and the amount of decisions we make for them in a day. The amount of choice present in school day. Because it’s really challenging to feel curious about the world around you when you don’t get much say in the world around you. And without curiosity, we might not have what it takes to solve the worlds really bit challenges. As George Couros has said, “If our students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.”

And the same is true for teachers. If our teachers leave school less curious than when they started their careers, we have failed them too. If they get little choice in how they learn, and how they teach, then we shouldn’t be surprised that some of them are recreating what they experience (with us) with their students.

Today I’m grateful for my agency. For my ability to choose what is best for me. For the opportunity to say yes or no to certain things.

True leadership is creating the conditions that make a sense of agency possible for (ALL) others as well.

How might you say no, so you can say yes to yourself?

What might it look like to become deeply curious about the sense of agency that educators and students have in our schools?

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