We All Build Culture

The world is once again heavy. And it should be. We are worried and for good reason.

This week I found myself weighed down by the heaviness. It was spirit week, and there were days when I didn’t feel like dressing up. If I hadn’t, that would have been ok. But I was glad I did because it shook me out of my feelings and into characters to play -especially on my heaviest day.

On my heaviest day, I was dressed as Mr. Rogers. It was “Who You Want to Be When You Grow Up” day. And with the way the world has been feeling this week, Mr. Rogers felt right.

When we carry the weight of world news on our shoulders and then carry the weight of our own troubles and our school troubles, it can be paralyzing.

I’m choosing to be grateful. For all that I have. For my safety in this now moment. For the opportunity to do what I can to help out. And on this particular day, dressed as Mr. Rogers, I was thankful for the opportunity to walk around and be with teachers and students.

I’m struck by this quote from Fred Rogers, “We get so wrapped up in numbers in our society. The most important thing is that we are able to be one-to-one, you and I with each other at the moment. If we can be present to the moment with the person that we happen to be with, that’s what’s important.”

Wow, that hits. The most important thing we can be is fully present with others. Our family. Our friends. Our colleagues. Our students. Wherever we are, be all there. Because this world can be changed through one-to-one interactions. There are things we, as educators, say to students or other teachers that they carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Forever. Think about that. That’s legacy. The legacy of words. The legacy of being fully present with others.

I always giggle about that scene from Talladega Nights when Ricky Bobby realizes that he built an entire life and career on something his dad said to him, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” Only to realize later that his dad didn’t really mean it. (I’m brushing over the details of that fictional situation for the sake of keeping things appropriate here, ha.)

But think about that. Words hold power. And they hold special power when they come from people with positional authority. Parents to their kids. Educators to their students. Administrators to teachers. District administrators to building administrators.

So, one of the most important things we can do is to take special care of our words and the way we show up for and listen to others.

George Couros was kind enough to remind me of some of my own words this week:

We don’t need to be perfect to make a difference. We need to care deeply about our impact on kids, care deeply about our words, and we need to embrace our humanness.” To expand upon this, we need to care about our impact on other educators. These jobs are hard. And just because we carry it well, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy. To impact a teacher is to impact a class. To impact multiple teachers is to impact a school. And our schools can change the world.

Perhaps this is radical, but how we spend time with people is one of the greatest ways to change this world. How we show up for each interaction, each gathering, how we are in community with each other -it matters in a big way. We have the power to make people feel strong and special and capable which means that the opposite is true too if we aren’t thoughtful.

As Peter Block states in his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, “The future of community depends on a choice between a retributive conversation (a problem to be solved) and a restorative conversation (a possibility to be lived into.) Restoration is a possibility brought into being by choosing that kind of conversation.”

We must keep the end in mind. Each interaction has the potential to inspire hope and action. May we be the hope growers, helping people see all that is good in what they are doing and all that they might explore in the future. Because truly, every person in our schools and organizations from our 5 year-olds to our custodians to our new teachers to our veteran staff have assets they bring to the table that can be nourished for the greater good.

And it’s our job to do the nourishing. All of our jobs. Not just the ones with official leadership titles. We are all a part of creating the change we desire. It starts with being the change we wish to see. Being that person who takes the time to truly see others, be fully present with them, affirm all the good that is there, and inspire possibility thinking for the future.

“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has or ever will have something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” – Fred Rogers

When I was visiting high school classrooms, kids were a bit puzzled by my costume when I entered the room. Some laughed, and I giggled too. Others were unsure about my makeshift puppet. And as I sat next to a group of juniors preparing for the ACT, I told them that I figured some students wouldn’t want to talk to me. One young man looked me right in my eyes and said, “I’m happy to talk to you.”

Makes me a little teary thinking about it. Our students lead us. They remind us of what this would can be.

Think about one person whether that’s a child or colleague who you might be genuinely curious about and present with this week. How might you practice being the change you wish to see in that interaction?

Imagine if we all did our part to be a little more like Mr. Rogers – in our own way. The world would change.

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