Last Friday was a professional learning day in our school district. I have the honor of being a part of our K-12 Science Course of Study which includes roughly 30 teachers from across all grade levels. A trusted science curriculum expert facilitated our full day session as we worked to cultivate a vision for science education. We discovered that there was roughly 677 years of experience represented in the room, and our job as facilitators and administrators was to nourish an environment that allowed the collective brilliance of the room to emerge and guide us on our path.
It was a fun first day with rich dialogue across grade levels and hands-on, interactive learning experiences as we worked to uncover the science teachers we always wanted to be, what science looks like/feels like/sounds like across standards and grade bands, and our dreams for science education in our school district. Our facilitator approached me at the end of the day, thanking me for being fully engaged and present in our session. She went on to explain that this day went better than a lot of work in other school districts because teachers could feel how much we valued their voice, expertise, and experiences.
Being fully present is simple. It’s not an innovative practice. It is, however, becoming increasingly rare. Teachers and administrators, alike, find themselves bogged down in competing priorities and pressures. This pressure cooker type of environment often leads to fear. Fear that we are missing something or that we must be doing something else in the present moment. It can lead us to check our emails and phones incessantly. It can draw us to our offices and desks and computers and out of the present moment with those we serve. I’m not immune to this. It happens to all of us. In meetings. In professional learning. In the classroom. The struggle is real.
However, when I think about how I feel in my work, I’m happiest and the most alive when I’m living in the moment with the people around me. I’m happiest when I’m spending time listening to teachers. I’m happiest when I pull up a chair next to a group of students and join them in the writing prompt. I’m happiest when I’m walking the halls and saying hello to teachers and asking them follow-up questions about things they told me had going on outside of school.
In fact, a friend of mine was joining me for instructional rounds last Wednesday which is something we do every week in our school district. After seeing me poke my head into several classrooms and simply smile and wave, she said, “You are just walking around here spreading joy.”
It didn’t dawn on me that this was what I was doing. In fact, quite the opposite. I had been thinking to myself, “I need some joy. I need to see teachers today.” But that’s the thing about joy – it’s contagious. We quite literally take on the emotions of other people. It’s called emotional contagion – and it’s scientifically supported.
Much like we can catch joy, I speculate that we can catch presence too. When we choose to be “all in” and engaged in the learning, others (perhaps not all – but some) will take note. They will see that perhaps what’s going on is valuable and that they should set that their laptop aside and join us in the conversation too. We can continue to say that certain things are important. We can say that reading is important. That kindness is important. That having tough conversations about things that matter deeply is important. We can say that being present is important. That being on time is important. That greeting students in the hallway is important.
We can say that relationships are important. Shew, we all know they are vital!
You name it. We can say it’s important. But people can tell what we value with our actions. Words matter. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a words girl. I was an ELA teacher – words are my love language. Words will always matter. However, words without consistent action lose their meaning.
I’m convinced that there is nothing more important than the current moment I’m sharing with others. Wherever we are, let’s be all there. Let’s help people see that there is nothing more important to us than the present moment we are sharing with them. Let’s show people that we care so deeply about them and their greatest potential that they are deserving of our full attention.
My best work and most meaningful moments occur when my phone is put away. My email is closed. And I’m simply being a human being among other human beings. It brings me joy. It makes me feel free. It makes me feel lighter. It allows me to notice the hidden gems of potential that exist in every human being I come into contact with. Every person we meet has something to teach us if we are simply paying attention.
So, this week, my challenge to all of us is first: cut ourselves some slack. A lot gets thrown our way and often it comes from people with positional authority. Then, let’s ask ourselves, “Where can we be more intentional about giving our full attention to others this week?” In doing so, let’s pay attention to how that makes us feel. How it makes the work feel. How it makes others feel. As I mention in the draft of my book, we cannot do it all, and we cannot do it all at one time. Many of our efforts fail because we aren’t being honest with ourselves about what is realistic or sustainability over time. So, start small. Super small if you have to. Mosquito move small if you will. Be realistic with yourself. But simply start.
I have a feeling the work goes better when we feel better in the work. The first step to feeling better in our work is to simply be all there. Wherever we are. Just a bit more. And let’s see where that takes us.
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