I recently had the opportunity to chat with Lainie Rowell. It was an energizing dialogue with someone I deeply admire and whose work has had a positive impact on me has a human being and professional. Most recently, I enjoyed her book, Evolving with Gratitude: Small Practices in Learning Communities that Make a Big Difference with Kids, Peers, and the World. The book includes many small, practical moves that can be made to shift our mindsets in order to work more joyfully and productively.
The conversation has me thinking about where my joy comes from in my work and thus where my gratitude comes from because as Brene Brown so eloquently states, “There is no joy without gratitude.”
When walking into a school building in the morning, I like to think about all of the things that had to go right in order for this day to be possible. Custodians made our building sparkle and shine, so we could learn in a clean and orderly environment. Bus drivers showed up and ensured that students made it to school safely. Culinary staff ensured that students had hot meals for breakfast and lunch; full bellies make learning more accessible for all of us. Educators greeted students at doors, making them feel safe and welcome in the learning environment. Administrators, students, administrative assistants, related service professionals, counselors…the list goes on. Everyone does their part to make it a great day. Each day is possible because everyone shows up and does their part.
There is a lot that goes into a school day. It’s truly mesmerizing.
Last Friday, I walked the halls of the middle school and happened to notice a paraprofessional walking with a student. The student is nonverbal and has significant learning needs. On this day, the student appeared very agitated. The way this professional showed calm care and compassion for this student brought tears to my eyes. The strong bond and positive relationship between both of them was clear. This professional didn’t know I was watching him and yet he cared for the student in a way that I would want someone to care for the child if they were my own.
Today, during class change, I overheard a high school teacher call a student over to talk to her. She said, “Hey! I haven’t gotten to see you in a while. I want to hear more about how you’re doing and what you’ve been up to.” Again, she didn’t know that I could hear this exchange. This was clearly a student she doesn’t currently have in class, and yet she wanted the student to know that she missed her and wanted to spend a moment with her. That’s huge. For anyone, that small moment is huge.
Being mesmerized by small moves has been on my heart over the past few years. Maybe because big moves feel daunting and overwhelming. Big moves sometimes prevent me from trying small moves because I’m overwhelmed. But small moves, that’s the stuff. Small effective moves done consistently over time – that can change a classroom, a school, a community, and quite frankly the world. Small moves are moves we can all do. I write about this in the draft of my book:
Of all the habits you work to build, when it comes to school and being an educator, a meaningful place to start is with your daily interactions with yourself and with others. There are no small words or small actions in a school. If you stand in the hallway and greet your students every day with a smile and encouraging words, that’s a small move that makes a big impact. You never know what battles your students and colleagues are facing. You are facing difficulties yourself. We all struggle. We will all have tough moments. One of the most important habits we can cultivate is mindfulness; simply pay attention to the body language of others in response to the environment, what we say, and what others say. And mindfulness about our own wellbeing and what we need to be OK. We must take care of ourselves, so we can take care of others. The most important work we will ever do is work we do on ourselves. Everything else is secondary. How we show up impacts how our students show up and how our colleagues show up.
If someone makes a small move that has an impact on you, tell them. If you see someone make a small move that has a positive impact on another person, tell them. Tell them with specificity and joy in your heart. That encouragement may be just what they need to keep making those small moves tomorrow. Too often, our small beautiful moves get swallowed up by loud problems. When you look at all of our work at one time, it’s overwhelming and easy to see problems everywhere. When you train your mind to celebrate small moments, you see possibility. You find hope. It’s not that we ignore our problems. We work on them, but we don’t mentally live there.
Instead, let’s allow ourselves to be mesmerized by the incredible little moves made by the people around us every day. And when we see it, say it. So others, too, find joy in the present moment. So others, too, are reminded that they are making a positive impact.
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