I went on a quick weekend trip with a few friends last week. As the plane made the descent into Florida, one of them was telling me about how excited she was for teacher appreciation week next week.
She’s not a teacher.
She’s a mom.
You see, her 3rd grader has many many strengths and also struggles with reading. My friend describe the plan for next week to create a “Hall of Fame” where they write specific, positive notes about the staff and hang them in the walls to celebrate them.
She went on to say that both students and parents were writing these notes and then began to cry as she explained just how much she appreciates her child’s teacher. I almost couldn’t believe it. My friend of over 15 years is not someone I’ve seen get emotional over such things, and it deeply impacted me as if I was watching a special moment in slow motion.
As we move into teacher appreciation week, and as we all work hard to finish strong despite all of our challenges, I wanted to pass along what I took away from that conversation. Because I believe this teacher is an example of what so so many teachers are doing on a daily basis for children, and we need to be better about telling them.
“She sees my daughter.“
With tears in her eyes, she explained that while her daughter may not be the strongest reader, she incredibly kind. She goes out of her way to talk to, play with, and include other children. She said the teacher told her that her daughter can work well with and genuinely enjoys working with anyone in the class. She started the parent teacher conference by describing this strength and how valuable and important it is in this world.
At the end of the day, many parents simply want to know that you appreciate their child for who they are and care about them.
Too often, conversations center on areas of deficit versus amplifying strengths. Whether it’s a parent teacher conference or teacher evaluation meeting, it is vital that all learners, adult and children alike, have the opportunity to not only have their gifts and talents mentioned and appreciated but also utilized as essential assets in the school environment. Everyone we meet has something important to offer and teach us. It is life-giving when others invest in growing our greatest potential -especially in areas of strength that energize us. Working with people in a state of flow changes how the work feels for everyone in the best possible way.
“She listened to me.”
My friend explained that during the parent teacher conference, she described for the teacher how her daughter feels when she knows she is going to be called on to read in front of the class. Her daughter explained that “It makes her feel hot and upsets her belly.” The teacher thanked my friend for sharing this information because her daughter’s reaction had not been apparent. She went on to ask more questions about how they should proceed in the future. While my friend did not want the teacher to change her instructional practices, the teacher’s openness to doing so made her feel heard, understood, and like a true partner in her child’s education.
Sometimes, we aren’t able to come to agreed upon solutions. However, there are ways to ensure that people still leave their conversations with us feeling heard and understood. Some of my most uncomfortable conversations where emotions were running very high on the other side of the table or phone have ended in people feeling heard and understood. Even when I am unable to offer the exact action or solution they are requesting, simply listening deeply, asking genuine questions, and extending care can go a long way.
“She communicates with me.”
In the weeks that followed, the teacher went out of her way to check in about how my friend’s daughter was feeling about reading in class. This was above and beyond and demonstrated a true sense of care about her child’s experience in the class.
There is power in the follow-up. When people follow-up on details from my life or work that I’ve shared, it makes me feel like they are truly interested in me and care about my wellbeing and success. I try to remember to do that. In order to be this way, we must live fully in the moment with others. I’ve heard others say that when our phones on the table where we can see them, it can pull us from the present moment. Even when our phones are face down. This is why (most of the time) when I walk the building, I do so without my phone in my hand. It’s in my pocket, and if there is an emergency, someone will call. Honestly, I’m happiest in these moments of my work. In doing so, I am able to truly enjoy the incredible value that each staff members brings into our school community every day.
What we look for, we find. It’s easy to overcomplicate things in education, but some of the most important moves we make…as I mention in my upcoming book…are quite simple and impactful. The key is quieting the noise, so we can stay close to what matters most. How we feel in the work impact how others feel in the work and all of this impacts how the work actually goes.
So, in this upcoming week of teacher appreciation, may we look for, find, and celebrate the beautiful legacy of educators who are quite literally changing the world through students.
And may we do so all year long.
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