For me, sometimes the best way to feel better is counterintuitive. To give that which I'm lacking. If I'm not feeling wholehearted in my work and not feeling the love, I give love. If I'm not feeling like I belong, I create belonging for others. For example, ensuring equity of voice in meetings, paying attention to how I respond to the contributions of others, and sitting in circles are all small moves for belonging that I talk about in the draft of my book. And finally, vulnerability. Someone has to go first. Sometimes, that someone is you. Whether it be rest or more wholeheartedness in your work, I hope you find it.
Will Guidara, author of Unreasonable Hospitality, was able to turn 11 Madison Park into the #1 restaurant in the world. He did so not by making the most unique food in the world or creating the most fancy of restaurants. He did it by tapping into a human need we have that will hold true until the end of time. The need to be well-cared for. So much of excellent leadership is not revolutionary. However, in a world filled with busy and in a time of so many initiatives and high pressure, taking great care of others can feel revolutionary. In this new year, may we all reflect upon how we can do less of what doesn’t matter as much, so we can do more of what matters most. In doing so, the work gets better and so do we.
Recently, a teacher sent me a very kind text message. It didn't feel like I deserved her words of affirmation, but I cherished them and held them dear. It felt nice to have someone see something good in me, and it made me want to live up to those words the next day and every day. I guess all I'm saying is that our winters are long. The middle part of the school year can feel long and messy. But the work feels better when we feel better and a great way to feel better is to notice and acknowledge what's great around us: the people. The people make our schools special. Let's hype them up.
There is a national shortage of educators. Now more than ever, we need to represent this profession in ways that are hope-giving. If we truly care about making our schools better places to learn, work, and grow, we must remember that every conversation, every post on social media, every moment is an opportunity to show people how amazing these jobs can be. These jobs are hard, yes, but they are deeply important. These jobs can be exhausting, yes, but they can also be really, really fun when we choose for them to be.
Finally, we spend a lot of time starting with deficits in schools. We shoot ideas down because we can think of reasons why something won't work. We focus on learning deficits in classrooms and on state assessments. We talk a lot about what we aren't seeing. Our kids need to know how to read and think critically. I'm not arguing that. However, no one is inspired by a relentless focus on their deficits. I learned from my good friend, Dr. Tim Kubik, it can be more powerful to focus instead on what assets we do indeed have. The strengths and skills and special talents that students and teachers bring into schools every day are endless. If we were to spend more energy amplifying the good instead of diagnosing the not so good, I think the energy in our schools would change.
No gesture is too small. All gestures matter. If we all took the time to make those small gestures, our classrooms would change. Our schools would change. Our districts would change. Our communities would change. This is how we change the world. Through small caring on a daily basis. If we all do our part, the world will change.
Listening is becoming more and more rare. True listening I should say -is becoming more and more rare. And yet, every person we come into contact with has something to teach us. We cannot learn from each other and appreciate each other if we aren't taking the time to listen to each other. When we slow down and listen, we can see hearts more clearly. There is good in everyone. Sometimes, it's just harder to find when things are tough. When the emotions are big and times are stressful, it's easy to miss the good that's there. Often, we all want what's best, we just have different opinions about what that looks like.
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.
So, the next time you feel really happy in your work, pay attention. Pay attention to who you are with and how you're going about the work. Somewhere in the middle of all of that is your joy. Your joy is your gift to our profession and now more than ever, we need people walking in their light and their goodness.
Being around and lending a helping hand can do a lot for a school and school district. Proximity builds trust. So, we must make space for proximity and make space for staff to be around each other too - in a relaxed way. Don't be filling that time with to-do lists and boxes to fill out all the time. Sure, sometimes we have to do what we have to do, but we tend to overdo it. Make space for meaningful connection and discourse. What we water grows. Water connection. Start with proximity.