Updated: Jan 26, 2020
Oh my goodness. There’s a Honeywell commercial that I can’t get out of my mind.
Every single time it comes on I think of you. Teachers. Administrators. EA’s.
The future is what we make it.
Those are the words stuck in my head. Why? Because this is the power you hold in your classrooms. In your schools.
You’re leaders to the next generation. I know you probably don’t think that. I know I didn’t. It’s hard to believe in 10 months you can really make an impact (especially if you teach Kindergarten, grade 7, 8 or 9), but you do.
In 21 years of teaching I've taught over 1200 children. I’ve watched many of them grow in my community. In fact, my beautiful new daughter-in-law is a former student. Seventeen years ago, with her curly blonde hair, face scrunched up and red, she used to sit in my lap and cry. It was Kindergarten, and it only lasted for the first 15 minutes...of many days.
I’ve witnessed the impact that my little moment in time with these children has had. I’ve heard their words when they drop in after school just to say, hi. Or, write me a letter telling me how much I meant to them.
Even though the time was little, the impact was HUGE. To this day, I’m grateful for the part I could play in the education and raising of these people.
To me, it was my job, and it seemed small. But in reality it was pretty big. Like a thumbprint on a sunlit window pane, I’ve learned that I’ve left a print of myself on every child.
Lesson: It's important to lead well.
My go-to definition of leading well: anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people (little or big), and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential. And one who does it with grace (the this is me trying to get it right vs being right, kinda grace), and empathy. Throw in a little love along the way, and you’ve got a recipe for doing it with heart.
Because we’re leading a new generation to be open minded, open armed, and open hearted.
That’s what we need out in the world right now.
Minouche Shafik, director of the London School of Economics says that "in the past, jobs were about muscles, now they're about brains, but in the future they'll be about the heart."
So to do this, we must show them how.
In my experience, there have been 3 ideas that have helped me lead well along the way:
1. WE'RE HARDWIRED FOR CONNECTION
Humans need to belong. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a basic need. It’s built into our biology and neurology. We're made for belonging. To our brains, belonging means safety. When it’s threatened we’re threatened and we armor up. It’s one of the greatest threats to our well-being.
How do we find belonging? We connect. Sometimes in the weirdest ways possible. A little one in Kindy once pinched my boob (I don't recommend this approach).
Whether quiet or really overt, a bid for attention is really a bid for connection...from someone, or anyone.
This year: Plan connection points. With your students. With your people. Our deepest desire is to be seen and heard. Make moments of connection in your day to let your people know their value.
This week: Put a daily habit in place to sincerely make your people (little and big) welcome. Wink, wink - make 'em feel it.
2. GET GENEROUS WITH YOUR THINKING
This is a big one for me. I practice this on parents, all the time. The understanding is simple: we don't know what we don't know until we know it. Got it?
We're all at different levels of learning, understanding, and we bring different experiences to the table. Not one of us is alike. That's what makes us gloriously unique!
The trick is this though, you can’t be generous with your thinking if you don’t practice gratitude. It’s the underlying principle. The more your gratitude grows the more you see the “we" rather than "me" in everything. And the doorway is opened for empathy. It requires a lot to be empathetic. It’s not the easy path, but it is a satisfying one. Give them your generous thinking.
This year: Use this thought...We're all trying to do the best we can with what we have and what we know, right now.
This week: In the middle of the chaos (school supplies, bussing, parents, secretaries...) pause, say the above, then ask yourself, "How can I help?"
3. BE HARD ON THE TOPIC, SOFT ON THE PERSON
Even when you’re at your best, hard situations and tough conversations will come up, inevitably making your heart ache. When our people disappoint, fail, go off the rails, armor up, or bend our trust in them, or they in us.
Leading well means you have to open up your heart, making room for vulnerability. Space for your heart to ache. This isn't a weak place, it's an empowered one. You set the bar here. Leaders show the way through difficult things. Rather than armoring up, shying away, getting defensive, ignoring,being bitter, angry, we face it and walk through.
This is a defining moment. It's what makes you stand out. Remember this: you don't own their emotional pain. Be clear. With yourself. With them. Stay hard on the topic, soft on the person, because behind every situation is a person wanting to be seen and heard. Wanting connection. Wanting belonging.
Big note to self here...this includes you! We're hardest on ourselves. So, when things are really messed up, get clear, address the issue, and be gentle with you.
This year: Really listen, trying to understand where they're coming from. Then, get clear about where they need to go.
That's it. The first day is here! No throwbacks. When you look out and around you today, remember, the future is what we make it. Literally.
With much love and appreciation,
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