The Search for Harmony (Balance) Between Work and Life

We are beginning to recognize the value of balance in education. Finally, people are starting to understand that handing yourself over fully to the education profession doesn’t end well for anyone. There is no gold star for being a martyr. Throwing yourself in whole hog without balance only leads to burnt out educators who are too tired to do what’s best for students because they never took the time to do what was best for themselves. Now, this can be different in practice than it is in theory. While we understand in theory the need for balance, practicing it ourselves and allowing others to practice it can be another story.

As I have begun to try to find the best way for me to find this (what seems to be elusive) balance, I have discovered a few challenges along the way. Once I finally realized that I couldn’t just wish balance for others but actually needed to model and find it myself, I needed to figure out exactly how I was going to do that. People would ask me my “professional opinion” on what they could do to find it because I often preach it more than I practice…and I never really have any idea because I haven’t tried to find it myself. Another issue I discovered was that in order for me to find my balance, I needed to either quit doing some of the projects I had been doing or I necessitated others help on finishing things I would normally do myself. Which, in turn, caused upheaval in their balance. This became obvious to me when it happened to me on the flip side. People would say no that they couldn’t help with something because they couldn’t take more on. It would cause me to frantically search for someone else to help and fill that spot, so I knew when I told other people the same thing they would be in the same predicament. Yet, if I was trying to find a balance I needed to be okay with saying no AND with others saying no as they tried to find theirs.

Early in this journey, I’ve already learned a few things about attempting to create a more harmonious existence between what I love to do in my work and what I love to do in my personal life. Honestly, the latter has been a learning curve. I have been so obsessed with education for so long that I honestly don’t remember what I like to do when I’m not working. And not knowing or not remembering what should be a fundamental part of yourself is difficult and scary.

My realizations in balancing myself:

Be as nice to yourself as you are to other people
(and if you’re not nice to other people, work on that, too)
We need to be nicer to ourselves and give each other grace in everything we do: how we work, what we ask of ourselves, even our internal dialogue. I have a bad habit of taking on more because I want other people around me to do less when the reality is that when I take on more then they take on more of other things and we both end up unbalanced. One of my core beliefs is not to ask anyone to do anything that you wouldn’t do yourself. Well, this works for balance as well. If you wouldn’t ask anyone else to take on extra duties that unbalance them, why would you?

Also, taking moments to celebrate goals that are accomplished is important. Take time, no matter how much you have going on, to be happy about things that have gone well. Part of balance is about balancing emotions and feelings. It’s awesome to have the drive but if we never celebrate the accomplishments from our hard work we will never balance the blood, sweat, and tears with the feeling of elation when it all pays off. You would (should) take the time to celebrate your students and other educators. Why wouldn’t you do that for yourself?

Realize that balance is an average
I actually think that the word balance is a misnomer. If we are looking for our work and personal life to be perfectly balanced at 50/50 all the time we will continually feel like we are failing because it simply doesn’t work that way. I consider the word harmony to be a better description of what should be happening. Sometimes work will require more of our energy and our personal life will need to take more of a backseat. Other times our personal life will be our focus and work will need to wait. What we need is for these times to average out. Our challenge is recognizing when it’s okay for the switch between work and personal to happen. For some of us, we feel guilty when we move from focusing on work and so we stay there because not working feels uncomfortable.

Quit equating self-care with being lazy or selfish
I think this is a shift that’s beginning to happen. It’s difficult, especially for educators who by nature put everyone else first, to both prioritize themselves and understand when someone else is prioritizing themselves because it feels selfish. In reality, when we take care of ourselves and have harmony between work and our personal life, it gives us the energy and stamina to be the best we can be for the people we serve in both worlds. We may need to take on five projects that we do really well instead of ten projects that we do half-way. This isn’t being lazy or selfish, it’s working smarter to do the best job we can.

Balance isn’t just time, it’s about how you spend it
I used to think I was better at balance than I actually was because I would come home from work at a decent time and I wouldn’t go anywhere else. I would be home. Working. I would leave work and I would go home to work. I still stink at this and it is my biggest battle. It’s nothing for me to work before I go to work, go to work, come home, work through dinner until I go to bed five days a week and then work all weekend. I would reason that I love what I do so when I was working at home it wasn’t like work. “Work IS my hobby,” I would say. But, I’m wrong. It’s still working.

My new tactic is to choose two days out of the week and one day on the weekend to not work. It is a challenge every minute that I’m not. I practically shake. I imagine all the things I could be doing. Tell myself that watching TV is ridiculous when I could be finishing something important. In order to do this, I had to realize that some things would not get done and I need to be okay with that. I almost feel like it’s a natural selection-like way of prioritizing. What I get done is clearly a priority. What I don’t needs to fall off my plate. Work will always be there. There will never be a shortage and I will never finish everything.

In this journey, I know I am going to have to start saying no to other’s projects, which is going to be difficult. I also know that in finding my own balance, I have a responsibility to others to help them find theirs by being aware of what I’m asking others to do.

My realizations in being respectful of other’s balance

Allow others to set their own priorities
Especially in education when we are working so hard to make a difference, anyone who is truly engaged gets excited at the prospect of a new project and the people they have the potential to connect. And rightfully so. The movers and shakers know that they need their PLNs both within their schools and on social media to make most ideas come alive. My challenge is to allow people to set their own priorities. If anyone thinks like me and they are allowing things to fall off their plate and my project needs to be one of those things, I need to keep in mind that my project is my priority but doesn’t mean it’s everyone else’s. It doesn’t mean that my project is of less value because someone doesn’t make it one of their priorities, it simply means I need to find other people to be involved.

Be okay with people saying no
This one is a difficult one especially when we’re so excited about something but just as important. I’ve seen on social media where someone has asked for help and there have been two subsequent tweets: the first saying that they think it’s an awesome project but in the spirit of balance they are not going to take it on and second someone responding with that they think it’s such an awesome, worthwhile idea so they will make time. The important realization I had to come to was just because someone decided not to take an idea on, again, doesn’t make the idea less worthwhile. It also doesn’t mean that the people who are passing on what we think is an opportunity are not working as hard as everyone else. This is one of the areas where we need to recognize and sometimes challenge our own assumptions and accept that I need to be okay with people saying no and even support them in that decision. I have as much responsibility in creating an environment where people have the right to say no to me for their own well-being without consequence as I have in recognizing the need for my own self-care.

The most difficult part of trying to find balance, for me, is the fact that it would seem like taking care of myself and making myself a priority directly contradicts my need to take care of others first. On the contrary, taking care of ourselves allows us to have our best selves ready for the people in both our personal and professional lives. Being able to give 100% to everyone because we have taken care of ourselves is the best thing we can do for the people around us that we care for and serve.

Find the Thing That Feeds Your Soul

I often get asked how I re-engaged back into loving education. And I do love it. Like everyone, I have difficult weeks. Loving what you do doesn’t mean it’s always easy. I sometimes just want to sleep in past 4:30am and some weeks make me question my ability to make a solid decision. I do, however, overall, love it. But while I can tell people how I re-engaged, I can’t tell anyone else what will be the thing that works for them. It’s personal. The book and person who re-engaged me might not do that for everyone. I also think that what works once might not work again. Let’s face it, teaching is hard. To re-engage yourself you need to find the thing that feeds your soul.

I heard this recently from my good friend Jen Casa-Todd and it really made me reflect: what is it that feeds my soul? I would think that would be an important question to have the answer to so you can get more of it. This has been a rough year and an even rougher week prior to the holidays. I have questioned everything from my sanity to my ability to be as supportive as I know I have the potential to be as a leader. I was somewhere between praying Friday would come and feeling guilty for wishing Friday was here because I usually speak out against any kind of countdowns that would make students believe that our happiest of times are spent outside of school.

And then, completely unexpectedly, today one of my former fourth-grade students from the 2011 school year reached out to me via my website to say hello and ask me how I was. She was a sweet, quiet girl with a huge heart and I was thrilled to hear from her.

And I can’t express how much I needed that right at that moment.

There are different types of things that can feed our souls. Maybe it’s spending time with our families or our PLN tribe. Maybe it’s reading a certain quote or book at the right time. It could be diving deeper into a passion or being successful when taking a risk. It can shift depending on what we need in that moment.

Part of what feeds my soul is remembering the students that I taught and how happy they made me. What drives me is knowing I support the people who are having a positive impact on students every day. You want to know how to re-engage? Find that.

I hope I was what that student needed when she needed it in fourth grade, because today, without even knowing, she returned the favor.

Student Managed School Social Media Accounts

Recently, one of my favorite teachers in the high school approached me about students starting student managed social media accounts for the Art Club. My teacher side was ready to go, but my Director of Innovation and Technology side had red flags and alarm bells going off…not because I didn’t want the students to do it but because we often have situations where teachers are asking to do things that are actually against privacy and other technology regulations. I wanted to make sure that the students were set up for success which meant I needed to do a little bit of research first.

As a leader, I’m a big fan of creating a Culture of Yes, but I think sometimes people think that a Culture of Yes means that we can do whatever we want. That’s not the case, which to me, makes a phrase like Culture of Yes a little misleading. It’s really a culture of let’s see how we can make this work, although I understand that phrase isn’t quite as catchy. In technology, in particular, there are rules and regulations that sometimes stop us from being able to do the things that we want to do whether those are district regulations or state/national laws. It’s my job to know those and see how we can still provide a top-notch level of service while working within those constraints. It’s also my job to help others understand an overview of these things so they get why exactly what they want to do may not be able to be done. 

I was so fortunate that the first time I was asked to do this type of thing was with this particular teacher because she may be the easiest person to work with ever. She wholeheartedly trusts what I have to say and knows that if I say it can’t be done there is a legitimate reason. I asked her to give me a few days to do some research and headed to the Twitterverse to see if I could find others who were doing this same thing. I received lots of “go for it!” messages which were awesome, but I needed to know how. Another tech director, George Sorrells, responded to me that warning bells would be going off for him as well, which validated that I had reason to try to frontload this project as much as possible. Again, this wasn’t about finding a way to say no, this was about finding a way to say yes and set students up for success. His idea to set the teacher up with an alias in Google was genius. That way the students wouldn’t have access to another Gmail account and the teacher could monitor all emails/messages/notifications from her own email instead of logging into something else. The students would use the alias account in conjunction with the teacher’s support to set up the accounts. 

The next order of business that I knew needed to happen was to have a meeting with the students along with getting a contract signed, which was another idea that I received from Twitter and Steven Anderson. I set up the students with a meeting. Ideally, the teacher/advisor would have been there as well, but finding a time where four people can meet throughout the day is nearly impossible. I met with her separately. 

During the meeting we discussed these additional points beyond going over the contract:

  • I gave the “with great power comes great responsibility speech.” It’s literally written in the contract as well.
  • Discussed how school districts were held to higher standards than other businesses because we work with children. Reiterated that they were representing the school district and anything that may typically seem ok on a personal account needed to be thought about extra hard.
  • Stressed the importance of staying away from sarcasm or anything that could be misinterpreted by anyone.
  • Most importantly: I told them we wanted them to do this. That it is an amazing opportunity to showcase the amazing things we know they do. That the guidelines that I was going through were to set them up for success. 

The students repeatedly thanked me for helping them and I really wanted to make sure they understood that we were in support of their positive and proper sharing 100%. I wanted them to simultaneously feel proud that they were chosen for this honor, but also know that we were proud of them for taking the leap and sharing their awesomeness. 

In some ways, this may have a follow-up post… something like, “What I’ve learned from allowing students to manage a district social media account.” As this hasn’t been done before in our district before, I am also putting myself knowingly on the line and taking a risk with something I have very little control over. However, we will learn together and move forward, and I am hopeful that this turns out to be an amazing experience for all of us. 

**You can find a copy of the contract here. Feel free to use as you wish. Please give credit when sharing out.

***Also on Twitter, Jennifer Casa-Todd, author of Social LEADia, recommended co-creating a contract with students. I think that is an amazing idea. Unfortunately, due to a time crunch, we weren’t able to do this together, but should definitely be the ultimate goal. I highly recommend if you do this that you get your district Technology Director involved in the process so they can not only be aware but they also will have some input as to certain pieces that need to be in the contract through their specific lens.

 

Leadership and the Art of Quiet Redirect

Yes, I know I had the phone the wrong way. 🙂

The Effect a Student Can Have

Tomorrow one of my favorite students ever leaves for the Air Force. He has spent the last couple of summers working for our department. He also managed our Genius Bar and helped me fix random tech issues. He made me laugh and never flinched when I would ask him a favor. He is the kind of kid you pray your own children to grow up to be like. Kind-hearted, and sweet, he never failed to make me smile.

When his summer tech position ended through the department, he asked if he could continue working for us. I wanted to allow it so badly, unfortunately, we didn’t have a board-approved position for him to take. So instead of being irritated that he did all that work and couldn’t continue, he came back to volunteer and would spend nearly every day at the elementary working with kids, reading to them, and fixing their tech. For free. He has no interest in education, no reason to be there besides just to help. When he could have been playing XBox for the last few months before leaving for boot camp, he gave back to the schools with expecting nothing in return.

Tomorrow he leaves and today I spent trying not to cry. I used every strategy I knew during the Veteran’s Day Celebration when they recognized him for everything he has done for the school. I bit my lip. I took deep breaths until I thought I would pass out. It didn’t matter. Crying was inevitable. I think about the people who don’t come back from military service the same physically and mentally. I think about his sweet personality and how I don’t want it to change. And knowing it possibly will, I am crushed. So proud of the boy who is making a choice that I would never have the guts to do, but still so devastated.

As I was thinking about this on the way home and how deeply wounded I felt by this former student leaving, I was thankful for the discomfort and sadness because it meant that even through some of the irritation with my position or the areas where our system lacks in general or the constant, exhausting work of being an educator, I know I still belong here because anything that affects a person this deeply means you really care. When you have students that leave and you cry, it also means that at points they made you equally as happy. While you hope that you have affected their lives, you know they have affected yours. And this raw emotion that students can cause…that is why we teach: those connections that are so deep that it causes physical pain when you’re afraid something may happen to them. We are so lucky to work in an environment where we have the chance to make connections that can cause such an emotional effect because the alternative is working through our days feeling numb, and I would choose to feel any day.

So tomorrow he’ll leave and today I’ll be sad, but I’ll also try to find some solace in the knowledge that the pain is there because I made a connection, and without those feelings, I wouldn’t be an educator.

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Five Questions to Aid in Deep Reflection

While going through the editing process for Divergent EDU my editor left me a comment in an area where I alluded to divergent thinkers using deep reflection to develop their core beliefs. She told me to give readers examples of questions that they could ask themselves to drive deep reflection. My first thought was that deep reflection is so personal, how could I give anyone directions on how to do it? But I started to pay attention to my own line of thinking while I reflect, and I think there are some questions that can be used to guide deep reflection in a variety of situations, even though the path of the reflection is very personal to the one doing it. It took me until I was an adult to figure out how to deeply reflect. Nobody taught me how to do it and the only reason I know now is that I made it a mission to discover what deep reflection could do for me. Deep reflection is also one of the five characteristics of a divergent teacher that Elisabeth Bostwick and I laid out in this blog post.

Deeply Reflective – Divergent teachers recognize that significant growth cannot happen without taking time for deep reflection. They know how they reflect best, whether it’s through writing, meditating, or driving quietly in their car on the way home. They have strategies in place to allow them to take the time and hold reflection in high regards as one of the reasons they are who they are professionally. Deep reflection goes beyond what could go differently in a recent lesson. It also leads an educator down the path of discovering how their own beliefs and assumptions affect what they do in the classroom or how they perceive and communicate with others. Understanding the difference between surface-level reflection and deep reflection is an integral part of divergent thought. Once you understand what you believe, how it affects what you do and how you are perceived, it is easier to change your behavior and push yourself forward.

So often we regard the question, “How could things have gone differently/better?” as the be-all and end-all of reflective thought. It’s a fine place to start but does not necessarily lead us down a path of reflection that will end with how our involvement affected the ending. It still gives us the room to blame other people or things for anything that may have gone wrong. Deep reflection begins with questions that force us to think deeper about a situation. We may use just one of these questions or a few, but the result will be our discovery of adjustments or changes we can make within ourselves to change the trajectory of similar situations moving forward.

Is there something in my own personal or professional journey that is creating an assumption or bias?
Lately, there has been special attention brought to how our journeys and personal stories affect the way we act, believe, and teach. I am 100% in support of that being the case (as proven by my book The Fire Within). After all, it’s our differences that make us stronger together. However, it’s also our journeys that have embedded certain assumptions and biases into our thinking. It is nearly impossible to operate completely without them, but it is important that we recognize if there are internal drivers for decisions we make and the interactions we have that may be affecting them in a negative way. Recognizing assumptions and biases and opening ourselves up to testing them in favor of finding alternative ways of handling situations will move us to more effective decision-making and divergent thought.

Are my expectations appropriate?
This reflection path will most likely be followed up with additional questions that can range from logistical (Have I provided them with the professional learning opportunities they need to do what I’m asking them to do?) to spiritual (Is there something in their past/current situation that makes this change/decision/action difficult and they may need more emotional support?). In order to answer this question completely, you may need to gather additional information and return to the reflection. Another question that would fit into this category: Do I have the right to have my expectation of this person, or should it be up to them to set their own expectations upon themselves?

What could I have adjusted to create a possible alternative ending?
In Wisconsin, if you are in a motor vehicle accident and you have gotten rear-ended, you are still partially at fault. Why? How could this be when you were just sitting there waiting for the light or parked legally minding your own business? Because you were there. Because had you not been in that spot, the accident wouldn’t have happened. Every situation that we reflect on is similar to this concept. We have had a part in the outcome. Sometimes, it’s something major that affects relationships, breaks trust, or perpetuates a negative feeling. Sometimes it’s as little as an unintended initial reaction or facial expression. There is always something that we can adjust in order to adapt to any situation and possibly change the ending. Deep reflection allows to see these things and create an alternative ending when it happens again in the future.

Do I have something to apologize for?
A friend once told me, “I don’t like to apologize because it’s hard.” But I feel like if it’s really that difficult, that usually means it’s the right thing to do. Something being hard should never stop us from doing the right thing and sometimes that means swallowing our pride and apologizing. An important follow-up question is: Am I really sorry or am I just saying it to move on? Also, just saying I’m sorry really isn’t enough. When the apology isn’t specific, it loses some of its power. It needs to be truly authentic and the added specificity will help the person know that you’ve given it thought and you know where you went wrong. If you just apologize just to satisfy someone or move past a bad situation, people will know. I have actually said these words: “I’m sorry that I made a decision that didn’t make sense to you at the time. Not only did I allow other situations around me influence the decision that affected you, but I didn’t give you the information you needed to see why I was making the decision. For all that, I am sorry.” Also, just because you reflect and process and decide an apology is necessary, don’t forget that the person you’re apologizing to may need additional time to reflect and process the apology depending on the severity of the situation. Be reflective enough to understand that just because you’ve decided to say you’re sorry doesn’t mean that the other person is ready to accept it.

What did I do that went really right?
Deep reflection doesn’t always mean we are looking for ways we have screwed up. It’s just as important to remember and celebrate what went well so we can replicate it if similar situations would come up in the future. If we never celebrate the great things we do we will live with the anxiety that nothing we ever do is right and that’s certainly not true of anyone. The trick is to find the balance between recognizing what went right and what could be adjusted in order to find our areas for growth while still remaining positive about what we accomplish.

True, deep reflection is a skill that needs to be practiced. Some people do it during quiet, alone time and some need to write it down to work through it. It’s not always a fun process as we are looking for ways we can improve or situations we may have negatively impacted, but the amount of personal and professional growth that can be experienced is exceedingly rewarding. There are few other activities that can have such a lasting impact on how our relationships function and our decision-making process.

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The Value We Place on Leadership Traits

I have been paying special attention lately to what I need to do to be a good leader and in order to do that, I need to reflect on the leadership around me, the leadership I see online, and on the qualities that I possess within myself. This seems obvious, right? But many times we do not pay attention to the leadership qualities that others need from us. I believe that good leaders find the qualities that others need from them and adjust to those people rather than remain stagnant.

Within this reflection and in the experiences I’ve had both in being a leader and being lead (or managed, depending) I’ve realized that I value trust first (as most people do, I think), but more than anything else, I need to know that my leader has my back all the time.  If I don’t have that, the rest of their strengths in leadership become a lot less effective to me. When speaking to one of my mentors I asked him the same question. He said he values open communication above all else and a leader having his back is less important to him. Ironically, for me “having someone’s back” is a strength of mine and for him, open communication is one of his strengths. So, two questions have come out of this for me: 1) How can we be more effective leaders if everyone places a varying amount of value on certain characteristics and 2) Do we value leadership characteristics based on our strengths OR do we value them based on our own past experiences with other leaders (or both)?

I believe that our ultimate goal should be able to encompass all leadership qualities and then adjust to what others need in a leader by focusing in on those specific needs. In my book Divergent EDU (coming soon), I describe both characteristics of a great leader from 10 Powerful Habits of Highly Effective Leaders (Peter Economy, INC) and my added characteristics of a great educational leader. Some of the traits described in the book are:

Highly Effective Leaders
Confident but not arrogant
Sensitive and responsive to others
Determined
Supportive
Persuasive communicator

Additional Characteristics for Edu Leaders
Empathetic and compassionate
Understands appropriate communicative differences
Recognizes themselves as a servant
Truly and authentically reflective
Recognizes trust as essential

So, back to question number one: how can we be more effective leaders if everyone places a varying amount of value on certain characteristics? I think there are a few things we can do. First, we need to be reflective and know what it is we truly value in a leader and if there are certain leadership qualities we hold above all others. Second, we need to be able to effectively communicate that to our leaders. I truly believe this can be as blatant as “One leadership quality I really value above all else is…” Third, as leaders, we need to be aware enough that the people we lead may need things from us that will take more effort for us to discover and more time on relationships to discover them. And that isn’t their fault for valuing other things, it’s just our responsibility if we want to be servant leaders. It is also our responsibility to ask if we don’t understand what someone needs when they express what is important to them. If you don’t know what I mean by having my back, ask me for examples.

As far as question two: do we value leadership characteristics based on our strengths OR do we value them based on our own past experiences with other leaders (or both)? That I don’t have an answer to. I think that we the reason we develop certain thoughts and ideas is very personal and has more to do with our journey than we might even realize. I know for both myself and my mentor the value we placed on certain characteristics had to do with being lead by people who did not do those things for us. The absence of those qualities made it obvious to us that that’s what we needed. In this case, knowing how you feel best supported and communicating that to your leadership may be more important than knowing how we got there.

I’ve found that, in general, usually when people have specific needs it’s because there was a hole that was created there at some point. Leadership is really no different. I believe we all value certain qualities more than others. The important part is knowing what those are and how we can make sure we are both giving what we can and communicating what we need to really build those trusting relationships that leadership relies on.

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The Little Things that Make a Difference

I have a 1-hour commute each day to work. I despise it more than words can describe. It is roughly an additional 10 hours out of my week that I can get very little done. It is a true hour-long commute. Any traffic simply makes it longer. Last summer there was construction on one of the main roads that I couldn’t avoid which added an additional 15 to 20 minutes to the commute. I was so glad this year when the construction seemed to be finished and my commute went back to being only an hour-until they started putting up signs that they were doing more construction. Again, this added 15 to 20 minutes of additional time as the construction workers stop us and wait for oncoming traffic as the two-lane road went down to one. It has made me late to appointments and meetings more than once as it’s never consistent as to when they will stop you and for how long. For someone who already despises her hour-long commute, this can be super frustrating.

Two weeks ago I was on the road for construction and one of the people who was holding the stop sign was all bundled up and looked like she was freezing. We had a freeze warning the night before and after all, this is Wisconsin. I believe it was a balmy 38 degrees that morning. I was crabby, I’m not going to lie. I was running late already. It was cold and even though I’ve never lived there, I’m a Florida girl at heart. I had been sitting in line for 10 minutes waiting for our chance to be able to pass the first section knowing there were at least two more coming up. When I passed the stop sign construction worker I noticed she was intentionally looking at every car, at every driver, and smiling and waving. And this little act seemed so out of character for the workers I had seen previously, so random, that it made me smile. Smile at a time where I began to seriously wonder if the frown creases on my face we’re going to be permanent. It lifted my spirits for a moment. But honestly, I didn’t think of it again for the rest of the day.

The next day I came to that patch of construction and noticed the same lady was there. Again, she looked at every driver and smiled and waved in her stocking cap and her thick coat and scarf – bundled up like it was the dead of winter but still with a warm smile and a wave. I thought to myself I would absolutely hate that job. I would be miserable out there standing for hours moving a sign in the cold just watching people get angry at me. Her actions made it so obvious that happiness in our everyday life is so often a choice. And spreading that happiness to other people is also a choice. I’m not talking about in our worst of times because everyone has the right to feel what they do when something bad happens, but I’m talking about the times in our day when we are put in regular situations that we have little to no control over, we still do have a choice in how we react. Considering her job standing on the highway in the freezing cold inadvertently making people late for they’re morning meetings and things to do, she chose a simple gesture of smiling and waving hoping that it might make one person smile and wave back.

For the last 2 weeks, I’ve watched for that woman because I find her amazing. And I feel a little bit of disappointment when she isn’t there because there are some days that I feel like I really need someone to smile and wave at me.

My friend, Jeff Kubiak, often does something similar to this on Twitter. He does the equivalent of a construction wave when he posts an inspirational saying and there are times that the inspiration is exactly what I need when I need it. His quirky and loveable “Yo” he uses after many of his sentences always makes me smile. Jeff does this for many of us, I’m sure. And if Jeff is anything like me (because I released The Fire Within for much of the same reason) you do something like that and you just pray but it makes a positive difference in one person’s day. Especially when we all know that our days in education don’t always feel like we’re making a positive difference and people don’t always tell us when we are.

Every interaction we have with others will create a relationship for better or worse. Focusing on the little actions we take to create positive relationships is imperative because the re

Sometimes it’s easy to slip into a pattern where we feel a little numb because we’re so busy and just trying to get through, but those little feels of kindness and positivity and a smile we get throughout the day can make the difference in how our day turns out. And ideally, that positivity would not be something that comes as a surprise or catches us off-guard but would be something that we feel so wrapped up in all the time that we notice when we don’t feel it.

I don’t shy away from taking an opportunity that I see to bring positivity to someone’s day, but I am going to put forth more effort to be proactive in finding those opportunities. If we want to talk about being a change agent or a catalyst for change we have to be the ones to put the effort in that maybe others aren’t willing, but when they see the impact it makes they will be more likely to put forth the effort themselves. Everybody could be a little bit more construction lady; a little bit more Jeff.

 

When Distrust Follows the Position

I’ve been the Director of Innovation and Technology for two full years in my district and I’m a few months into my third. When I began my position in this new-to-me district, I went in wide-eyed, naive and excited. I had finally made it into an administrative role where I could develop my own leadership style and support teachers which in turn would positively affect the learning for so many students.  I was convinced that everyone would see the passion and excitement I felt, but it didn’t exactly work that way. I immediately ran into a roadblock; I wasn’t trusted by the staff because the position itself wasn’t trusted. I came in looking to move forward, but I was actually already behind the 8-ball.

I don’t honestly know why, and although I can speculate some of the reasonings, spending time doing that does little more than give me something to blame, which isn’t useful. I do know that the majority of the mistrust didn’t have much to do with me personally because nobody knew me. If anything, it had more to do with my outsiderness. When I’ve reflected on the experience, I know that there were a few necessary but unpopular decisions that the previous tech director made that I had to initiate, which fell back onto me and didn’t help the trust factor. That being said, when I began this job, there was an obvious distrust for me that was initially attached to the position I held.

There are definitely times when a new person comes into a district where they inherit the trust (or lack thereof) that was built by someone else. While this definitely isn’t fair, the unfairness doesn’t make it less true. If an administrator (and I’ll pick on them because these are often the positions we see this happen to the most) comes in and their predecessor has been weak in leadership qualities, didn’t spend much time in the classroom, or treated people poorly, the new administrator will have a more difficult time changing the perception of them in that position than an administrator who is replacing someone who had built up the trust already. If a new person replaces someone who was not trusted, there may be camps of people who are anywhere from cautiously optimistic to downright mistrustful, no matter the background or previous track record of the newbie. They will rarely come into the position with the trust they had earned elsewhere or even the trust they deserve.

Again, unfair? Maybe. But, I guarantee that if this happens to you, the best course of action is first to get over the unfairness of it all. Living in that feeling will only grate on your nerves and cause you stress and will do nothing to build up the trust you so desperately want. If anything, the attitude that accompanies that feeling will do quite the opposite.

I read this quote by Patrick Lencioni (author of books like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) today:

The key ingredient to building trust is not time. It’s courage.

I slightly (and respectfully) disagree but only because I think you need both.

Have the courage to do the opposite of what you might feel and begin doing all the things you know that good leaders should do. Be kind to people even if they aren’t always kind to you. Let go of negative interactions, be reflective on how communication can be more positive the next time, and try again. And again. And again. Assume positive intent. Surprise people with your proactiveness, your ability to appear when they need you most, and show compassion where others might not. Have difficult conversations as they are a way of building trust (see this blog post). Apologize when you’re wrong, no matter how difficult and pride swallowing that might be. Be strong. Be supportive. Be the leader you would want to have in a difficult time. And just when you’re exhausted and you start to wonder what you’re doing wrong, you will begin to see little changes; more people saying hi to you in the halls or people asking you to join them for lunch just because they enjoy your company. Building trust takes time and being courageous enough to fight our initial negative emotions and do what’s right. We want it to be fast, especially when we don’t believe ourselves to be the initial cause, but the only control we have over when others change their perceptions is the relentless fight we put up in convincing them to change. It has to be us that keeps on a steady path doing the right things and being a foundational support to make that happen. It has taken me two years and three-and-a-half months, and I’m just beginning to getting there.

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Whose Life Are We Preparing Our Kids For?

I had flown down to St. Louis over the weekend for the #DigCitSummit and my layover in Chicago was met with a pleasant surprise. There were no less than 70-80 Navy sailors in full uniform. They looked beautiful and nearly surreal in their uniforms and groups. I had never seen sailors in real life and I found it difficult not to stare.

Some of them were on the flight with me to St. Louis and I followed them off the plane. When I was able to really look at them, I noticed how young they looked. They were clearly just coming back from boot camp. As per usual when I see someone in the military, I think about how they have enrolled in a program that protects our country and they put their lives on the line to protect me and my family. It makes me feel both proud and humbled.

However, this time I was on my way to a conference to discuss education and I started to think about how old they are. Maybe 19? Which means that the year prior, they had to ask to go to the bathroom. They had very little choice or freedoms. Ironically, they were now in a place to protect the thing that they didn’t have not that long prior. And it made me think…are we really setting our students up for all kinds of life after school?

Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe that we should be running our schools like a military boot camp. I’m more addressing the opportunities we give our students to show their maturity, make good choices, get to know themselves so well that they know after high school that they are making the right choices for themselves? Do we lay down rules for everyone when one or two students break them? Create a glass ceiling on our students? Understand that some of them are dealing with adult issues under the rules of being a child? Do we help them find their passions? Do we prepare our students so well that a year after high school that they could choose a career where they could be sent into battle?

My summer intern through our tech department joined the Air Force recently. I am so unbelievably proud of him and heartbroken all at the same time. He is an incredibly intelligent, put-together, wise-beyond-his-years young man, but I still pray that we have prepared him for the amazing but intense life choice he has made. Have we realized that post-high school our students need more than academics? Have we helped them develop resilience? Relentlessness? Self-worth? Discipline? Have we prepared them for life after high school, no matter what that life is?

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