“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”–Helen Keller
I have grown accustomed to and welcome change as part of the stretching and growing of life. In all of the places my adventures have taken me, roots have grown quickly and attachments made. In the last six years of this journey, I have been saturated with the culture and customs of the Deep South. I have learned more about leadership, history, compassion, and perspective than I ever thought possible. These experiences have deepened my convictions in some areas and changed my mind in others. The South provided me a place to heal, to grow, to stitch together my heart, and build life-long relationships, both personally and professionally.
In the last year, my values and goals have continued to clarify. Physical separation from my extended family has taken its toll on my heart. Even while engaging in incredible leadership experiences through the pandemic and loving so much of my life and work in Atlanta, the yearning for home has won out. Through counsel, discernment, and beautiful twist of providence, I have the opportunity to go home and continue my learning and leadership journey.
In July of this year, I will take the helm of the Lower School at Sandy Spring Friends School. A school I have admired from afar for many years for its mission and commitment to progressive education, diversity and belonging, and incredible campus committed to creation stewardship. The opportunity to learn and grow with a new community all the while renewing my proximity to my beloved family is a gift I simply couldn’t have imagined.
A more formal set of thoughts of gratitude for my southern adventure will come in due course. There is too much good work to be done before moving along (no lame ducks, here.) But as for now, I celebrate this bittersweet announcement with joy and thankfulness.
If you haven’t yet checked out the comedic stylings of Jason Sudekis and company in the incredible show, Ted Lasso, please stop everything and watch! Not only has this show provided “spit milk through your nose” level laughter, but there are also some serious takeaways for leaders. While Brené Brown cataloged quite a bit in her Unlocking Us Interview, here are just a few lessons I learned from Ted.
Ted: I’m not exactly sure what y’all’s smallest unit of measurement is over here, but that’s about how much headway I made.
Change takes time and often the teeniest steps feel laborious. Being a change maker can’t always been measured in immediate results. Nuance matters.
Hey, takin’ on a challenge is a lot like ridin’ a horse. If you’re comfortable while you’re doin’ it, you’re probably doin’ it wrong.
Change and challenge force us to lean into situations of discomfort. While we we want to provide spaces for psychological safety, we have to model healthy risks for our teams and for our students. I had a former boss once give me counsel, “if you’ve made everyone happy, you’re doing it wrong.”
You beating yourself up is like Woody Allen playing the clarinet. I don’t want to hear it.
Being the leader can be lonely and hard. While we make concerted efforts to provide affirmation and emotional support for our teachers and students, it is not a regular part of our receiving list. I also tend to be someone who wears my heart on the outside–I consider this a positive trait, but it does mean that I might self-flagellate just a little more than the next gal. Beating ourselves up doesn’t help us move forward.
for the love of meghan markle, do not blow that whistle again…
The one gave me quite the chuckle, but…as leaders we need to know when to call uncle. If we keep blowing our whistle and not getting results, we need to look for a new path, a fresh perspective, or a new set of rules.
be curious, not judgmental…ted lasso or maybe walt whitman?!
They say this quote is attributed to Walt Whitman, but I’ll happily attach it to Ted. Regardless, this is perhaps the most profound scene in the first season of the series. I won’t give it away because I really think you should watch the show. (If you must google-it’s the darts scene.) It is so easy to be quick to judge, no matter the scenario, but I’ve found that curiosity makes fantastic inroads for understanding another person or tackling a problem. Leadership + Designuses the phrase ‘be more curious than certain’ which I steal regularly. I am not the expert, but I will always be in pursuit of learning.
Ted Lasso has a persistent optimism that is both realistic and visionary. If our circumstances in the last eight months have taught us nothing (ha!), they have certainly taught us that optimism that is balanced with practicality and curiosity is going to get us through these turbulent times. Oh, and shortbread doesn’t hurt either.
Like every school in the country, we are in the process of reimagining, pivoting, and renewing each day to respond to the global pandemic. I have been so impressed with our faculty as they have made micro-adjustments each day to refine our new schedule, routines, and spaces. I’m in awe of our children who are so naturally resilient and have no troubles wearing the mask or separating in the classroom.
Strong teaching and engaged learning is happening both at school and at home. Joy effuses all around us even as we reimagine much of our day. Each day this week has brought new opportunities to strengthen our practices. It reminds me a lot of the best scene from Friends ever—Pivot! Pivot! What I’ve found that is a little different than Ross, Rachel, and Chandler moving a couch, is the commitment of our teachers to do what it takes to make it all work and stay attuned to the needs of students.
The next step is to stay attuned to our adult needs for rest. I have read numerous articles about pandemic burnout and it is mission critical that we recognize the ebb and flow of stress in order assure our physical and mental health. I found my own self neglecting this over the last month and it came to pass that my own body said, “halt” this week. An extra few hours of sleep and a good dose of broccoli were keys to a quick renewal. A close attention to practices for rejuvenation will be key for all of the grown ups in the lives of our students. The children, too, will be asked to shift their daily life, too.
I’ve heard from parents and friends who are parents talk about how their family priorities have changed in the last six months. They have considered refocusing what matters and renewed a commitment to family time. The cancellation or shifting of lots of extra curricular activities and athletics has forced some of these changes but has also given the space to breath and discern what is most important to us.
While most school administrators did not have a summer for true rest, we did have the opportunity to reimagine. What will our school look like, feel like, sound like as we respond to the every moving needle of the pandemic? We set our plans, gleaned feedback and reimagined again—almost as if we are in an continuous design thinking loop. And now, with our steadfast teachers alongside, we continue to reimagine, pivot, rest, and repeat.
What routines work to help you renew in order to have strength to reimagine and pivot?
This was a summer filled with hours and hours of planning. Like all those involved in education, it was atypical at best with little chance for respite, and yet, my commitment to summer reading (and #learnwithoutceasing) continued as best as possible. This summer, I made a commitment to diversify my bookshelf and read predominately authors of color. And, some incredible listens and watches from this summer, too. Here’s what I was able to fit in…
Self-Reg: How to Help (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life-Dr. Stuart Shanker (An important read for all those who love, raise, and/or work with children. How might we strip the labels away and get to the roots of behavior to increase self-regulation? Dr. Shanker of the MEHRIT Centre talks us through it.)
Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You-Jason Reynolds’ remix of Ibram X. Kendi’s original Stamped (Another one sitting read and should be required 8th grade reading across America. The prophetic and deep voice of Jason Reynolds combined with the research of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.)
Untamed–Glennon Doyle* (If you’ve been a devotee of Glennon, have caught Morning Meeting with Ms. G., you might just see yourself in some of these stories.)
So You Want to Talk About Race–Ijeoma Oluo (Of all of the books on race I read this summer, this is my favorite. Honest, practical, and deeply important for those doing the work.)
How to be an Anti-Racist-Ibram X. Kendi* (Started this when it first came out and picked it up again as it hit the best seller lists. An interesting look at the definitions of racism and antiracism across multiple contexts. A consideration of dismantling power and systems before changing hearts.)
Waking Up White-Debby Irving* (Listened to and read. Mrs. Irving’s narrative of her own awakening to White Privilege and the ways she lived without racial identity. A good primer for those still not understanding WP or responding with “I’m a good person” in matters of race.)
The Fire Next Time–James Baldwin (as read by Jesse Martin, this was my first experience with Baldwin before I dig deep into Eddie S. Glaude, Jr’s Begin Again. Incredible narrative of Baldwin’s experiences.)
Between the World and Me-Ta-Nehisi Coates (His letter to his son. Gripping, vulnerable, honest, authentic, and true. I had this one on the shelf for a long time, but listening to him read it himself was remarkable.
Hope Through History podcast-Jon Meacham (My favorite presidential historian walks us through pivotal moments of history that serve as hope amid turmoil. I am wildly anticipating his new biography of John Lewis due in October.)
Evolving Faith podcast-Sarah Bessey & Jeff Chu (In a series of replays from the Evolving Faith Conference, these two brilliant theologian-speaker-uplifters walk us through ever-growing faith. The Austin Channing Brown talk will make your hair stand on end.)
A Brave Space with Dr. Meeks podcast–Dr. Catherine Meeks (Dr. Meeks of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing at the Diocese of Atlanta engages in conversations about racial reconciliation. Highly recommend the episode with Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright.)
Unlocking Us with Brené Brown (Sister Brené as I like to call her, never fails to engage inspired conversations. Her conversation with David Kessler left me speechless.)
Aspen Ideas Festival Livestream (Held over five nights on YouTube, these conversations and big ideas were a 90 minute intellectual escape)
Good Trouble–a documentary on the life of John Lewis (amazon prime)
We are just a few days away from the official last day of school. It will look/feel/sound different, but that is pretty much the norm for much of what we do not just at school but in our own worlds. We are in a constant state of pivot. And grounding ourselves in our mission, our passion, and our commitment to serving our constituencies can lend itself to anxiety, fear, sadness, and flat out exhaustion. And yet, we lead on.
In a study of my own core values, when I mine down deep (using Brene or Elena’s value mining exercises), I land on integrity, humor, and courage. If you expand you add authenticity, vulnerability, faith, optimism, gratitude, and independence. If there was ever a time to stretch and exercise our values, now is it. There are times when my honesty (driven by practicality) has caused sadness in others and for this, I feel regret. There are times when my optimism has been taken as Pollyanna, and for that, I feel pride-it means that it’s making people think.
In the last ten weeks, we’ve (the global we) have seen world leaders respond to the global pandemic in a spectrum of ways-allowing their core values to show through in their response. From a non-political but sociological lens, I’ve found myself captivated by the study of comparative responses and how those are interpreted by constituencies. How much of ourselves do we share with our people? How much of ourselves to we hold back?
“Crying is a nonverbal way of saying, ‘I need help and support,’” Professor Wolf said. Tears can make a leader appear more relatable and “warmer”; they can also make a leader seem helpless and less competent, she said.
What struck me is that way that it places leaders in a challenging position of being authentic to themselves, or, putting on a front. I think what this time in our world has shown us is that you can be both. As with all things, it takes nuance.
“This means that thoughtfully revealing your humanity is fine, but permitting yourself an emotional catharsis in public is not. Airing your own anxieties in front of your followers is distracting, destabilizing, and destructive. People can’t be excited about following you if they believe you are defined by doubt and fear.”
“Courage, dear heart”, as Lucy hears in hears in her head in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; leaders take on courage to make the hardest decisions. We employ courage to know that no decision we make will please everyone, and grounded in mission, we walk forward. We do so with confidence, even if in our inner worlds we have sadness, fear, or pain. We must. And, we must continue to GIVE courage and confidence to our communities so that they can work through their own process and walk with us.
This is not just true in pandemic days but all the time. But the pandemic has amplified everything. It has placed leaders under a microscope in a way that sometimes minimizes their human frailty. But, I hold firm in that authenticity is key. As a person with a heart firmly worn on the outside (enneagram 4, anyone?), I must stay true to my core values of integrity, humor, and courage. I will continue to tell you what I can, when I can, in a way that is not intended to cause fear or anger. I will continue to place a high value on laughter. And I will continue to offer buckets of courage, especially if your bucket is a bit low.
Leading is not for the faint of heart. It is not for the cellophane of skin. It is the hardest work you’ll ever love. And onward, we go.
“The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.”-Erich Fromm
We are waiting. We are waiting for an understanding of when we can regather, if we can congregate, where we can go, what we can do safely. Looking at all the data, an abundance of caution is crucial for our continued health and safety. So we wait.
And while we wait, it is so easy to focus on the losses and the grief. And while I’m not particularly advocating for a Pollyanna perspective to our current realities, I wonder if we can focus on the changed things around us that are good, creative, optimistic, and perhaps even beneficial things coming out of this time period?
We have been in conversations about the “what ifs” at our school since the beginning of our distance learning. End of the year events, milestone moments, graduation…all things we have considered or are considering. We grieve the loss of some and celebrate the reinvention of others.
Our intentional emphasis on a balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning has shown us the value of being flexible with time and focusing on high-quality feedback loops. It is not the same, but we can glean amazing data for how we might continue to hone and enhance our practices both together and apart.
Maybe is such a frustrating word, especially in a time where control and certainty are in short supply. But, what if that maybe became a source of creativity and inspiration? What if it allowed us to really consider the wheat and the chaff of things?
Today is “National Superhero Day.” I’m not exactly sure who decided this be it Hallmark, Marvel, or DC Comics….but I wish I could deliver 143 capes to the faculty and staff of my school. They are modeling resiliency, creativity, and flexibility in a world of maybes. They think about the hard things and grapple with ways to reinvent and reenvision for their students. They are all superheroes to me.
At some point, our maybes will slow down and then perhaps rise up again. We will ride the roller coaster together, sometimes in the same seat or sometimes taking turns. And trust that maybe won’t last forever.
For the last two weeks, I have enjoyed the Facebook Live conversations between The Instructional Coaching Group’s Jim Knight and other leaders in the field of teaching, coaching, and leadership. Last week, I relished in the language of resilience shared by Elena Aguilar. This week, one of my all time favorite leadership and change management gurus, Michael Fullan, was the guest. It was replete with takeaways and my back and forth side conversations with my dear colleague, Marsha, and my OD/LD Consultant mom, were nerdy delight.
While the takeaways were many, one of that I continue to dwell on is a quote from Fullan, “In times of change, leaders must be both an expert and an apprentice.” He targeted the traits of humility, growth mindset, and trust as important qualities a leader must possess to be successful at all times, but particularly in times of crisis. How might we show up and leave a meeting both with answers and questions?
This is one of my favorite elements of leadership. I can share my ideas, experience, research, or passion all day long, but I want to empower YOU to do the same. What questions or ideas can you bring to the table that perhaps I haven’t considered with my one mind?
In these weeks of distance learning, I still feel intellectually or emotionally confident in some areas. However, there are some other areas where I am learning things like a newbie. This is what it means to learn without ceasing. I’m never done learning new things.
In a meeting today with our incredible specials team, I was comfortable enough to say, “we talked through so many ideas, let me ask the team what we decided” and “hmmm, let’s ask the other team.” What yielded was a stronger plan, empowered teachers, and confidence and trust in their work.
We are all becoming masters of learning on the fly and the more we become comfortable with our apprentice mindset, the stronger we will grow.
I spent ten years of my life training for, competing in, and coaching runners for marathons. In the span of ten years, I went from a casual 5k runner to a marathoner on a quest to qualify for the Boston marathon. While I never reached that particular goal, I learned so many valuable lessons in that decade that apply not only to my continued running, my coaching of MS and HS cross country runners but also, and perhaps more importantly, every day life.
I’ve heard many people describe this time of distance learning and social isolation as a marathon, not a sprint. Corollaries have also been drawn to the longer endurance races like centuries, 100k’s, and Ironman. Having completed the latter, I can see that, too. So here are some bullet points of lessons that may just serve us well in this time, and perhaps someday when we get back to running marathons again. Be that the marathon of the day, or the one that takes our feet across the pavement for a few hours.
Pace yourself. Even if that means starting slower. If you are in for the long haul, you have to assure that you won’t fizzle out. Start slow, work up to comfort, and then push yourself now and again.
Hydrate. Yes, literally, we as a society need more water and drink up, my friends. But also, water your spirit-do what you need to find the joy in what you do. Nutrition goes here, too, feeding not only your body with good, whole foods , but your soul, put goodness into your soul to send goodness out.
Rest. Sometimes in training for running, you need more rest than you realize. I would often tell runners, better to take an extra day of rest you choose than to be forced into rest by injury or burn out. Proper sleep-not over sleep-and giving yourself permission to say no to the extra zoom happy hour (if you’re an introvert like me) or yes to the nappuchino is good.
Trust the process. This not only works for Nick Saban and University of Alabama football, but for all of us. Learning is about process. Running a marathon is about process. The final grade or the finish line time are just a by-product. We learn and grow within the process. We are all learning this new reality while we are delivering and supporting the process. This isn’t how it usually works, but what is usual is the reflection upon the process, not just product. We will takes steps forward, back, and sideways. We will have great days. We will have terrible days. They are all integral to the process.
In these days of constant change around us, we can hone in on the basics-pace, hydrate, rest, and trust. And while the results won’t always fall into place, we know we can fall back onto these important tenants to keep ourselves moving onward.
Every week, I share an update with the division that has a little bit of inspiration, a little bit of learning, and a few logistics. In the last four weeks, my counterpart and I have shared messages with our divisional families. It is my goal that each week, I share openly about our work, our lives, our realities, and this week, in particular, I wanted to address our woes with openness and honesty. It is so important to honor and own the fact that every teacher, leader, parent, and child is facing unprecedented emotional experiences in addition to the practicalities of our new routines.
I believe in resilience. I believe in optimism. I believe in acknowledging wherever we might be in our hearts, souls, and minds. I believe in the power of ice cream. I believe in the power of rest. I believe in the power of openness, even if the sharing acknowledges hardship.
Here’s what I sent this week:
“Perspective is a product of experience”–attrib. Brené Brown
As we enter week four of our new reality, I am in awe of the incredible way that our Trinity community has demonstrated flexibility, resilience, and creativity. I have heard your stories of creative problem solving, new routines, and seen evidence of student learning throughout our various platforms. I have heard stories of difficulty and worry, too, and that is to be honored and embraced as well. I suspect that as we go through the continued weeks apart, we will continue to experience a myriad of emotions and responses, not only to the work of school and learning but to life in general.
As a podcast junkie, I am always listening to something, but Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast has been significantly meaningful in these first few weeks. Her quotation above speaks directly to what we are facing globally. We do not have the perspective of having lived a global pandemic and as such, it can lead us to fear or anxiety. What we do know is that the human spirit, particularly in children, is remarkably resilient. In a webinar with SAIS this week, psychologist Michael Thompson spoke beautifully about the resiliency of children and their ability to come out of this new experience stronger. I found comfort in his reminder.
This week, we will focus on a routine for learning that we hope to remain consistent for the rest of our days out of the building. This was part of our intentional method to find the “goldilocks” space for distance learning. We continue to evaluate and relish feedback from our families. This week is Virtual Spirit Week to bring a bit of levity to our homes and screens before we head into a well-deserved four day weekend. May this week bring you joy and a peaceful holiday.
And to our teachers in the UED:
This new reality is challenging for all of us. As the global collective, we have no roadmap for a pandemic. Our perspective is being built each day. It is tapping into zones of resilience, creativity, and problem-solving we may have never known we had. It has created moments of great joy and deep anxiety. I encourage you to articulate both sides of these feelings-to me, to your team, to your trusted folks. This is not the time to suffer in silence, nor is it the time to focus on only the negative of these times. You are rising to the challenge, my friends, and it is a sight to behold.
This week is the first of what we hope to become our routine schedule for our continued distance learning. Live it this week and provide feedback to ALT as you have time. It is also Spirit Week wherein we hope to remind our community of the joy that knits us together. I encourage you to participate each day as you are able.
You’ve heard this said in every team meeting last week, and it is written below, but please take Friday and Monday off. Whether you are celebrating Passover, Easter, or just observing rest time, please do so. It is critical that we use these days for renewal for the continued realities ahead.
How are you communicating around the emotional elements of this crisis with your families and teams? Share with me: @teach2connect
Every plan is different. Every plan is right. Every plan is wrong. These are some of the broad generalizations I have learned in the last few days of our new realities of distance learning and separation. While I feel very confident that our leadership team and teachers have made the right decision to provide a slow roll-out, of course, we are all craving time with one another, especially our students. As we’ve had these initial video conversations this week, I see the spark in the eyes of some of our children and hear the messages that clearly harken to introvert (I love distance learning! I can work at my own pace. I can be in my own space.) vs. extrovert (I miss my friends. I miss the lunchroom. This is not my favorite.) divide.
This has led me to think deeply about the changes in the role of school as the center of community in the last 30 years since I left elementary school. In my childhood, we loved school, but it was not the center of our world. Playing after school in the neighborhood with friends and family time were the centers of my world as an elementary child. (Now, it is important to point out that this was also a public school childhood versus an independent school childhood.) From the shifts in connectivity provided to us through digital tools and social media to the explosion of after-school programming and high-intensity athletics, what serves as the center has changed. Not for better, not for worse, just changed. This is particularly true in independent schools like mine where student’s geographical locations are dispersed throughout a large and traffic-laden metropolis. School is the center of our connectivity. School is the center of our world.
Finding ways to hold to our center and redefine our center during this time of distance has become paramount. Creating spaces for our students to connect to teachers and each other is key, but so is redefining what our center might mean. I am finding that increased length walks with my dog (with appropriate distance from others) has helped me, a strong introvert, find peace from 6+ hours of daily video conferencing. I know some families and friends who have craved more connectivity and sought out small group virtual play dates with one another. Some families are re-committing to family games and circling ’round the dinner table. My own sister, a parent of teenagers whose sports, arts, and schooling has been canceled-with little/no distance learning plan, remarked at her increased time to spend with her teenagers; a novel concept in 2020!
No way is perfect. No way is ideal. But we are all, as Brené Brown put it in her new podcast, Unlocking Us, experiencing FFT’s (bleeping first times, or frustrating first times for the non-cursers) in this time of unparalleled uncertainty. Patience, grace, flexibility, and hope are critical character qualities, always, but especially right now. Anger and fear are totally normal and need constructive, healthy outlets. Schools and families are working very to determine and hold their center amid chaos. And if we hear no other message, let this be the one: the center will hold, perhaps even stronger, with so many stories to tell.