Among the many conversations I had yesterday was one with a kindergartener who had been engaged in some play-gone-wrong at recess. A group of boys were playing, it became energized, and it ended in some pushing, hitting, and crying. I see this every day in my very own home (the brothers Berg are especially energized!). There was no malice, no one was hurt, and it was truly an opportunity for learning, growth, and relationship building.
Anyway, this student was upset enough that he decided to ignore multiple requests from his teacher to join the class as they moved back into the building. Because of the safety implications therein, I decided to enlist his parents as partners in facing the challenge. As always, parent partners are invaluable collaborators when it comes to the learning and growth of their children.
After he and I processed a bit on our own, I asked, “Who should I call, mom or dad?” This clever child thought for a moment, then looked up with all sincerity and replied, “Are those my only two choices?” I had to smile. It was a productive interaction that ended in some wonderful progress.
Over the course of the past month I’ve heard countless deli counter references. “There should be a number-counter outside of your office,” or “Next!” Now, those references are both humorous and apropos, but they’re also great fodder for serious consideration of important leadership and communication approaches. If you’re in education, no matter what role you play (student, teacher, parent, admin, etc.) you’re in the business of people, and if you ask me, people in the business of people should focus on…you guessed it…people!
Unlike deli counter practice, educators can’t exactly ask those we serve to “take a number,” nor do we want to. Whether we’ve come to terms with it or not, I believe that most of us thrive on (and even enjoy) the high-octane, fast paced world in which we work. We’re energized by the hustle and bustle of school life…it’s exciting!
This is where the overhead compartment comes in. Each interaction is different. The daily communication needs of our partners in the classroom, the building, and the community exist along multiple spectrums including: informal to formal, casual to critical, guarded to collaborative, deteriorative to generative, diminutive to empowering, and so on…in all directions.
I leave some conversations feeling as though I’m on top of the world. I leave others feeling as thought I’ve been knocked down a few rungs. Some interactions are indicative of positive progress while others produce outcomes that suggest a need for focused repair efforts. How do we, as parents, students, educators, community leaders, and partners in teaching and learning, move from person to person or group to group without dragging the remnants of each interaction with us?
The fact is, we don’t truly know what energy is needed for productivity in any given situation until we’re engaged in it. Furthermore, I’m finding that in order to be fully engaged in each, I have to enter each with an open heart, an open mind, and a degree of clarity that would preempt lingering energy, regardless of the nature of that energy.
I have to stow my baggage in an overhead compartment during my travels each day so that I’m holistically available to each person I interact with along my daily journey. As I frequently note regarding most leadership and learning challenges that are addressed throughout the pages of this blog, the fact that I’m human prevents me from hitting that mark every time, but it’s a focused aim, and in so being, I’m getting better at it each day.
Alongside the wonderful, “Are those my only two choices” interaction from yesterday, were a couple of fundamentally crucial conversations that led to some shifting for myself and for some of my partners at school. Nothing terribly intense, but change is a process that requires great patience and is often met with some initial discomfort. I will need to process those interactions further. I will have to reflect on them in concentrated to maximize my learning and growth.
As you might guess, I will use my reflective writing practice as a part of that processing. But, and equally importantly, I needed to not process those interactions right away. I needed to move on the next. I would not have been well served to toss the “baggage” from those interactions, but I would also have been remiss to carry it around with me for the rest of the day. I needed to stow it…and with a focus on effective leadership and communication, stow it I did. It felt good. I felt productive.
As always, some of my best learning seems to come from the genuine expression of kids. I’ve heard it suggested that when we face difficult challenges, we are facing a choice between immediate processing or opportunity loss. I would suggest that we look at our daily challenges a bit differently. Reflective processing is critical, but we simply don’t always have time in our busy days to attend to it immediately following any given integration.
The next time you face a challenge that leaves you stuck in processing mode when you really have to move forward, if you’re thinking that you have to stop in your tracks or sacrifice the learning, consider asking yourself, “Are those my only two choices?” Then consider stowing the baggage in the overhead compartment and retrieving it at the end of the day, or at another time when you can truly give it the attention it deserves without allowing it to become a distractor to the great work you need to engage in with the many other people you serve each day.
Live. Learn. Lead.
Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.