“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” – A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Now maybe I’m being a bit dramatic using the opening line of a book about the dichotomy of people’s lives during the French revolution to describe my inner turmoil as I drove to work on the opening institute day of the year, but I honestly don’t think I could describe it any better. Never in my life have I been so insanely excited about something while also so completely terrified at the same time.
As a former instructional coach, I know that trust starts day one. It’s not one thing you do, but a collection over time that builds up. Brene Brown tells a story in Daring Greatly of a time that her daughter lost trust in one of her friends who hurt her deeply. Her daughter’s description of how trust works has become one of my favorites. (I actually used it on the opening slide of my keynote that day.)
“Trust is like a marble jar. You share those hard stories and those hard things that are happening to you with friends who over time you’ve filled up their marble jar. They’ve done thing after thing after thing where you know you can trust this person.”
I had started building a few marbles of trust with my staff over the summer, meeting in coffee shops individually or in groups to get to know them better, but this was the first time I would be addressing them as a whole, sharing my hopes, my fears, my dreams and promises to them as a leader. The importance of vulnerability is another concept I learned from Brene. This felt like vulnerability on extra strength steroids. On this day not only was I was going to be incredibly vulnerable, but in one of our activities, I was asking my staff to also be vulnerable as well. It was a perfect storm for complete success or epic failure.
I learned from Katie Martin visiting our school last year the power that sharing your why can have in creating connection as well as a direction for the vision of the school. With this in mind, my instructional leadership team (myself, assistant principal & coach) planned out an activity where staff members were asked to bring two objects, one representing their personal why and one their professional why of everything they do. They then were asked to get into groups of four with people they don’t normally interact with and share the stories behind them. Finally, they had to create a visual that represented the common theme among them. They had about an hour to do this and then were instructed to come back to our Multi-Purpose Room to share what they had created.
Our greatest hope was that we would find a common thread among them that would focus everything we did for the year. Our greatest fear was that nothing would be connected and we would be coming up with an artificial idea that some people would get on board with, but others would find greater disconnection.
My assistant principal and I spent the hour walking around classrooms listening in to the powerful conversations that groups were having with one another. Many shared stories of people, adults and children, who had had a great impact on them. The positive energy was flowing as smiles and memories lit up the faces of everyone involved. It appeared that although each story was unique, there were definitely common themes emerging.
At around 10:00 the moment of truth arrived and we asked the groups to return to our MPR to share their common threads. As each group stood and shared their creation, it was truly amazing to hear the ideas that each group shared and the inspired ways they chose to represent them. You can see a picture of what they made below, but one group made a chain with important words connected together. Another group drew a puzzle with different pieces connected. Another team talked used Buzz Lightyear in their image to represent that students need to know that they have infinite possibility. A couple groups used nature to demonstrate how as educators we want students to grow to their full potential.
It was completely inspiring to see how much we had in common. I deeply appreciate the vulnerability it took to have these conversations in sharing their passions and beliefs. It was because of this that our vision for the year emerged easily: Unlimited Growth and Connection, applying to both our staff and students.
We spent the next hour sharing ideas for how we could better connect with students at the beginning of the year and throughout. Splitting up the ideas into the four categories of: Classroom Community, Community of Learners, Sense of Belonging and Student Strengths teams, we created a chart that could be referred back to throughout the year. Each staff member selected one to two ideas of something new to try this year and created a plan of action.
The week and a half following our opening day has been nothing short of amazing. As I have been in classrooms and around the building I have seen our focus unfolding and evolving as each person has been connecting with our students in inspired and inventive ways. Yesterday one of our staff members shared an idea with me that she and another staff member have for our entire staff for Unlimited Growth and Connection that totally blew my mind. They are hashing out the plan for it this weekend and I sincerely cannot wait to talk to them about it on Monday.
We have decided to use #unlimitedgrowthandconnection in our social media posts for the year to share our journey with others.
This is another quote that I shared on my first day to describe the best team I have ever been a part of. It was truly the best time in my teaching career and I thought it would be impossible to duplicate. As I have begun to build relationships, I am seeing this same quality emerge in my Jefferson staff, students, and community. That sheer and utter terror I had on the first day has turned to delight, pure joy and excitement for the great work we will do together.
As always, thanks for reading! Christina