Encouraging Community

Hey Google, “Define community.”.

I feel like we are at a time in education where now more than ever, we need to be encouraging each other to find belonging in a professional community. We have communities within our neighborhoods, our places of worship, book clubs, sports teams, the list can go on and on.

How much are we not only encouraging but providing time for teachers, administrators, and other staff members to participate in a professional community to learn with? It doesn’t have to be leaving the district, although it’s great if you can; it might just be letting 4th-grade teachers from around the district get together, or social studies teachers, or librarians. I love it when my staff wants to go talk with other Network Administrators, System Administrators, PowerSchool administrators, etc. I always enjoy the time I get to go bounce ideas around with other technology directors.

Communities give us fresh ideas, fresh perspective, and that great feeling we all long for, a sense of belonging. It refreshes the soul and it helps us all be better in the work we do for kids.

Let Them Have Furniture

My team is very excited to be getting a completely new office space. I’m really excited too! It’s being finished as we speak and we will be in it by Spring. It’s a first for us; everything from getting to give input on the design, to most recently getting to give input on the types of furniture we’d like to have and how we’d like our space to function. I gathered up my team’s ideas and shared them with the appropriate people and expressed their interest in being part of the process. This past Friday we all got to have a “field trip” to our new space to not only see the progress, but each of us was asked our input on what we’d like to have in our individual spaces. It got all of us even more excited than we already were.

A key trait of leadership is knowing the needs of your team. Sometimes the needs are big, something they’re small. Sometimes the needs are tangible, sometimes the need is to be heard. No matter the size or type of need, hearing what those needs are is important. It’s listening to understand and not always listening to respond. It’s making sure voices are heard and understood, and following through on it. These are things that can have a lasting, positive impact on relationships, morale, and general enjoyment of the work we do.

Relationships Matter?

Of course relationships matter. Has anyone ever regretted investing time and energy in building relationships with students or our peers? Does anyone ever truly think, “Boy was that a colossal waste of time!”?

I guess my ultimate question is, “Why do adults still have to be reminded of its value?”.

I have only officially been a leader in my current role for 3 years now. I guess you could call that my formal leadership experience. My informal leadership experience (not even sure what would fall under that category; speaking gigs, writing, organizing 10 years of Edcamps, I really am not sure) greatly outweighs my formal experience. It really doesn’t matter because what I’m getting at is that out of all of that, my best moments have been the time I have invested in others by listening, knowing, and understanding them as people first. The work-related or business stuff has always come second to me. It’s important for sure, but not as important what building good relationships can do for us.

What can building relationships do for us exactly? Well, I think it’s good for our overall health; I want the time spent fostering good relationships full of knowing people as people, not just someone I work with or just a student I teach, etc. That’s one of my favorite things about the team I lead now – we intentionally take small breaks in our day to talk about our lives, our families, and things that aren’t work-related. It almost always involves laughter. It’s intentional; like talking about that show everyone is currently binging or how someone on my team just went and stayed in a Hobbit cave with her husband (true story – Google it).

I wonder if there’s still folks though that question why we should do this? There must be with how many books and tweets and keynotes talk about its importance. Please let me be clear – I’m not saying it’s not important to talk about it. It is important. We all should want to hear about and experience new ways to connect with people; it’s one of the reasons I love getting to travel to conferences and meet people from all over the world. It’s the reason you hear so many people say that they get just as much out of (if not more than) what happens between sessions at conferences than some of the actual sessions. It’s why I’ve always said when speaking about being connected in digital spaces like Twitter that you get out of it what you put into it. The same goes for relationship building; it’s a give and take, and hopefully more and more we all take the “giving” approach to it.

Relationships should be the foundation of everything we do in our schools. It helps everyone better help everyone.