Building Bridges

This past week I helped to host Michigan’s inaugural statewide Social Emotional Learning (SEL) conference, titled Building Bridges-Breaking Silos. There were over 250 in person and virtual participants. It was a time of sharing, connecting, learning, laughing and even shedding a few tears. Overall, it was a huge success. People left feeling loved, taken care of, and inspired to continue this great work. All the things I’d hoped people would experience at the event and then some.

I’ve been on numerous conference planning committees before but never as the chair. I compared it to planning a wedding. So many details to work out. However, all along I was determined to not allow any of that to stress me out or overwhelm me. Throughout the process of pulling this conference together I was also in the throes of “back to school” season which brings with it a whirlwind of travel and professional development opportunities (this year there were 30 to be exact in about an 8-week period). And being the “self-proclaimed self-care” promoter, I knew I needed to practice what I preach and try to model what I hope others will do for themselves. I was committed to going SLOW and building in self-care. I delegated various sessions and responsibilities to other team members and then stepped back and trusted them to man their part of the show. I did my part and let them do theirs. We would check in and support one another as needed but it didn’t all fall on me. And it didn’t need to, we were all in it together. That was a good lesson for me a “control freak” in recovery to stay in my lane, not micro-manage and let things work themselves out. In general, I think I did pretty well and so do the plan. I tried to stay self-aware and mindful of my warning signs (when I get prickly) and also intentionally attempted to communicate my needs and establish boundaries. The more I practice and verbalize my intentions the easier it gets. And we had a successful event.An hour before it started, I found myself sitting quietly with my colleague, reflecting, and preparing for a great day ahead. We weren’t running around frazzled and harried. We were at peace and brimming with anticipation of a great day ahead.  Now are there things to improve upon for next time? Yes, of course. There always is something that could be done differently. But working collectively with others helps to share the load.

Ironically, the other take away for me from this experience is the importance of building bridges. I’ve always been a relationship person. I love people (well most people if I’m going to be completely honest). I know that in the field of education and mental health we cannot go it alone. We all need each other. We are much more effective when we collaborate and support one another. I think this has become even more essential in the last 18+months. The level of exhaustion with educators (and others in care-giving professional roles) is at an all-time high and morale at an all-time low. Between COVID fatigue, unmet/unrealistic expectations for this school year, the political discord in our nation and other challenges we face, it is an unprecedented time. All the more reason for us to build bridges. If we all help carry the load it doesn’t feel as heavy, which hopefully allows for self-pacing and thus self-care.

It was amazing to see the way people came together, united in purpose to help support each other, students and their development of life skills that will enable them to be the best version of themselves. The energy and passion in the room as people swapped stories and experiences was dynamic. There was a buzz that was palatable. Building bridges between early childhood educators to those in k-12 arena to after-school settings through higher education and coming together to collaborate and exchange ideas was such a timely theme.

Even though the sessions were beneficial, thought-provoking, and engaging, I believe the greatest success of the conference was that we were all together. Developing new connections, rekindling old ones, forging paths, going forward together in a united effort, that’s what truly makes a difference. Let’s commit to building bridges with one another, and amazingly, self-care and wellness will become easier.

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