I have just returned from three weeks on the road, traveling to various communities to participate in their “Back to School” professional development kickoff events. I keynoted at a few district-level sessions and then had some more intimate school-level opportunities as well. Overall, I think I got to interact with at least 1000 educators, mostly teachers but also other classroom and building support professionals. By the end, I was physically drained, ready to be home and to sit quietly. However, I was also internally energized and encouraged by the spirit of the people with whom I’d been in contact. It’s obvious how difficult these last few years have been on everyone, but there is no debating that educators (and students) are some who have had it hardest. And yet, while we’ve lost some good ones (our national teacher shortage is dire) there are many who are continuing to stay in the game. I was honored to spend time with them, shower them with love, acknowledgement, validation, and hopefully some optimism. It’s hard to be resilient and stay hopeful, yet I sense we are starting to see the human side of everyone in the school. It’s not a fast change, things usually aren’t, but I believe that we can get bit by bit, step by step. Here are some of the observations that filled my spirit and gave me courage during my travels.
You can immediately feel the energy of a building when you first enter it. Right away, one notices the aesthetic, what messages are posted, what and how many colors are used, these can all set a scene. Most of the buildings I was in were sparkling clean (or still in the process). You could tell people had been working hard (or some I saw still working hard) during the hot summer months to get ready, putting their best foot forward to welcome in the students and their families. It makes a difference. The quality of the physical environment demonstrates the value placed on those in its space. Next is how you are greeted, not only by the front office staff but by anyone with whom you come in contact. I can instantly think of vibe of each event I attended. One in particular where the music, laughter, cheering was so loud I could hear it from outside the building. That staff was having a blast! (I also thought, how am I going to top this?! But I just joined in the fun!) Another building I was greeted at the front door by the high school administrator who was dressed head to toe in mix matched Hawaiian print as part of their “Back to School” luau. The warm, fun, and friendly vibes matter. It sets the tone and it’s contagious. Remember the energy we extend is the energy that comes back.
Another take away was the humility of the school leaders. They are tired too! And all of those with whom I interacted are concerned about the well-being of their staff. One Superintendent, during the lunch break vulnerably shared his story and asked what he could do to support his team. It was a heartsy, rich conversation that inspired me. Another building leader sat tearfully during the session reflecting on how hard things have been and the desire to protect her team, wrapping her arms around each of them. Which leads to my final observation.
Educators need one another. There’s a unique bond that happens between people who have been through traumatic experiences together. Think of people like the first responders to 9-11 or veterans. There’s a unique camaraderie, a familiarity, and a recognition. I noticed that with this group of professionals too in each location. They ensured everyone was included or acknowledged. There were fun playful jabs at one another during our activities. There was a sense of community and support. I have always believed we need each other, but I’m more convinced than ever before that it’s essential. For us to continue to forge ahead in the pursuit of educating our next generation while contending with all the chaos that ensues around us, we need to lean on one another.
To that end, along with my colleague and friend, Living S.L.O.W. is launching Teacher Talk virtual support groups. They will take place, for an hour, every other week. You pick either a Tuesday or Thursday session to attend. It will be a safe space for educators to share their experiences, emotions, successes, or even opportunities for growth in a supportive environment. We hope you’ll join us so you can feel loved, supported, and inspired to carry that into your building and into the new school year. Take care of you! You deserve it!