Monday, September 23, 2013

A Matter of the Heart

Photo by KB
Every once in while I am slapped in the face with reality. Something so real and so sobering takes place that I lose my breath for a moment. I become startled and I panic. Sometimes it is these experience that force me to look at myself, or give me the courage to help others grow. Mostly, though, these moments are just uncomfortable until I have time to process them privately.

Recently, I had a few of these moments in quick succession. The first came from a student. Our team organized a rather larger meeting with this student out of both concern and frustration. She struggled through a rather uncomfortable meeting with more adults than could fit at a small conference table. She was shut-down, withdrawn. We questioned whether or not we would ever reach her. At the end of the week, when my students wrote weekly "appreciations" in advisory, she handed this to me on the way out the door.

The second instance came with a very different experience. Over the last month, I have had the privilege of working with two colleagues to build soap-box carts with our kids. These are both science teachers, one of which teaches in our elementary school so I barely knew him, having never found any opportunity to collaborate with him up until this point.  I watched these teachers passionately embrace this project and our students. They worked late into the evenings to prepare these carts for the community race. This was a labor of love, and their energy and enthusiasm was contagious. 

On a Saturday, this teacher invited students, staff, parents (even my mother showed up!), and administrators to his home to celebrate the completion of these carts before the race. We ate, laughed, and cheered our kids on as they pushed these carts down the racecourse hill. This teacher brought a community together and I left feeling so full of joy and happiness.

Both these situations, though drastically different in emotions, reminded me so clearly about the needs of the heart. Whether it be students, parents, or teachers, we all need care, support, and love. We yearn to be part of something larger, something more substantial than our own selves and day-to-day routines. Sometimes our hearts are full and sometimes our hearts are sad, but that doesn't change the need we have to reveal ourselves to those around us, as frightening as this can be.  

In reflecting, I am forced to ask myself how open my heart is to the people around me. How accepting am I when others open up themselves to me? When I am full of sadness or doubt, can I be honest enough to accept help? When I am pushed and challenged to change for the better, can I trust the hearts of others to guide me?

As I walk through this year, I will strive to be a bit kinder, a little more gentle with others' hearts. We are fragile and we are delicate, even when it does not appear so on the outside. When I see sadness I will try to offer compassion; when I see struggle I will try to offer hope. When I see opportunity, I will try to open this offer to our others. 

If we work to protect each other's hearts, we will work to sustain ourselves and others through all matters, big and small. These will be the instances that ultimately build the foundation for change. 


  1. Jenna, thank you for sharing yet another honest and thoughtful post. You are an inspirational educator whose passion for putting students first continues to amaze me—and reminds me to always do the same. Although you already excel in so many areas, you indicate that you want/need to improve and re-dedicate yourself to what are already your core principles. This is a hallmark of exceptional teachers and leaders: they continuously strive for self-improvement. One of my favorite leadership texts is “The Leadership Challenge,” by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, who suggest that our best leaders exhibit five exemplary leadership practices; they: 1. Model the Way; 2. Inspire a Shared Vision; 3. Challenge the Process; 4. Enable Others to Act; and 5. Encourage the Heart. Although I suspect you exhibit each of these five on a daily basis, your post definitely suggested to me that you are one who encourages the heart on a daily basis. In our noble profession, this is a cornerstone of success and I applaud you for doing so!

  2. Thank you for your comment Jeff. To encourage the heart may be the most rewarding of all the experiences I have as a teacher. Thank you for reminding me of these leadership practices.