Sunday, June 8, 2014

Destination (not completely) Unknown

Photo by Richard Shaw
Recently I have had the opportunity to speak with a number of school leaders while interviewing for new opportunities within my district. At each table, I have been asked, in some form, about my long term goals. "Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?" This is such a crazy question to me. I am caught off guard each time, even when I prepare and expect someone to throw this inquiry onto the table. 

All my professional life I have been a planner. I like to think big and dream wide. I like action. I seek results. I crave achievement. That being said, I never end up exactly where I think I am going. The path always shifts and detours pop-up, forcing me to rethink the journey, make new decisions, and adjust accordingly. This is one of my favorite things about life: having a plan with the potential for it to shape and shift as I grow and move forward. I have learned that being rigid and fighting for goals to remain stagnant is painful. Jumping on the off-ramp of new opportunity fuels me. 

While my destination is not completely unknown, my goals aren't as neat and clear cut as most might hope for when they ask this question. In truth, my goal is to make change. Big change. Sustainable change. Change that leaves a legacy of doing things in a new way and setting a path for continued growth no matter where I am in relation to that space. I want kids' lives to be better because I challenged the status quo. I want lives to change because they found strength to carry a counter narrative into a place where that story was once silent. 

My goals are bigger than a job title. They are messier than a direct route. There will be moments when I get lost. At times, the road will get rocky and feel impossible. I will probably change course, sometimes with ease and other times kicking and screaming. It will be hard, and exhilarating, and exhausting, and soul-filling, and draining. It is important for me to remember that so many others are traveling this road alongside me. Their journey running parallel to mine. Our destination different, yet very much the same- unknown yet purposeful as we drive forward.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Tough Stuff

Photo by Richard Shaw

It is so hard to say goodbye. This word carries with it an emotional anchor that can sink us at a startling pace. Whether we are physically moving on to a new space, closing a chapter of our lives, or dealing with the passing of a loved one, goodbyes are tough on our hearts. This year, I am watching a group of students take a huge leap into adulthood, spreading their wings to fly away from our school and into the unknown territory of high school. Some of these kids have been at our school since kindergarten. It is scary. It is exciting. It is emotional. 

For a lot of us, summer is a space of freedom, renewed energy, and soul-cleansing relaxation. There is time to do all those things we love but pushed aside during the school year. I know I breathe a little deeper in the warmth of the summer. But as we say our goodbyes, the view of that break can look cloudy and scary. That fear sometimes causes us to act in unpredictable ways, usually in a space where emotions are already sensitive. It is easy to forget that so much of what our kids feel is rooted in fear that may never truly be revealed to us. 

I was reminded recently of this in my own life. With the passing of a family member, I have watched the process of saying goodbye take on many different forms and emotions. Grief has so many confusing faces and much of that process I will never understand. It has been important for me to remember that love trumps all, kindness is vital, and the space needed to say goodbye may or may not include my presence. When words fail, grace succeeds. 

These lessons of life don't necessarily make me better at saying goodbye or help me know how to make that transition easier for anyone, including my students. It does, however, provide me moments for reflection and deeper compassion for how tricky these life changes are for all of us.

Going into our last week of school, I will try to provide opportunities for our kids to embrace their emotions, explore their feelings, and honestly share my own experiences without expecting anything in return.  I will try to better tend to their hearts, even when mine is tired. I will remember that reactions are not emotions, and my response will set the course for important situational outcomes. I will remember to laugh a little more, offer hugs to those that are smiling, and listen carefully to the silent moments. I will remember that it is always better when we don't have to walk through the tough stuff alone.