During this historic time, each of us have been tested. We have been pushed, pulled, poked, and prodded in ways that I do not think any of us could have ever imagined. Those who know me, know that I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. As I referenced in a recent post, there are always good things that come out of hard times. For me, this has been a time of tremendous reflection, questioning, and pursuit of deeper understanding. I am grateful for my #PLN and especially #BlogginThruIt. They have given me the space to express my thoughts, analyze my thinking, and dig deep.
As I navigate through this time, I have been grappling with my role as a leader and what relationships should and could look like. Vulnerability requires trust. Trust requires vulnerability. Healthy relationships require trust AND vulnerability! –Sari
As soon as I heard Sari say she was “grappling with her role as a leader,” I knew our friendship would be lifelong. It is the grapple that we feel inside that leads us to a better way. Through self-reflection we question and when we question we face honest answers that may be tough to hear at times. It is the grapple that makes me thrive, not only within, but with others! –Kristen
The Beginning of a Powerful and Healthy Relationship
Kristen and I connected through Twitter over a few tweets about George Couros’ inspiring book Innovate Inside the Box. Little did I know that when we connected, Kristen was wrapping up her own powerful book with Jacie Maslyk, All In: Taking a Gamble in Education A few short months later I was honored to join the first #AllInEDU book study, facilitated by #2MenAndABook. Chapter 2 of All In, or as Kristen and Jacie call it, Bet 2, is titled Poker Face. This chapter dives into the misguided belief that many of us have heard over the years: Don’t smile until Christmas; don’t let your guard down or you will lose control. As I started this chapter, I thought, I don’t have a poker face! I am open and transparent. I pride myself on the value of relationships. I continued to read in agreement. This is not a time to put up walls and create barriers; it’s time to break them down and make connections. Exactly.
Jacie and Kristen’s words spoke to me in a very dynamic, meaningful way. Integrating both perspectives, teacher and administer, resonated with me on so many levels. Understanding perspectives is key to developing empathy. As I reflect on who I am as a leader and consider the type of leader I strive to be, Kristen shared a courageous statement that profoundly impacted her district, and now me. –Sari
Through Sari’s reflection, I just felt this in my core all over again… this was such a bold and vulnerable statement I made that turned my entire life upside down in the blink of an eye! To know it resonated with Sari, and brought us to this blog together, speaks to me in the most profound way possible! –Kristen
Simultaneously, at work, we were having some very serious conversations that I needed to process. The discussions were truly weighing on me. I bottled up my emotions on the inside, placed a smile on the outside, and considered what I was feeling. Then it hit me…I was NOT being open. I was NOT being transparent. I was NOT being vulnerable. I was wearing a poker face. -Sari
This right here is such an awesome moment! This new perspective on something that I wrote with such conviction resonates with me. The idea that something could be perceived so differently. It is “pushback” or questioning that gains perspective, and it is that space of vulnerability that affords for this to happen! Although my questioning has been viewed differently by others throughout my career, I believe that pushback to one’s view should never equate disrespect (and that is how the admin felt that day with my bold statement). There are times that I feel when someone is invested in their own perspective they cannot stop and feel, or see someone else’s view. What then? How do we possibly serve and move forward if we cannot see what is right in front of us? –Kristen
Was I pushing back? Do I have walls? And even worse, do I have walls that I don’t see? Am I living a belief that mirrors “not smiling until Christmas?” Am I missing what is right in front of me? I struggled with this…I began to consider that perhaps I don’t lead by example. I felt a flash of discomfort.
I pushed my thoughts and questions into our Voxer book study and an incredible discussion ensued. Is it ever ok to have a poker face? Can a poker face protect others? Be vulnerable, but be strong….what does that really look like? Does a poker face mean dishonesty? How do you support others when you are still struggling yourself?
For our students, it is important that they receive information in a developmentally appropriate way. Or perhaps there is information that our little people should not hear at all. Does that mean that I am lying by omission?
“You don’t seem concerned, so I’m not concerned.” That phrase was said to me just last year by a staff member. It served as a reminder that our emotions can be contagious, both positive and negative emotions. If I choose to process my emotions before sharing with my staff is that dishonesty? –Sari
OM to the G! This right here is full gains! Another perspective… Maybe this perspective states that it is beyond appropriateness for just children… is it possible that there is information that adults should not hear/share just yet or at all… it all takes on a different view when restated with different intent. -Kristen
INTENTION! When I read Kristen’s words I realized that our WHY behind the poker face is most important. It is not about power or losing control of our classroom, building, or district. It is about putting others first. As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure we discuss important topics with students in a way that is developmentally appropriate but also provides opportunities to hear all stories, practice empathy, and build understanding.
We are navigating a precarious time. There are so many unknowns. School districts are facing significant state budget cuts. School districts are making decisions that no one ever wants to have to make; their impacts will be felt far and deep. Many districts will come out of this looking very different. What is the best way to handle this? There is already so much tension in the system. –Sari
How will it look? At first glance, it may appear that it is possibly not for the better… for now! Is it possible that these moments, when we have fewer options, will help us to appreciate the ones that are given? Think about the budget cuts and the shifting in one’s practice… will we still find opportunity in this change or will we snub it because it does not mirror the vision we once had. MakerSpaces… gone, but why? Is this a blame game? Do we trust those that have these very difficult decisions to make? Options to learn a foreign language… will they exist? Will they be plentiful? What about flexible seating… something that students love and are now embracing with ownership over their choices and actions? Will it be gone? Will it come back? Will we find voice and choice in this most radical time of change OR will we do what has already been done before and REVOLT? Is it the emotional attachment to what could have been? Is it the reality that our dreams are no longer our own to shape? Is it the vulnerability that we feel to be within a space of less control? What is it that scares you the most? Is it trust? What is it about education that children fear will change? Will we ask them? And if we do, how will we receive their answers. Will we cut them off and hand them the reason or excuse? Will we steer them to be more empathetic in their response so that it hurts us a little less? Will we even ask? And what will we do? Is it possible that the solution or vision of change lies with them and not us at all? Are we willing to let children reshape what we have created for hundreds of years… all while doing it within the constraints that our reality lies in.
Reality check… can we afford it? Have we given enough voice to our students to open their eyes and minds to an opportunity that does not look like their initial vision? Do we trust? Can they innovate inside the box, as George Couros has pushed us to question and rethink our philosophy and our practice? This right here will be very telling of what was before and what will be! –Kristen
One lesson I have learned during this time is the power of “I don’t know.” Kristen poses so many thoughtful questions. My answer to some of those questions has been…”I don’t know.” As a person, let alone as a central office administrator, it goes against the fabric of my being to just hang within a space of…”I don’t know.” I am not implying that I believe that I have all of the answers. However, I know how to seek out the answers. David Weinberger said it best, “The smartest person in the room is the room.” In order to get the best answers, we have to bring all perspectives into a room and hash it out. During this historic time, even that strategy has not worked. Throughout this pandemic, we have only been able to answer questions that focused on the here and now. All along we have been missing critical data to answer questions about our future…When will schools open their doors again? What will graduation look like? What is the best way to support students when we return to brick and mortar? How do we create a warm, welcoming learning environment while following CDC guidelines? How much more funding will the state cut? Will there be another wave of the virus? If so, when?
My experiences these past few months have reinforced that responding “I don’t know” is not bad. Saying nothing at all, avoiding the conversation, wearing a poker face, or faking it, breaks down the relationships and shows a lack of respect. Being vulnerable, discussing the facts of the situation, rather than silence, avoiding the question, or guessing, has proven to be invaluable. –Sari
The one thing known right now is the unknown. I have the utmost respect for the response “I don’t know.” Would I like to have a more detailed answer… of course! But in the end, the upfront honesty is what I need the most as an educator and parent. My friend, Tara Martin, shared with me that if I don’t tell my story someone else will, and in many ways, I feel that the same idea applies to this situation as well. If I am led to believe that administration has all of the answers, but are not divulging them, I may assume that they are withholding valuable information when in all actually they simply do not know. Assumptions can lead to inaccurate thoughts and unwarranted worry. That assumption is driven by a similar fear that holds leaders of all roles back in simply answering, “I don’t know.” Assumptions can be the detriment to most everything, with one being relationships. It is our relationships that will see us through… with them, we have trust and with trust we have hope. – Kristen
Each of us has a choice. In the absence of the answers, I am present and intentional. I choose transparency. I choose vulnerability. I choose to trust. I choose relationships. I choose HOPE! What do you choose? –Sari
Kristen Nan: An educator for the last 23 years, Kristen Nan’s passion for building relationships with her students, colleagues, and community continues to ignite change for the better! Kristen has served as an emotional support teacher, learning support teacher, and classroom teacher from Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to her current role as a 3rd-grade teacher, Kristen is an author, national speaker, consultant. With keeping a future-ready mindset at the forefront for every child, she has been recognized as an award-winning educator for innovative practices. Kristen’s recent release, “ALL IN, Taking a Gamble in Education” is co-authored by Jacie Maslyk and focuses on the importance of risk-taking, chances, and building relationships between teachers and administrators.