An educational ecosystem is filled with committed groups of stakeholders who are working tirelessly to support the social, emotional, and intellectual growth of kids. Each group and person within the ecosystem brings unique perspectives that contribute to the growth and evolution of the organizations in which they serve. As I move forward as a new administrator, I am continually learning to navigate my surroundings with more intention and purpose. I am living and growing within new ecosystems and with that newness could bring some natural feelings of self-doubt.
You have all felt that kind newness I am talking about before. You have all stepped into new spaces and have created your own mind narratives leaving you feeling weary, judged, nervous, and perhaps confused. These feelings can take you back in time. For example, when I was in middle school, I had to make a change in my academic schedule. This meant that I would have to endure a new lunch period, meet new people, and worry about where I would sit during one of the most awkward stages in my life. I’d have to find a seat with people who had already been sitting together for months. I created this story in my head that no one would want to sit with me. I thought about the possibility of standing in front of the lunchroom desperately searching for familiarity and acceptance. And then the actual day came…when I walked into the cafeteria, my eyes intensely and quickly scanned the room for a familiar face, a smile, eye contact…anything. Suddenly, I heard an unfamiliar voice say, “Hey, come over and sit with us. Do you remember holding the door open for me when I was walking into school earlier? I don’t know how I would have made it alone holding that instrument case and a pile of books!” I finally exhaled and smiled back, “Oh yes, I did hold the door for you!” The truth is, I didn’t remember holding the door. Holding a door for someone who needed help is just something I would do. What seemed like a relatively insignificant interaction for me that day, meant something more significant to someone else. Then, that someone else disrupted the narrative I created and helped me step into newness.
When you step into a new school or a new role it kind of feels like the crowded lunchroom of unfamiliar faces where you don’t know all of the people and you don’t know if you will be greeted in a welcoming way. You don’t know their stories, their educational philosophies or personal/professional goals. That can become frustrating, if you let it. I like to think of myself as a proactive person who takes action swiftly, but when things are new, I find myself holding back a little more, listening more attentively, consuming all different types of information, trying to be more responsive and less reactive, and asking lots of questions. This was a shift in mindset when I stepped into the newness of leadership. I came to a place where I recognized that there is strength in asking questions. I know I have to do this because I cannot possibly be the keeper of all the answers. And even if I have answers, I am keenly aware that my colleagues who have been living in the ecosystem will have other answers that either confirm what I am thinking, shift my thinking, and/or share a perspective I would have never thought of, EVER.
Over the last several weeks, I have been reflecting on the number of questions I have asked since I became an administrator. I know I have asked far more questions stepping into a leadership role than I had when I was teaching. You may find this funny, but I actually asked myself “Why is that, Lauren?” Teaching can be hard. Teaching can be fun. Teaching can be draining, BUT teaching is also the most incredibly rewarding career on the planet. Knowing all of these things, why hadn’t I asked the questions I knew I needed answers to years ago? Perhaps I had not stepped into a courageous place in my journey. Maybe I wasn’t in the mental place to understand that failure could be an asset, an opportunity to learn or try something new. Perhaps I didn’t have the patience to refine my practices, iterate, fail, and improve. Perhaps I didn’t realize that although setbacks can be discouraging, they are only temporary. Maybe I didn’t realize that if I was doing my best, I could still be proud of my choices.
Last week I had a check in with a new teacher. When I walked into her classroom I could feel the newness of her learning ecosystem surrounding me. As I waited for her to finish up a few conversations with students, I walked around and scanned the landscape of the room. I could feel the learning emanating through her classroom walls and the energy of her kindness and enthusiasm for learning permeating into my heart. At the same time, I noticed that she had pulled up a seat next to a student who was feeling defeated. “What is making you feel this way? What can I do to help?” A new teacher was asking a student questions to build connection and get him to a more comfortable place. When she was finished I invited her to sit next to me at a small round table. I started to ask the teacher some open-ended questions, “What’s going well? What barriers may be getting in the way of your growth?” She led with this answer, Lauren, I just need to say that I love it here. I really love it, Lauren. When I have questions, I know I can go to my colleagues for support. This new teacher had surpassed the place I was at the beginning of my career and right then, I knew she was rowing in a direction towards success. This answer made my face light up and smile so big that my cheeks started hurting. I went on to ask “What questions do you have for me?”
When I stepped into the newness of leadership, I stopped thinking about the way things are supposed to be and stopped trying to work towards a place of perfection. The pathway to the outcomes you are searching for are not always linear. Sometimes standing still in newness is the best way to move forward. Finding the courage to ask questions may be the action needed to harness momentum towards the place you want to be.