They say that every picture tells a story. At first glance, we may think we understand what we are seeing but we are often mistaken. Sometimes, it takes a closer look, careful examination and a more focused examination to really see what we see. Or, is it that we just don’t take the time to appreciate what is in front of us? That seemed to be my lesson on the road this week. Let me tell you why.
I headed out for my usual stops to work in schools in Arkansas. I had two districts to visit and it was suppose to be a shorter week than usual so I was looking forward to the work and being home again for a long weekend. As soon as I got off the plane on Sunday night, I knew I wasn’t feeling well. In fact, I found myself quickly feeling miserable and not too energetic.
Digging deep is what we have to do when we are not at 100%. I know that I have to work harder to really pay attention, to have the right conversations and as a school improvement coach, to be able to give the right advice, support and encouragement no matter how I am feeling. It’s weeks like this that I think I have my most meaningful “life lessons”. Maybe it takes slowing down for the moments to be appreciated, the thoughtful gestures to be noticed, the kind words to have more meaning and the stories to unfold.
For whatever reason, everything this week seemed magnified to me. In all good ways, it felt a bit overwhelming. The conversations were more meaningful with everyone, the work that was done in one district in particular seemed exactly what was needed and I was surrounded by kind and loving people. Most importantly, I felt like I really listened.
Now, I say that because coaching has to be first about the art of listening; seeking first to understand. I firmly believe that we can not support school improvement without understanding the story. We have to see the real causes of concerns beyond what shows on the surface. They say that about ninety percent of an iceberg is below the surface of the water. I have seen some very large icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland and to think that I am only looking at ten percent of the structure is daunting. School improvement, in my opinion, can present this same way.
In fact, my biggest fear when I leave a school or district office is that I haven’t quite figured out the story. I haven’t asked enough questions or listened attentively enough to see the rest of the iceberg. How can I help if I don’t see it all? There are root causes to every thing that we are trying to figure out… we need to see the evidence of the why or why not… not just make our own assumptions. This takes time and an intentional desire to get to the bottom of something.
Teachers and leaders spend a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out the story of the student. Why is he or she not coming to school? Why is academic success so lacking? What motivates? Challenges? Or, causes boredom with a particular student? On the surface, we see what we see. It might seem like boredom and misbehavior or it might seem like a lack of interest in being in school. “I don’t like to read” becomes the screen hoping that we don’t look any deeper at what is really the cause. The real work of improving schools comes when leaders and teachers make the commitment and take the time to stay the course and figure out what really isn’t working and most important, take action to fix it. They try something different, step up their focus, whatever it takes because they want to change the story.
My story this week, on the surface, would have looked like someone not feeling well just trying to get by. The real story was, though, that I had an amazing week despite the sickness. I felt inspired in my school and district because teachers and leaders were trying so hard to figure out the best next steps for students and to really understand why things are not working. I had the best conversations with work friends and was well taken care of by the kind people of Arkansas. I heard from two principals who I no longer work with but both happened to reach out this week; just when I needed to hear from them.
It was a week of connections, conversations and inspiration. Story-making at its best. Have a great week. Connect with someone, have meaningful conversations and know that you have impact.