I recently attended a retreat with about 50 other administrators. We spent several days in a sprawling, open room, learning from one another; the retreat was, in a lot of ways, the thing most leaders crave every day—time to think together, to commiserate, to share stories and foster new ideas.
And then it got better.
The retreat ended in a way that was new to me—and inspiring, in several ways. The facilitators told us we had an hour to spend on our own. We were told we could read, think, write, plan; we could do it in groups, pairs, or work on our own. We were, in essence, in charge of our own time. For an entire hour.
Which isn’t something that happens, much, to school leaders.
As we all wandered to our chosen spot to work, music began playing on low volume. One by one, we came to realize that the songs were our songs. Earlier in the week, the retreat planners had asked each of us to send them the title of a song we listen to when we want to relax. They then compiled the songs into a playlist that turned out to be as varied as the the people in the room. It ranged from rock to country to pop to classical to folk to bluegrass.
About twenty minutes into our allotted time, I looked up and scanned the room. We had all chosen to spend our hour quietly working, but how we did it was as varied as our music. Everyone had found a place to be, but we had all settled into different postures and different approaches. Some cuddled in; some stretched out. We were on couches and on the floor; outside and in the darkest cavernous rooms. Some rested, head in hands. Some wrote. Some gazed out the window. Some chatted softly to one another.
And I had this thought: We are all so different, aren’t we? There we were, a big group of people who largely do the same thing in our work, but we all approach it in different ways. Our minds are inspired and fed with different approaches; our bodies need rest in different postures; the input that is required to make us our best selves varies from person to person.
Yet, we all benefit from time and space to think. It makes us all better. And when it’s unexpected, it’s even better. Because anything can happen when there is no plan. And in that aspect, we are all the same.