Saturday, August 4, 2018

Our Collective Selves

Last week, I teamed up with a dear friend of mine to present at a small learning conference hosted by (and for) teachers in my district.  The event helps teachers and administrators launch the new school year with some great professional learning.

All the attendees are colleagues and friends.  They are people I’ve worked with, in some capacity, over the past twenty years—some much more closely than others. As each one walked in the room, I couldn’t help my whoops and grins and hugs. It was more than just the back-to-school-so-good-to-see-you thing:  It was a celebration of many years of being colleagues.  It was a here-we-are-doing-this-together-again thing. 

I’ve presented at conferences all over the place these past few years, and 100% of the time, it has been to people I don’t know. 

And let me tell you something: Presenting to a room of colleagues and friends is a whole lot different. 

Because I know them.  I have known them.  Indeed, sometimes only on a surface level, but still:  I know some portion of their stories, their families, their career path, professional ebbs and flows.  Over there, in the corner:  The teacher who has lost a child.  Over there, against the window:  An experienced teacher starting a new job as an instructional coach, practically twitching with enthusiasm and nervousness.  There:  A heartbreaking divorce and the seeds of a new life rising from the ashes.  There:  Nursing a parent through old age, feeling failure every day.  There:  Listened me through losing a grandparent to suicide.  There:  My “perspective person,” the gal who can make laughter and wisdom rise out of anxiety and pain.  There, there, there.
Yes:  I know them, and they know me. 

When I stand in front of a group of people I don’t know, I am a few degrees removed.  I can tell stories about myself and it doesn’t matter one whit what they think, because I’ll be wheels up in a few hours and never see any of them again.

This time, with these people, I told stories of myself from the beginning of my leadership path, and some of them were unflattering indeed.

It was an unnerving type of vulnerability, standing in front of a room sharing what I‘ve learned—to people who’ve seen me learn it.

The bad decisions, the career missteps, the times when “bad hair day” doesn’t even begin to describe it.  

But it was super-fun, because we were all there, in it, together.  We laughed at our collective selves; asked and answered some great questions; found inspiration from one another.  It was more fun than I usually have as a presenter, perhaps because they smiled a lot more and seemed to “get” my jokes more quickly, but also because of the empowerment that comes with being in a tribe, encircled by a common purpose, inspired by the gift of longevity and time.  It felt like a part of something intimate—us, our district, our kids, our experiences as educators—and something bigger, too—the common commitment to being teachers and learners.

In a couple weeks’ time, our school hallways will be full of students and we’ll be neck-deep in another school year. I can’t wait. 

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