The Productive Struggle (post 3 of 3)

We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience. – John Dewey, Educational Theorist

As an extrovert, I rely on others, especially in the midst of struggle. My reflections and thoughts become most constructive when I share them. For me, this is never more evident than at work, and this latest challenge proved to me the importance, not just of relying on others, but the importance of relying on the right others. As I wrote yesterday, I believe that having a steadfast circle to count on is essential to successful school leadership.

When I share my struggles and ensuing thoughts with this particular group, I experience two valuable outcomes: clarity and commitment.

Clarity comes out of my confusion; it emerges when I talk through my ideas and observations. Sometimes talking through my struggle helps me realize that I’m on the right track and need to stick to my guns— other times it makes clear that I need to start again or apologize for a misstep. While I would love to be certain about everything, that will never happen. So, I strive to be unambiguous about what I’m doing and why.  This small group of individuals helps me do that.

The other valuable outcome of my communication with others is commitment. I have been blessed, both through luck and circumstance, to find the right people. In the same way that I am committed to them, they are committed to me— to helping me make the best decisions possible for our students and faculty.  They share an unwavering devotion to our school’s mission, and in my best moments and in my worst, they are dedicated to defining and realizing our collective vision.

Having individuals who will support us and be honest with us is critical to fulfilling a vision. Some people motivate me, some challenge me, and some move me to think differently. My group has changed a bit, not daily or weekly, but over time different people have played different roles for me. And while they are very different, they overlap as well. Each one is patient, and each one lifts me when I need it.  I fervently believe that it is important to talk with as many of them as possible when I’m conflicted. (And as a talker, I do that well.)

What follows is my core group. I am sure you will recognize some members of your inner circle here as well.

The Outsider: My wife fills this role for me. She does not know the players nor the day-to-day workings of the campus, and as an elementary art teacher at a public school, she has no idea what teaching at an all-boys prep school is like.  In turn, I have no idea what teaching art to 700 second and third graders is like. God bless her for that, and I admire her for it too. She is an amazing teacher. Being an outsider to our school, affords her a unique perspective, and she is able to help me look at things in a valuable way.

The Motivator: This person always pushes me, and in doing so, reminds me that the world is not falling apart. He unfailingly believes that, for as good as we are, our school can be even better. He reinforces this idea in my mind, and as a result, I am always able to get back on track.

The Challenger: He looks for the issues and never accepts anything at face value. He challenges every idea and. . . while this may seem counter-productive or burdensome, he pushes me to think deeply about my actions and their consequences.

The Mentor: This is my wise, calming voice in the midst of internal and external chaos. He is patient with me. He allows me to talk through issues with him and uncover answers in our time together. He is invaluable to me.

The Listener: This is the one who can hear my most bizarre ideas and thoughts and still not think I’m crazy. Well, this person may think that I am crazy but will never let me know it. This person listens and hears me without judgment. The resulting feedback is gentle and well-worded and the support unmistakable.

My recent struggle was different. It felt heavier than the usual challenges I face. The silver lining wasn’t instantly identifiable, and the circumstances required me to be analytical and uncomfortable. But by embracing the struggle, considering every aspect of the cause, and returning to the people I trust most, I taught myself, and perhaps you too, a valuable lesson. It wasn’t easy, but I appreciate the struggle and relish the outcome

The values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are. – Malcolm Gladwell