The sound of nails on a chalkboard sends shock waves to my soul, just as much as a statement I heard recently as I attended my first session of a state-wide principal academy – You all know, when you’re an administrator, it’s lonely at the top. As I looked around the room of principals I wondered if anyone could hear me screaming because on the inside I sure was. I will admit, I too believed in that age-old adage once upon a time, but I can truly attest to the fact that being “lonely at the top” is a choice. Today, there is no reason for educators to work in silos. We are better together and it is up to us to reach out, and connect beyond our four walls. When we do, everyone we serve benefits from the relationships formed and knowledge acquired.
I recently shared the beginning of the year staff survey results with our campus leadership team. Five weeks into my 6th year as a campus leader and I must admit it has been the best start to a school year for me and the staff sentiments were the same. When I think of the WHY that is, I truly credit it to my personal and professional growth as a leader. As a reflective practitioner, I am always looking back while forging ahead. So much of what I have shared with the staff was not anything that I invented. It was a compilation of thoughts, ideas, and advice shared by so many educators that I connect with across the country.
My commitment to being a connected educator took me cross country last summer; the highlight was my journey to Chicago to collaborate with a team of dynamic educators on an annual project while attending the National Principals Conference. #EdWriteNow, in its second year of collaboration, brings ten educators from around the country together to focus on a current topic in the ever evolving world of education. In less than three days, I marveled as the group engaged in meaningful dialog leading to a published book, where all proceeds go to benefit the Will To Live Foundation. Let me be clear, I was absolutely humbled to be included with the rock star educators who came together to produce Education Write Now – Volume II - Jeff Zoul, Randy Ziegenfuss, Rosa Isiah, Elizabeth Bostwick, Laura Gilchrist, Sanee Bell, Winston Sakurai, Sean Gaillard, and Danny “Sunshine” Bauer.
While writing my chapter Connecting Beyond the Four Walls challenged me as a rookie author, my appetite for personal and professional growth was satisfied beyond measure. Ironically, I was tapped to work on this project because of connections that I made with co-author and editor of Education Write Now: Volume I, Joe Mazza. Almost all of the educators I connect with on Twitter, Voxer, or Facebook, I have never met face-to-face, yet they have impacted my daily work, resulting in positive impacts on the more than 100 adults I serve with daily, and the thousands of students I will serve throughout my career. While I have never met Mandy Ellis, author of Lead with Literacy in person, I connected with her through social media and combined her ideas as well as those shared by Eugene Park, a principal in New Jersey and member of our #PrincipalsInAction Voxer group, to bring a Book Tasting experience to kick-off our staff’s Personalized Learning Development. By connecting with other leaders, I am motivated to try new ideas which support the growth of those I serve. While social media connections are at your fingertips, face-to-face connections are invaluable. Time is a scare commodity in our world, but mark your calendar and go out to visit another campus or department to see what they are doing…you can always tweak or toss ideas that you find along the way. Last year I ventured to another campus in our district which has resulted in us embarking on a new journey this year, bringing Genius Hour to our students. #Priceless
In Education Write Now: Volume II (to be released, December 2018,) I share why I am so passionate about connecting with others in the field, and how it has transformed the work that I do.
Feeding Your Emotional Intelligence
After connecting with Moms as Principals on Twitter, I asked to be a member of their Voxer group. I recall driving to work that first morning after joining the group. I listened to a few voxes, caught the rhythm of how others shared and responded, and mustered the courage to send my first vox. And I know what you’re thinking, “You were hesitant about speaking into a phone with people who had no idea who you were?” Yes...although I spoke with hundreds of students daily and more than 120 staff members, fear of that unknown had me unsettled. In education, we often hear failure is not an option. What if we changed that mindset to failure is an option? What if we believed failure is the only option? By being willing to fail, we are demonstrating a willingness to learn and grow, and isn’t that what we ultimately want from students?
So eventually I pressed the orange Voxer button, “Good morning MAPS. This is Onica Mayers from Houston checking in. I’m the principal of a PK - 5th grade campus in Houston, Texas.” I shared a few details about my campus, thanked them for allowing me to be a part of their learning network and shared that I was looking forward to learning and growing from and with them. I kept my introductory message short and sweet, cognizant of the established norms which included keeping your vox under a minute. That was the genesis of it all. To begin, begin. I cannot even imagine my professional and personal life now without this tribe.
The Institute of Health and Human Potential defines emotional intelligence as an awareness that emotions can drive our behavior which has both a positive and negative impact on people. In education, we are in the people business, be it the little people (students) or the big people (adult learners). If you want to consider yourself emotionally intelligent then you have to work consciously on your emotional skills if you are going to have the positive impact on either targeted audience. In my very first educational leadership class, we read If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students. What happens if you don’t feed the leaders? Who do they eat? Feeding one’s emotional intelligence as a leader is essential to the success of whomever you serve. If you are a teacher, you are a leader of students, if you are a campus leader, well, it goes without saying that you are leading students, staff, parents and community members. If you are an instructional coach, you are leading teachers. When your emotional intelligence is not fed, how can you feed others?
Undoubtedly, students learn better in safe and supportive learning environments, and the same can be said for adults. By connecting with a group of like-minded individuals, I found myself better equipped to handle the day-to-day situations and struggles as a leader. By having a support system, a network to reach out to with those who “get it,” I found myself better able to navigate the current educational terrain. This connection is not just to help with the struggles but also to celebrate the successes. We call them #EduWins and in order to elevate your class, campus, department or district towards whatever your desired outcomes are, genuine connections are a prerequisite, and that requires a high emotional intelligence. You must put yourself first on this emotional intelligence journey.
My experience working with the #EdWriteNow team resulted in the formation of lifelong relationships. Our time together led to the tagline – Relationships Matter People. While it was spoken in jest during one of the times where the atmosphere needed to be lightened as we were knee-deep in writing and approaching crunch time, it is what making connections is all about. The relationships and bonds formed by connecting with others, allow you to pay it forward in the work you do with others. I have kept up with each of the co-authors through their weekly blog posts, as we continue to be each other’s cheerleaders. In the upcoming weeks, I look forward to re-connecting with Winston, Sean and Danny “Sunshine” Brewer as they bring it home and share the excerpts from their respective chapters.
This December, in addition to getting Education Write Now: Top Strategies for Improving Relationships and Culture Volume II to support your professional growth and development, pick up an additional copy and gift it to someone in your PLN, and continue connecting the dots so that you are not lonely, no matter the capacity in which you serve.