Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Monday, June 22, 2009

When Do We Let Go?

I'm so fortunate. As so many of us did, I entertained the idea of multiple career paths during undergraduate school. But twenty years ago, I decided to enter the wonderfully complex, often misunderstood, ever-rewarding world of education. It was the best decision I ever made. It has shaped who I am. And I feel incredibly lucky to have found a profession where I honestly believe I belong. I wish everyone would feel this way about their professional path!

I define my role as an educator as someone who is responsible for three main tasks. I facilitate the movement of a community of people to constructively, efficiently and effectively achieve an overall objective. I teach people (individuals and groups) how to honestly reflect on who they are and the experiences they've had so that they are able to grow. And lastly, I recognize when my influence has reached a point where the journey is no longer needing my guidance; I decide when to let go. Overall, I feel that I basically provide the scaffolding for success, the opportunities to experience, and the dialogue for reflection. Then I quietly walk away hoping that some part of what I've done has been beneficial. I walk away prepared to catch people if they fall, but also hopeful and confident that they'll fly. Because when they fly, they do more for themselves than I could ever hope to do for them myself.

So when is it appropriate to let go? At what point do we pull ourselves out of the equation and let people fly? THAT is the key to a successful educational experience, whether you're responsible for influencing administrators, staff, teachers, students, parents, family, etc. 

I want to share a few wonderful end-of-the-school-year stories. Three people I know decided to do something with their experiences. When I let go, they flew. And they flew well beyond any reasonable expectation would predict. And it's a testament to who they are. They own their growth!

I worked with a K-12 district curriculum director. She decided to reshape the foundational design for sustainable professional development in her district based on the reflective questions we came up with together. She was the one who remained open-minded enough to reflect on where she was, where the district was and what would aid their movement in a positive direction. Way to fly!

Second, one of my students decided to really take ownership of her education this year. It sounds like a number of her teachers all agreed that it was time to let go of her hand and let her fly. And she did. She really did! Take a look at her blog post. Her history teacher in particular has inspired her to reconsider her perspective on education. But she was open-minded enough to let the thought sink in. Way to fly!

Lastly, the inspiration for this post came from my daughter. In all honestly, sometimes it's difficult to know where the educator in me ends and the parent in me begins, and vice versa. As a parent, my role is much more complex, rewarding and personal. But there are similarities in my role, particularly the three areas outlined at the beginning of this post.

Four months ago, I saw a presentation at my school. It was an informative, tragic and inspirational movie created by the organization Invisible Children (IC). I shared the information with my daughter at the beginning of March. Since that time, she has committed herself to being a part of stopping the longest running civil war in Africa. Yes, my 17-year-old daughter is trying to stop a war. And I'm not exaggerating!

Here's what she's done since March:
1.) She had an informational party at our house to share the cause with her friends.
2.) She has regularly shared information with people whenever she gets the chance, in person, through Facebook, on the phone, etc. trying to raise awareness and raise money.
3.) She wore the IC t-shirts for a month at school to raise awareness.
4.) She went to the The Rescue event in Chicago. (Perhaps you saw that Oprah was the mogul who rescued the Chicago team.)
5.) And she is now in Washington DC at the "How It Ends" event. She will be lobbying congress to sign the LRA Disarmament and N. Uganda Recovery Act.
Check out her blog as she fills us in on her journey. I couldn't be more proud of her dedication and determination. If there's anyone out there who could literally stop a war, it's her. Way to fly!

We do go through moments where the people we are responsible for do not extend their experiences beyond the opportunity we provide. And I know how hard it can be to let go, both as an educator and as a parent, because you feel like there's so much more you could do. But look what happens when we put in the time to match opportunity with potential...

...and then get out of the way. The ownership of these success stories belongs to the three young women who chose to do something with the information at their disposal. Way to fly!

As educators, when should we let go? At the point where our influence becomes added weight instead of gentle wind. 

When is that? You have to decide together.

And it's normally a bittersweet moment when it happens.