From Me to We – Finding the Courage to Make Big Change

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A month ago I left the first Face to Face session with Cohort 21 feeling motivated, energized, creative and looking forward to the second Face to Face. But when I walked in on Saturday, I felt quiet and somber, and there was a strange pit in my stomach. Not only was the project I had come into this experience with no longer front of mind for me, but I had had absolutely no time in between the sessions to do all of the wonderful things I had planned to do (blogging, reading articles to put on Diigo, Twitter chatting with new colleagues). Where did the time go? I was feeling frustrated and, even more, confused, as I couldn’t clearly say what I did in those weeks to make time just magically disappear.

So on Saturday we were asked to think about something important, something urgent or pressing, that we wanted to work on this year. I tried to focus on the original student-centred classroom goal I had started with but all I kept coming back to was how frustrating it was to have so many goals and be so excited and motivated to work on my personal and professional development, and somehow not be able to find the time to do so. But personal time management couldn’t constitute a year-long project, could it? I started to write down ideas and then to bounce them off of people around me, and came to a startling realization – though I know now I shouldn’t have been surprised. It turns out that we are all feeling the same way. That we are all stressed and pressed for time, and that most, if not all of us, have accepted it as an unchangeable part of what we do.

Suddenly, my lens had widened dramatically to a point where I was no longer thinking about “Me”, but rather about “We”, about all teachers, and how we put so much of ourselves into our careers, because we care so deeply. I started to think about where I was four years ago, before I started working hard on my own wellness and mental health, and about colleagues and friends who are struggling to find that balance between the high demands and responsibilities of our chosen careers, and our desire to be present with our families at home. I still struggle with it, as evidenced by my difficulty making time for things that really matter to me. So then the question became an even bigger one, from pure time management, to general wellness and life-balance.

In the past few years, many schools have opened the discussions on student wellness and we have been making big strides in putting supports into place to help students live healthy, balanced lives. I have felt for a while now that it is important to begin this discussion for teachers as well. So many suffer in silence, slogging through when things get tough, afraid or unable to ask for help, and worst of all, feeling alone. Drowning.  “I’m fine,” has become our trigger response when asked how we are, but it’s often just not true.

When I started my journey towards wellness, I carried the Serenity Prayer around inside me as a mantra.

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

The Courage to change the things I can.

And the Wisdom to know the difference.

As teachers, and especially working in the independent school industry, there are many expectations and responsibilities that cannot be changed and that are a part of what we do. But I have to ask myself, what could be changed, if we really put our minds to it? What could we do to add supports and guidance for those who need it? I think the first step is to identify where the needs are: where teachers feel they need help, whether it be training, professional development, mentorship/coaching or simply, time. This is an individual thing, as we all have different strengths and different areas where we feel inadequate or ill-prepared. I have to believe that if we could find a way to identify the needs, surely there would be someone else with opposing strengths, and we could be there for each other.

So now I am moving forward and I am nervous because this is so much bigger, and so much more important, than I had envisioned coming into it.  There is that little voice of doubt inside saying, “Who are you to take this on? You’re just a teacher.” I push the voice aside and remind myself that I am that and so much more, and I search for the “Courage to change the things I can”, because there is a need, and I feel that there is something I can do, to make a difference, if only for one person, however small it might be.

So back to my original frustration: Time. I am mindfully working on my time management, planning ahead, scheduling in the things that count first and setting priorities so that the important things get done. I’ll keep you posted, let you know how it goes. Wish me luck, and don’t hesitate to send me some of your own Wisdom along the way. Starting the conversation is the first step.

Thanks for your input, @adamcaplan @kanderson @rsutherland @egelleny

4 thoughts on “From Me to We – Finding the Courage to Make Big Change

  1. Kelly I think you have touched on something incredibly important here, and I’m glad you want to focus on it this year. When I joined C21 in 2013 I had similar ideas, but focused my “balance” on my own classroom practices to enable more independence in my students. I thought if they needed me less, I would have more time and space. It was effective, but in the end my project ended up focusing more on the students than on my own balance.
    We are better teachers if we take care of ourselves. Last year a fellow teacher made the comment that administrators should “protect the school’s greatest assets”, which are the teachers. It stuck with me as a mindset, and I find it a powerful statement. I look forward to hearing what you have to share this year!

    1. Hi Ruth,
      Thank you for your words of encouragement. You’re right when you say that in taking care of ourselves, we are better teachers. I’d like to add that making the choice to put ourselves first, not in a selfish way but in a mindful, healthy way, makes us better in all aspects of our lives, as parents, friends and human beings. I saw something today, posted on Twitter by a colleague I respect, that said that you need to “take space to truly identify what you want and not always put others’ needs ahead of your own.” This can be a difficult thing in our culture, and takes practice.
      I’m really looking forward to this year’s reflection and conversation.
      Thanks for being a part of it,

  2. Hey Kelly,

    I greatly appreciate your thoughtful meditation on our very personal and emotional profession. Having recently bridged the divide between public and private school teaching, I can attest to the indifference sometimes given to teachers as the “students” become more of a focus as clients in an enrolment financial model. I have experienced first hand, however, that when a teacher leaves a school, an entire culture leaves with them. Even in a learner-centred environment, I believe the teacher is still the model of enlightenment values. This is a responsibility that every school should support, with Time being a paramount consideration for well-being.

    1. Hi Eric,

      I agree that Time has become an essential, yet somehow elusive, commodity in our hectic world. I am reading a book called “The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity” which is about time management for the 21st century. One thing that struck me, and that I’ve read before, is that we are living in a culture of “busyness”, where worth is measured by how busy we are. What I love about this book (and I will write about it in more detail soon) is that it discusses how busyness is not the problem, if we are busy doing creative, high-impact things which inspire us and give us a sense of accomplishment. The problem is that we are so constantly distracted by all of the details of our lives, the “To Do Lists” and, especially, the technology that fragments our time and our thoughts. So finding (making) the time for uninterrupted creativity becomes very difficult and must be done consciously if it’s to be achieved. This is what I’m working on. I hope you will take a look at my next blog post, which I will be posting this week, and let me know your thoughts on this.

      Thank you for your thoughts, Eric.

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