“The stars we are given. The constellations we create.” ~Rebecca Solnit
In her recent Spotlight Podcast conversation with NHASCD’s Tom Crumrine and myself, Jennifer Abrams offered these three questions to bring to our colleagues, and, more specifically, to the teams of teachers and leaders we both support and are a part of: “How are you? Who are you? Who do we want to be together?” In the first part of this school year, like all of you, my colleagues were not just burning the proverbial candle at both ends, but simultaneously foraging for wax to mold the pillars in order to keep the flame lit at all costs. And, in such a strong testament to integrity and character, there was never a question that this was the work that was needed, and so this is the work that was done.
Remember that capacity-building visual of putting rocks into a jar? The facilitator keeps asking the question, ‘is the container full yet?’ after adding pebbles, then sand, then water. I believe initially it was meant to be inspiring; reminding us that we could handle more than we think. What the past few months have done though, is to quite literally change the shape of our containers, expanding our capacities in ways that many of us not just hadn’t imagined, but truthfully weren’t really interested in. But here we are. Battered and bruised, and showing up all the same. In this new state, we owe it to one another to ask these questions: “How are you? Who are you [now] ? and Who do we want to be together” after what we’ve just been through?
During the first part of the year, many meetings were canceled because of absences, substitutions, and just plain lack of mental space to engage with anything that was not an immediate need. Now, though, we owe it to our students, to our colleagues, and to our own professional growth to reconnect with our why and move forward together in a way that inspires us to find the joy in our practice. Yet we can’t do this without intentionally holding space to cultivate our teams. In Abrams’s new book she spoke about in the Spotlight Podcast, Stretching Your Learning Edges: Growing (Up) at Work (2020), she encourages her readers to “engage in reciprocity.” This is defined as: “the capacity to demonstrate respect for team members for the whole of the organization, and for the collective work of the team and organization” (p. 83). Abrams offers several different rubrics and questionnaires to assess areas of strength and opportunity for individuals and teams in order to increase their effectiveness. I’m excited to use one of these self-assessments to build relationships with one of my teams. This questionnaire poses ideas for reflection such as, “I understand that I can achieve larger goals only through group collaboration,” and “I know my strengths and weaknesses as a group member and work to address my weaknesses” (p. 89). After independently completing the survey, I will invite my teammates to participate in a version of the Microlab protocol from the School Reform Initiative. The Microlab is a structured discussion protocol which allows for equity of voice while promoting active listening. When used with Abrams’s self-reflection questions, my hope is that teammates will have an opportunity to learn more about each other, thereby continuing to develop trust. As leadership guru Simon Sinek (2012, August 6) said, “A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.” This trust creates the conditions for teams to identify and achieve the vision of who they want to be together, now.
Every member of your team is a star. In this new year of opportunity and change, may you be intentional in holding the space for these stars to align into inspiring constellations.
About the author
With more than two decades of experience in education around the globe, Kristen Moreland is committed to bringing humanity back to education. A former middle school English teacher and Instructional Coach, she is currently serving as the Director of Teaching and Learning for the Littleton Schools in Littleton, New Hampshire. You can follow her on Twitter @kmorekin and on Instagram @educatorsforhumanity