Recently our kids had a chance to connect with their east coast cousins as they made their way to Wisconsin over the 4th of July. It was a fantastic chance to connect and spend some time with everyone. At one point in a the trip the following conversation took place between Aidan and my 4 year old nephew Patrick:
Aidan: Patrick, can you hit the ball?
Patrick: I can do anything!
I was walking around the corner of the house at the time, getting ready to cook dinner on the grill, and when I heard him speak the words I just stopped. He was so confident. He was so engaged. He was so happy. He said it like he had said it 1000 times. He believed it. He knew in his heart that he could do anything. It didn’t end there. He hit the ball...and ran as fast as he could around the bases. Again...smiling, confident, and determined. The family cheered him on as he raced from base to base. They encouraged him to get to home plate as loud as they could. As he crossed home plate everyone cheered… “Way to go, Patrick!” and “Great job, Patrick”. As he looked around he screamed something I will never forget… “Yay Me!!!!” It was adorable and awesome. I smiled and teared up a little as I walked away, but as I was standing by the grill, waiting for it to be ready, I started to reflect on the words and it took me to a place that I didn’t like.
Here is a child with his whole school life ahead of him. He already posseses a quality that we want kids to leave school with when they exit our doors. Having said that, my assumption is that when he walks across the stage in 14 years his outlook on life may be different. That hurts. At some point, with a number of our kids, the “I can do anything” mentality stops...but when? When do they stop thinking that they can do anything and when do they stop cheering for themselves. Now, I don’t live the land of unicorns and rainbows. I understand that there are limits and we could dissect that in a number of different directions, but the promise of the future should be more about the “can” than the “can’t” when it comes to our buildings.
School should be about hope and opportunity. It should be a place where they want to be because they feel comfortable and valued. Spoiler alert...school needs to feel that way for adults too. When adults in the building feel like they are trusted to do anything...they will. When they own the process....they exceed expectations. When they are given the opportunity to teach to the best of their ability...they will. So, how do we make sure they will…
In my first year as a principal in Fall Creek I gave a paper plate to small groups sitting in a faculty meeting. I asked them to write down everything that was on their plate when it came to school. As they worked through the activity the usual suspects made their way to the top...grading, paperwork, and committees. What didn’t make it to the top was kids. Of the 5 groups none had it listed higher than 8th. It was one of the most caring groups of people I have ever worked with and I knew they loved kids, but the environment that was set up did not allow them to concentrate on their main focus...kids. Providing time, resource, and opportunity to grow without adding to their plate is essential. Find a way to do it.
Default to “Yes...and…”
If you want to build, or have built, an environment where trust is evident in every fabric of the organization you know how important it is to say yes. I challenge you to take it one step further. Saying yes to new opportunities for kids and adults is important, but saying “yes, and what do you need from me…” tells the person that you will be there for them. At first no one will tell you how you can help but when they trust you, they will let you know. If they don’t give you any specifics, circle back with them in a few days and ask again. Be invested...be specific.
Celebrate Their Work
I know I sound like a broken record...but celebrating the work of the of schools is paramount. If we want people to feel good about the space we need to celebrate the space. My friend and co-author Tony Sinanis and I preach this without hesitation….NEVER GIVE UP THE OPPORTUNITY TO SAY SOMETHING GREAT ABOUT YOUR SCHOOL. Every conversation is a chance to change the narrative. The school experience may not have been awesome for those who went to school years ago...but the narrative has to change. Our staff and kids do amazing things and if the only conversations about those amazing things are happening in our buildings, the mindset never changes.
I can do anything. When was the last time you said those words? Do you even remember? I simply don’t...and that needs to change. Let’s do this. Go Crickets.