Week 8 – To Tell A Different Story

LEADING THROUGH LEARNING

I took the above picture in Yellowstone National Park, summer of 2017. I like how the powerful water leaves the smooth moss on the rocks. Just looking at the water you see one story, but when you notice the impact on the rock – the story changes.

It is an interesting irony how this blog is working in my life. Last week, I talked about focus and how important it is (and difficult it is) to stay focused when in the throws of life. I’ve found real value in some of the new strategies I’ve read about these past few months, like scheduling “Deep Work” and color coding my calendar to help keep my priorities straight. Putting my cell phone away when I’m with my family, pausing when asked to commit to something until I give myself time to think it through, writing more to reflect – all great strategies and beneficial ways I have created more space in my life. 

And then this week happened. 

Every single day of my calendar changed based on what was waiting for me at school this week. I missed long-scheduled meetings due to short-term need. This is the first week of this school year that student issues-discipline, crisis, and perceived threats, needed my immediate and undivided attention. When I reflect, I see that when I became emotionally involved, my blood pressure rose, and my pace quickened, I did not doubt my path or my choice of where I needed to be. Maybe, because the things I do in the morning to check in with the universe, were consistent, or maybe because I work with such an incredible group of people – whatever the reason, I end this week confident that I made the right decisions, and grateful I showed up and chose to participate. 

I love Brene Brown’s work. Dare to Lead changed my awareness of how vulnerability impacts my ability to lead effectively. Some days (or weeks), school leadership is all about grappling with the heartache that some students live with daily. When these students hit bottom, many times we school personnel are the ones to provide them boundaries and comfort. Yet, to provide those safety items, we must be able to be present in the moment; and,  to have the space in our lives to be able to focus on where we are needed. How can we possibly see this, if we aren’t taking care of ourselves? If we don’t allow for this reflection, then we simply miss it and go about our day, not knowing what we could have provided or what our impact truly could have been.

Often, we find ourselves in moments like these when we are so consumed with our own agenda/worry/fear that our focus is sidetracked. The human experience is to walk through these times and learn from them. The point is not to avoid them altogether.  But, I wonder, can we tell a different story? Daniel Bauer, author of Better Leaders Better Schools, proposed this in one of his podcasts. It really made me think about the stories I tell to justify others or my own decisions. To do this we often, naturally,  fill in the empty spots with our own script of why something has happened or why someone has acted a certain way – but can we tell it another way? Perspective can be unreliable, especially our own, when we are moving in many directions at once or when we have our own agendas-agendas, which are fueled by to-do lists, past experiences and assumptions about what will happen. 

To tell a different story, I participated in a twitter chat with colleagues about focus, and learned that many of us struggle more with focus at home than at work. This was a different way to look at something I had never differentiated before yet a topic I have thought about awhile lately. We all are aware of the many distractions which compete for our attention, yet still struggle with that choice. And for me to make no choice, means I am choosing to attempt to accomplish it all, which essentially, is choosing to fail. 

But, this week, my different story meant that I paid attention. Despite my overturned calendar and unexpected situations, I struggled alongside students as they made peace cranes to celebrate 2019 International Day of Peace. I cried with a parent, whose son made a poor choice and suffered the consequences. Because I answered an after-hours call, I was able to help a student in crisis. For me, the story shifted from one of frantic distractions to one of purposeful decisions allowing me to be present and therefore useful. 

This concept to tell a different story is something that pushes against my comfort zone. When I respond to something and feel a sense of “rightness,” I need to pause and see if I can tell a different story. Are my own assumptions keeping me from connecting to others? Is my own sense of right ruining an opportunity to extend grace? Am I using my judgements to focus on the why that in that moment doesn’t really matter instead of imagining the possibility to help understand and help? 

Many times when I address a discipline issue between two students, the students’ perspectives differ. This difference is not based on one being dishonest (although that sometimes does happen). More than likely, the story they see as their truth is based on misconstrued information.  And the actions they take against each other is dependent on misunderstanding of motives-for example, two boys who were picking on another student, which is a common situation among 12 year olds. The student being picked on reports the incident to someone (often a parent). And, when I hear about it and dig a little deeper, it is apparent that while this student clearly feels he was the target, in many cases, the other boys thought the insults were mutual. The target responded or did something that the other boys read as a similar slight or an acceptance of their behavior. So often when all of the boys start to talk, they bring up another incident or something else that fueled their own assumptions. When I bring the conversation back to their present action, it is a struggle for students to simply focus on that, since so much of the story in their head has nothing to do with what they did or how they responded. 

To tell a different story means we suspend our own beliefs long enough to see through someone else’s eyes. It means emotionally detaching from our own ideas in order to imagine a different reality. Children have an easier time doing this than adults. They don’t have the life experience fueled by emotional turmoil and triumph to lose the ability to shift viewpoints.The bravest leaders must be able to do this. They must be able to relate to those who don’t always share the same priorities, yet who strive for the same end goal. They must be confident enough to know that by allowing a different story, they give themselves permission to wonder and to risk. And to wonder, is to tell a different story -a story full of risk and uncertainty; possibility and joy, a story of leading through learning. 

Join me next week as I explore wonder and how it both empowers and terrifies us. How it allows us to remain vulnerable by opening us up to the possibility of a different story. Wonder makes us brave, empathetic and curious. Wonder keeps us learning and empowers our leading.  Thanks for reading this week’s blog. I’d love to hear your different story. 

Published by Elizabeth Ihle

Proud mom. Grateful educator. Adventure seeker. Insatiable reader. Lifelong learner. elizabethihle.com

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