The Courage to Love

I remember hearing the statement, “If your heart can take it, come fly,” in the context of courageous love. Courageous love means showing a willingness to love another despite mistakes, despite unknown outcomes, despite fears of failure. It means taking actions rooted in faith and not fear, forgiveness and not anger, hope and not pity. As leaders, as parents, as friends, and as children we will face struggles. We will be insecure. We will often be unsure of our choices and question past decisions. We will fail. We must choose how we will respond when we face these challenges. Will we courageously love ourselves, or will we feel sorry for ourselves? Will we allow our hearts to find new depths of both pain and joy in order to fly? Sometimes we will, and sometimes we won’t. One finds courage in recognizing that both choices are acceptable.  Passion will ultimately drive our choices. Our love for others bolsters the courage needed to reach new levels of learning.

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion,” wrote Simon Sinek.

Through life, we learn that to love is to be vulnerable and open to a connection which is not guaranteed to be reciprocated. We learn that love does not always mean one will feel good or feel happy. We learn through life lessons that those who love us most are the same ones we push away. These are the people in our lives willing to be uncomfortable by being honest with us. This honesty comes with risk and courage. 

In education, relationships are part of the learning experience in every classroom and in every school. Learning is more meaningful when it is acquired through love. When you ask anyone to share their most valued learning experience, most will begin by telling you about their favorite teacher. Teaching with love is about having high expectations, not accepting wrong behavior, and investing in relationships to build trust.

Research points to the power of relationships in the context of learning. According to Shelley Burgess, author of Lead Like A Pirate, “That’s the magic of schools. This is a people business. And we’ve got to take care of our people. And we have to take care of each other. And we have to build each other up, not tear each other down.” I believe the way we do this is through love – loving each other enough to be honest, enough to be present, enough to truly listen and ask questions instead of assuming and judging. In order to teach students to love learning, we must allow ourselves to love learning as adults. 

“As a leader, I want to be a chief encourager. I want people to know that they are appreciated, admired and even loved,” wrote Daniel Bauer in Better Leaders Better Schools. To lead with this sentiment at the front and center of what we do is critical to our effectiveness. To have the title of a leader is not what makes you a leader. The courage you display and the love you give to those you serve defines the leader you are each moment of each day. It takes courage to recognize when you are falling short of this goal. The only way we can improve is through awareness. 

Busy and fearful leaders create busy and fearful teachers. Leaders often ask teachers to take care of themselves; but, this is only done when leaders live this through their actions. We want teachers to build loving relationships with students; however, as leaders we must build loving relationships with teachers first. In order to see the good in others, we must see the good in ourselves. It takes courage to love ourselves. I believe this is the key to supporting a school culture based on love. “…for teachers to have loving relationships with their students, they must first love themselves. This requires acknowledging who we are through critical self-reflection. We each have insecurities, communication styles, and implicit biases that shape how we engage with others. When we lean into our strengths, own our imperfections, and strive to live in a manner aligned with our values, we embrace our own humanity,” wrote Robin Pendoley in the article The Essential Role of Love in Learning and Teaching.

Why did I name this blog Courage to Love? For one to truly love takes courage to risk vulnerability. “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage,” according to Brene Brown. It takes courage to emotionally connect with those in our lives. When I am fully present in conversations, especially emotionally charged ones, I give up control of the outcome.  When I’m sitting across from a parent in pain, a student struggling, or a colleague at a crossroad, it doesn’t matter how much I have prepared, how many facts I have gathered, or how much research I have conducted. When I allow myself to emotionally connect with them, I risk my own security. I stand beside them without judgement. Sometimes I cry with them. Sometimes I get angry with them. Sometimes I don’t find the right words. Sometimes I simply listen and hear their struggle. Sometimes these moments leave me raw, depleted, or sad. Sometimes they leave me uncertain, frustrated or confused. But every time, every single time, these moments leave me with more love, love for the personal connection and love for the shared struggle, and love for the chance to see things in a different light. When I now think about the saying “if your heart can take it, come fly,” I remember those conversations and my willingness to empathize with those sitting in front of me. 

Thank you for reading. I hope you find the courage to do things with love for yourself and others as you lead and learn this week. 

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