Week 4 – Balance

Leading through learning

Week 4: Balance

There have been points along my journey when I think balance is my ultimate life lesson. Over and over and over, I am aware that balance brings calmness and clarity to most, if not all, issues. Sometimes this awareness comes at the price of losing balance in my life in order to regain it. This cycle can be as painless or painful as I allow it to be. When I recognize the small warning signs: a missed appointment, a lost something, a scattered moment – these are all opportunities to take a moment and adjust the scales.

When I was younger, balance was between socializing and working – had to work to earn money, but wanted to socialize to make friends. As I grew in age and experience, balance became a juggling act between the many wonderful roles I acquired. I was already a learner, daughter, sister and friend, teacher, coach. Then I added wife, mother, leader, homeowner, community member, etc. Each time I added a role, I had to adjust to find balance. Sometimes, I did well; and, sometimes, everything falls so I can readjust not only the roles but my perspective as well.

At some point over the last few years, I learned that there was no point in trying to separate the many roles of my life. I am me. And my roles are ever changing and adjusting as time passes. 

When I first became a mother, the scales had to completely reset. My life was no longer about me. I had no idea how much this addition to my life would change not only the balance but the way I looked at everything in the world. I had to rebalance and redefine my purpose due to the impact of this tiny 4.2 pound miracle. And when my second baby was born, although I was a little more ready for the shift – the scales of my life had to realign again.

My first year as an assistant principal was all-consuming – similar to my first year as a teacher.  It was difficult for me to separate work and home. I thought about conversations, upcoming lessons, upcoming meetings.  I was on my phone or computer after hours checking emails and preparing for the next day. This was draining and created an imbalance within my life. The warning signs were small but clear: a missed promised lunch with my son at school, car repair costs due to not getting tires rotated when they needed it, a missed water bill payment, a messy house and loads of laundry to clean and put up. These things were not life-altering,  but clear warning signs of my inattention and my need for balance. So I had to change things. It is funny how in the moment, our minds can justify the mess, the miss, the neglect, as necessary.

This is when my family members serve to ground me. These relationships – this love – prevent the warning signs from growing into full blown chaos. Our shared love allows me to readjust with grace and humility. The only choice is whether I am open to them and the love. Can I hear the feedback without shutting down and drowning them out with my own rightness? They point out these signs and provide a different perspective. And half the time, simply the act of recognizing, being willing to look at the reality through their eyes, is all that I need to find my lost balance.Each time this realignment happens, it creates space in my life. 

This is where I will end this week’s post. Next week will be about looking at this space and how it is created and lost. Without creating space to reflect, to listen, and to pause, am I learning? Am I effectively leading? Space allows for new learning, new appreciation, new joy, and ultimately, new leading.

Week 3 – Intuition

Leading Through Learning

As I’m looking over my first two blog posts, I realize the purpose for this blog is not clear. So to clarify, this blog will serve as my time for reflection. As I use writing all during the week as a way to refocus, clarify and gather my thoughts, these entries will help me determine my focus in this blog. Sometimes these writings will connect with one another; and, at other times, they will be responses to challenges I face,  I hope to grow within this experience. Reflection is the goal. If I am going to continue to lead others, then, I have to continue to learn. If I’m going to learn about the ways I lead, and how others lead, I need to read, write, and listen.

Last week my intention was to focus on gratitude and energy. I can see how my deliberate choice of being positive and thankful impacted my week-from handing out a number of PBIS??? tickets, to writing a few thank you cards, to an opportunity to share my “why” with student leaders,  I made a conscious effort to seek joy daily. And it is the little things- like walking out of my office and seeing a group of teachers talking around the copy machine. Choice: go join them and build those relationships, or continue down the hallway to see students. Either could be justified; and, both could be beneficial. But the group of teachers were speaking quietly, and the bell had just rung. One of my goals was to be more available to students. So, I decided that  it would bring me more joy to continue down the hallway. This choice allowed me to see a student who had been upset the previous day. I was able to connect with him and follow up – something I had planned to do anyway but this way was more natural, and therefore, more joyful.

Another theme throughout my week was recognizing how often I was called upon to rely on my intuition. As a school leader, I often serve as a mediator. Whenever faculty, students, or parents have an unsolvable problem, they bring it to me for direction and for a solution. I know this is part of my role.  And, I understand that, while many times I don’t have an answer, the answer is often not what they need. What they need is someone to bring further clarity or a different perspective. And many times their challenge is surrounded by their own strong emotions.

I try to handle these conversations by using the principle of wisdom. I believe wisdom is the ability to make the right decision at the right time. When I am clear on how to proceed when no clear path is evident, that is directly related to intuition and connection to my inner voice. As I grow older, I have learned that I cannot be used as merely a dumping ground for the challenges and emotions of other people. When I find myself dreading to meet certain individuals, it is a signal that I have allowed myself to be used in ways that are unproductive to everyone. Setting these boundaries at the beginnings of meetings gets easier as I listen to my own intuition. Wisdom allows boundaries to be built in a loving, yet clear, way.

Intuition is an interesting thing, too. When I’m distracted, overwhelmed or stressed, I feel  that my intuition is weak. That is why decisions made in those moments are usually hasty and eventually become mistakes. Sometimes my most difficult challenge is simply recognizing the need to wait.

My learning this week involved listening to others. It involved my moving toward joy and recognizing the thoughts that take me away from that joy. My leading this week began with recognizing student needs, trusting my intuition, even when the decision resulted in some disagreement, and knowing that next week will hold entirely new opportunities to learn and lead.

Let me know what you think! Thanks for reading. I hope your week is full of joy and learning.

Week 2 – Energy

Leading through Learning

“As a leader, I want to be chief encourager. I want people to know that they are appreciated, admired, and even loved. I think the best organizations operate as a family. There is trust, compassion and a shared sense of belonging and identity.” – Daniel Bauer

Week 2 of School – check. And the energy is palpable. All the new, shiny things are still new and shiny. Kids are getting into activities, clubs, and the groove. Teachers are starting to flow with the rhythm of the week. One curriculum night down, and one to go. Our new teachers are building relationships with others and learning who has the answers they need. Our veteran teachers are exploring their role this year and deciding whether they will help or hinder (some consciously, some unconsciously). All of these things are indications that school is back and so are we.

So how do we keep the momentum positive? I think the answer has to be simple and is rooted in gratitude. I can already see how with the rhythm setting in, so is the tendency to slide into negative talk. “I’m so busy” and “Can’t wait until Friday” and “I’m tired” all essentially become what I attract ???when that is what I say to colleagues. I made a conscious effort not to say these things and was surprised by how many times I noticed others’ saying them. In order to feel grateful, I have to look for things to be grateful for each and every day.

Most of the days these past few weeks I was able to start my morning by walking the halls and saying hello to each teacher. But a few days, I wasn’t able to do this because of meetings (and that will only increase as the year goes on). The days I was not able to connect briefly with each teacher, I felt rushed. When I feel rushed, I act rushed. And, in that mindset, it is hard to see what I’m grateful for in the moment. So how do I connect when I’m unable to do the very thing I enjoy most in the morning? I think gratitude is the answer. So the three mornings I start with meetings, I’m going to write three letters of gratitude to hand out that day and see if that helps my perspective. Energy and gratitude – together are powerful qualities that help maintain looking?and seeking?positive moments.

My intentions this week are to be aware of these two elements.  I resolve to notice when I slide into being rushed and try to pivot my thinking, despite the demands or negativity I may encounter with situations involving strong emotions. The principle of the week that  I will focus on is harmony. I will ask myself if what I think, say and do is aligned in a harmonious way. How can I bring positive energy to stressful situations? This will be my focus and goal.I’ll end this blog with a quote one of our teachers had posted in her room. “Be happy. Be Bright. Be you.” 

Week 1 – Intentions

Leading through learning

As a new year begins, I am always surprised and grateful for the “freshness” that is inherent in education. Teachers come back excited and rejuvenated, students come back with new goals and hopes, new students arrive unsure and eager to learn and make friends. It is one of the most critical times in education, because it is when everything is set for the year. Once those students cross the threshold of the school building, the year is officially off and running. As a leader, it is important that I make the most of the preplanning days, and, strategically, set my teachers up for success. Can they be fully present when their students walk into their classrooms? Can they take the extra minute to connect and get to know their students? Have I made teachers feel welcomed and appreciated and valued during those essential days of preplanning, when our list of information to provide them is long and seemingly growing? I think some years have been better than others;  but, every year there is some improvement. Isn’t this the goal of life?

When working with students, I often find myself discussing intentions with them. Middle schoolers sometimes claim, “but I didn’t mean to,” or “it wasn’t my intention to…”  And, while it is an excuse often heard, it doesn’t excuse poor choices. I try to explain that to students by using the example of speeding while driving a car. I ask them if they have ever ridden in a car when the driver, either parent, sibling, or friend, has been pulled over for driving too fast (9 times out of 10 they have). I ask them to tell me what that driver says to the police when they are pulled over. “I didn’t mean to go over the speed limit,” or “Was I really going that fast?” often is the answer, with a look of understanding beginning to appear on the student’s face. I ask if this excuse is deemed a reasonable one by the officer. Does the policeman let  the driver go with a warning, or is there another consequence? By this point in the story, the student understands the concept that the world judges us by our actions, not our intentions. 

With that said, I do believe our intentions have great influence over the direction of our lives. When I am intent on seeking joy or being positive or doing my best, it can have great impact on the course of my day, my week, or even the year. When I recognize negative thoughts or stress and focus on being positive, I can turn a difficult moment into one of learning. This has happened with a lifetime of awareness and practice. 

As leaders, it is critical we connect the power of intentions with the reality of our actions for those we lead, in order to learn how to best align the two.  We are tasked with encouraging and believing in our teachers and removing obstacles in order for them to teach. All educators are tasked with teaching students to make good decisions, communicate effectively, and learn information that will help them do the first two things well. 

This year, I have some specific goals for myself personally; and, I want to state them here with the intention of revisiting in May 2020, to see if I achieved them or at least kept them in my focus.

  1. Tweet everyday. This is not so I can say something profound every day but rather a bump to make sure I am reading something profound every day. Starting my morning with some guidance from others gets me in the right mindset. And as a leader, I believe mindset is everything.
  2. Blog weekly. This is so I can spend some quality time reflecting on how my principles look in action. Am I in harmony? Do my thoughts, words, and actions align? What are my hurdles? How can I look at them honestly and seek change?
  3. Exercise 4 to 5 times a week. I have to disconnect and recharge. This can be intentional workouts, hikes, kayaking, or playing with my dog. Instead of exercise being a chore, I am going to try to look at this as an opportunity to thank my body for the 41 years of life behind me and the many, many years ahead.
  4. Meditate and practice yoga daily. Even those mornings I can only stay calm for 2 minutes. Or have to find a 5 minute yoga routine (thank you Yoga with Adriane!) On better days, my aim this year is 15 minutes. Yikes!!
  5. Succeed at home first. These are the people who matter most. And at the end of the day, they are the gauges for me as to whether I am living a balanced life.

In previous years, I would separate my professional goals from my personal goals and would end up with about 10 in all…and rarely accomplishing any of them. This year I recognize my roles merge all the time, and I’m going to stop separating them. Too much effort and for what?

So here we go. August. Week 1. 2019-2020. Bring it. Boldness. Bravery. Beauty. Let’s seek joy and be present. By the last blog of the school year – May, Week 4, I hope to reflect and be able to proudly say, “I led this year by learning.”

My First Blog Post

Welcome.

My name is Elizabeth Ihle. This is my first blog. Although I have thought about writing online and have read countless others ideas, this is my first. This blog is titled, Leading through Learning. It will be based around my experience in education. I am embarking on my 12th year in education and have experienced this field through the eyes of a teacher, instructional coach, literacy specialist and currently an assistant principal. Throughout all of these roles, the common thread is I am always a learner. I am writing this blog with the hope that it will clarify my own direction, my vision for both my personal and professional journey, and to have a bit more awareness of how the principles I value shape my life as a leader and a learner. So here we go.

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.