On Mothers' Day, I figure it's appropriate to look back on the things I remember the most about my Mother. As an avid nature lover, Helen Armstrong instilled in me a love for the outdoors. What didn't "stick" so well on me was her green thumb. I can grow old much better than I can grow flowers. And gardening would be great, except there is all that dirt under my fingernails.
So many more things Mother left me included her quirky sense of humor, her love of writing and a love of reading. Oh, and shrimp. We both loved shrimp.
I was thinking about this legacy she has left me, and I believe the same thing happens with those of us who work in schools. Every time we communicate with students, fellow teachers, fellow administrators, etc., we leave behind a memory. For what do we want to be remembered? I am not naive. I realize that I am not everyone's cup of tea, but I am certainly hopeful that I can be conscious of how I treat other people and leave behind goodness at least most of the time.
What impacts this reputation? I believe it is dependent on three main things: communication, relationship and enjoyment.
Communication: In my dissertation, I researched what impacted the level of trust teachers felt for their principal. Did the principal's character or competence matter more? Did the number of years a teacher worked for their principal matter, and to what end? But, most of all, I wanted to know what actions, behaviors, and characteristics of the school leader mattered most in building teachers' trust in the principal? What I found out was the quality of communication between principal and faculty mattered the most---did the principal tell staff members what was going on in the school before they heard it somewhere else? did the principal share training they had with the teachers in the school? Communication is the key to so many work and personal relationships. We need to focus on how to continue to build communication between school leaders and staff members, particularly if we want to support growth in people.
Relationships It is no surprise I wrote countless letters to my mother (and she to me) the first year I had moved out of the house. The fact is we had such a bond, it was hard to imagine a day going by without some contact with her. I am blessed to have that "want to share everything" feeling with Dave, now. Relationships matter, and not just in our personal lives. One of the other pieces of information I learned from my dissertation research was that teachers wanted to feel a connection to and support from their principals. "Why can't my principal ask me about my ailing grandmother?" "I so appreciated it when my principal sent me a card after my cat died." Sound like little things? Not so much to those who want that connection. I have a friend who worked for a boss for a few years. She said, "I always appreciated her competence in her work, but after awhile, I realized I was missing something big from her. She never asked me about my family. She has no idea how many children I have---in fact, I bet she doesn't even know I have children!" Relationships make the days of work so much easier. Cindy, the administrative assistant when I was principal, was the best relationship-builder with parents I have ever seen in my life. She could tame wild beasts single-handedly. She knew that parents would likely forgive a mistake by one of us if we had a relationship with them.
Enjoyment Working with people with whom you have fun makes a tough day a little bit easier to handle. One of my consulting colleagues (and dear friend, as well) and I love to teach together because we can bounce ideas off one another and have silly conversation in the car ride to work and back. Cindy (the one and same administrative assistant from above) and I used to sing silly songs together any time I would pass through the office. Inside jokes, fun texts, fellowship over meals for no reason, and loads of laughter make long days at work somehow not so long. I am so grateful to have experienced so much enjoyment with colleagues where I have taught, been a school leader and as a professional development facilitator. Dave jokingly cautions me when I call him from the airport after a day of training, "Don't tell me it was the best day ever. Not every day can be the best day ever." But, I say, "Why not?"
Just for today, my prayer and hope for each of you is that you are able to leave behind a legacy to those with whom you work and play that transcends all legislation, mandates, and paperwork.
For what do you wish to be remembered?