I always feel like it is truly a Godwink when circumstances collide, and a potential blog topic that has been tickling my brain continues to gain traction with each passing day as something new gets added to the mix. Today was the culmination of one of those times for me. This week, I was in Detroit, working with school leaders at a small district. I made nametags the night before the training with their first names on them (and one for me, as well, although I have one of those fancy-shmancy metal ones with the title, etc.). As I met them, I gave them their nametag and within a few minutes, I didn't need the nametags anymore, as I had committed their names to memory. Make no mistake----I have no lack of things taking up brainspace and memory space, but I have always tried to make room for names, as they are so important to me. When I was a guidance counselor and then principal at an elementary school with around 550 - 575 students, I made sure I knew every student's name. Why? The easiest one-word answer I could give you is "relationships" but another, more practical, reason is because it made a big difference to say, specifically, "Joseph, come over here for a minute, please. Remember when we talked about running in the hallway, last week? What were a couple of reasons we said it was better to walk?" instead of a global, "Hey! Hey! Hey! Quit running in the hallway!" to random students. Names helped the students know they were seen, heard and known. It had the same effect on bus drivers, to be honest (not that I was asking them to stop running in the hallway, I might add). Often, participants with whom I work in school districts all over the world will say, "How do you remember names?" to which I often answer, "I think it's about why more than how, as I can't really explain how I do it but the reason I do it helps make it happen. I know that it builds relationships where there were previously people who simply didn't know each other."
So, this week, the administrators and I talked about the importance of calling people what they want to be called in an effort to build rapport with them (whether we are talking about school leaders to staff or from teachers to students). Many of us have experienced the "oops" that comes when we mispronounce someone's name, and I can say that it is something I swear I won't do twice. Names matter, as they are typically the first thing we know about someone new whom we meet. Even though I teach online courses to Grand Canyon University students (teachers who are getting their master's degree in Educational Leadership), I still ask my students what they want me to call them. I simply want to honor the fact that Matthew might prefer Matt, even though I might never see him in person.
Also, this week, one of my friends posted something on Facebook about how her German Shepherd has a myriad of names he is called....nicknames, even though "Chief" is a perfectly great name in and of itself. I started laughing, as our Labs are Kirby and L.C., but we call Kirby about 10 different nicknames depending on what we are saying to him (and L.C. is the same way). I was thinking about how we do the same with loved ones....call them different names for different occasions----Dave is "Sweetie", especially when I need him for something. Now that I have planted that thought in your head, what are some of the names you call loved ones that have nothing (or very little) to do with their given name? What is the reason behind that, do you think? My hunch is that, over time, the relationship with our loved ones has become so deeply ingrained, we have come up with new ways to think about them. If names are the beginning to the relationship, then how much has the relationship morphed when the names are morphed?
When I first begin teaching a course at Grand Canyon (or I get a new student teacher) or I get a new doctoral student at Walden University, I am Dr. Arneson. But, over time, I become Dr. A, Dr. Mom (yes, I love that one, too), Dr. Shelly, etc. But what has really changed besides the name? The kicker, I believe, is that the relationship has morphed into something more profound and, yes, more vulnerable (in the sense that we can be more open, honest, comfortable, and yes, sometimes even more "loving" with one another as the relationship grows). So yesterday, one of the students in a course that is ending in three more days, wrote a discussion post (that is public not just to me but to her classmates, as well) that said, in part, "After week one, I was close to giving up. First assignment I didn’t get a great score. Thanks to Dr. Arneson meeting with me on Zoom, I was able to get an understanding of her expectations, and we built trust in being able to communicate throughout the course. Setting up that first meeting required me to be self aware that if I continued this way, I was not going to pass the class." Wow! Just wow!! This is a student who I now believe has everything it takes to become an amazing school leader. Why? She was not afraid to be vulnerable----not just in the act of asking to talk to me about her grade, but being WILLING to do what it takes to take a sincere look at her work.....not to mention being brave enough to share all of this with the rest of her class of 21 students.
It should not, then, have come as a surprise to me that the sermon in church today had to do with Jesus knowing us by name and all the names we call God and Jesus. Names are, after all, the beginning of the relationships that continue to grow and transform us. We talked in a small group after church today about what parishioners call Episcopal clergy (Father, Mother, Reverend, first names, etc.) and the reasons for those names.
Just for today, consider what names mean to you, what you call your closest friends and loved ones (including the four-legged ones), and why.
Shelly (just Shelly is perfectly fine, by the way)