Today, a colleague I don't know very well yet complimented me by saying, "I know you have a lot going on, but you always have a smile on your face." I appreciated that interaction, and I answered by saying, "Well, there are really only two options, right?"
Still, I have not always been able to keep the smile going. I'm not talking about times when it's valuable to feel other things, but about maintaining a general sense of positivity. It can be difficult to keep a forward-looking, hopeful mentality if the people around me are stressed out or negative; I find I absorb those feelings like a sponge. That energy is so defeating, and it can be hard to climb out of that hole.
I am extremely fortunate to work in a space with three unusually positive people. Two are consistently nurturing, calm, and open-minded, and the third is unfailingly patient and funny, no matter how many needs or tasks present themselves throughout the day. I have more energy because I am around these people, and I realize I am mirroring their positive demeanor. I hope to be the kind of person who brings that same sense of encouragement to others, no matter what is going on around me.
"Lighthouses don't go running all over an island
looking for boats to save.
They just stand there, shining."
- Anne Lamott
I've long been a fan of this quote by Anne Lamott, because this is a challenge for educational leaders, and, well, people. How do you exert positive influence without being overly insistent, or nosy, or ignorant about what people need most? How can you consistently be a force for good in a system that relentlessly demands your time and attention?
With all due respect to the insightful Ms. Lamott, I don't think there's any "just" involved in shining. Offering ideas and kindness to people requires energy, and sustaining the light so it is accessible when people need it is an art. Not everybody will see the shine coming from a lighthouse, but it's invaluable to those in the shadows nearby, trying to find their way.
It can be easy for teachers to doubt ourselves, or even to cover up our light and be consumed with a thousand small things. "When I finish this task," we tell ourselves, "Then I will take time for what will really make a difference." But there are always more tasks on the list.
I have been incredibly fortunate to witness the shine of some amazing educators who have informed and shaped my path and my view. I hope to be a shiny teacher - not the one who talks the most or has the prettiest classroom or the most social media attention - but one who knows what matters, and keeps the light focused there. I invite you to shine, too.
I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of students and families in IA, CT, NC, MO, TX, and Canada.