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Summertime Listening for Leaders

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Summer has officially arrived. Days are warm and long. The daily lives of educational leaders change. Even those who continue to work during these months can luxuriate in a different set of clothes, a different pace of urgency, and a different set of responsibilities. It is also an opportune time for checking the rear view mirror and the road map or GPS for what lies ahead. We are fortunate to have this less structured time built into our lives. Other professionals do not. So, it is important that we not misuse this gift of time nor let it pass by without intention.

Our suggestions are these:

  • Begin with a deep breath. This has not been an easy year. Much has been demanded, much has been given and much has been accomplished. The work is never done though. The entry into summer will not offer a substantive difference in our lives without a deliberate choice and action. Let your senses return. Observe and savor the natural world around you. Silence the metronome of daily bells and schedules. Love your family time.

  • Read something new. Read to think, to escape, to learn and laugh. If you don't have a ready stack of books and journals by side, our suggested reading list can be found at EdWeek's BookMarks Blog.

  • Be physically active. Let your head rest and your body know that you care abut it. The stress of the year is over. Summertime is for relaxation. Do you remember how to play? Where are the friends you've been too busy to see? This is the time.

  • Enjoy some solitude. Our daily lives involve constant interaction. Someone is always waiting for us, at the door or on the phone or with an urgent message of some sort. We spend our lives in response to the needs and timing of others, until this opportunity comes. These precious weeks must allow you space. And, hopefully, you won't fill it too quickly. If we are to reflect on our lives and on the past year, then alone time is where it happens. The Quakers use the term "inner teacher" to describe the core part of ourselves, the source of our unique wisdom, the voice that tells us if a path is ours or not. Silence and solitude set up the environment in which we can to listen to it well. And, then trusted friends to help hold our deepest questions as we seek answers within.

    For many of us, as we have grown in our professional roles and become more powerful and responsible leaders, we may have noticed that we hear more than one voice playing out the options, trying to lead us one way to another. No, we don't mean as in mental illness but rather as our active minds considering a dilemma and confusing us. Which one to trust? One may be a voice that is hopeful and free of limitations. It sees truly and guides toward a trustworthy path. Did you see the Lion King? There is a scene in which the troubled future king feels lost, disheartened, and powerless. He is led to a pool where he sees his deceased father's image and a voice compels him not to forget who he is. This year may have sapped your energy, drained your passion for the work, and left you wondering what power lies within you. Summertime is the time to remember who you are.

    Another voice may issue warnings; it may be as protective as a good friend. There is a knowing when the risk is too great and one that keeps telling us it is the only path to take. The goal is to listen discerningly. Sometimes the protector voice is the wiser one. An example of not listening to that voice is learned from Hans Christian Anderson in his story "The Emperor's New Clothes." In short, the Emperor's tailors tell him the clothes they were presenting to him were made with a fabric so fine that only fools couldn't see it. Not wanting to be seen as a fool, the Emperor donned the nonexistent garment even though he sensed something was wrong. Right there - that is the moment the warning voice was ignored, and trouble ensued. He became exactly what he hoped not to be: the object of the joke.

    The goal is to find the voice that is ours...strong, clear, hopeful, honest, full of wonder and ready for action. Especially this year, we have all heard competing voices from within. There is a clue we need to know. When our world view begins "if only they", we are on slippery ground. It is an orientation from which it is difficult to find traction, let alone lead others. We stop, even though we may be running hard in place, we are not moving forward. Action and progress are not the same. "If only" gives us permission to fail, to be less than we can be. Every educator knows we want children to see what they can do, not the limitations holding them back. "I can't" must become "I will." The same is true for leaders.

    So take some summertime moments to listen deeply. Remember who you are and why this work called you in the first place. Then, you can invite others to follow you and they will. Because this is what followers ask.....

    Contract - A Word from the Led
    And in the end we follow them -
    not because we are paid,
    not because we can see some advantage,
    not because of what they accomplished,
    not even because of the dreams they dream,
    but simply because of who they are:
    the man, the woman, the leaders, the boss,
    standing up there when the wave hits the rock,
    passing out faith and confidence like life jackets,
    knowing the currents, holding the doubts,
    imagining the delights and terrors of every landfall;
    captain, pirate, and parent by turns,
    the bearer of our countless hopes and expectations.
    We give them our trust. We give them our effort.
    What we ask in return in that they stay true.

    --William Ayot, Small Things that Matter

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