An amazing opportunity has presented itself. Although I’ve worked in the field of education for over twenty years in a variety of different roles, one thing I have never done is filled the role of classroom teacher. Sure, I’ve spent countless hours observing and assisting in classrooms, co-taught lessons, created and done presentations for students and facilitated lots of inservice days and training programs for teachers – but I’ve never had the total responsibility for a classroom for a whole school year. So when a term position opened up for an instructor in my college’s Social Service Worker program, it seemed like a no brainer. My two loves – social work and education – married together. What could be more perfect?
Except that I love my job. I work in a Mature High School program with adults who have often had to overcome incredible challenges to get there. I get to watch them learn and grow – often discovering that they are much more capable than they ever realized. It’s truly a magical place – how could I leave that?
As I struggle to make the decision of whether or not to apply for this new position, I realized that what was really causing me difficulty was not which job I wanted to do – but rather, being in limbo not knowing what picture to focus on in my head. I was reading William Glasser’s biography this morning, and was struck again with the idea that the outside world doesn’t cause feelings and behaviours – it’s our internal world that creates these. And my problem is that I have two clear pictures in my head – one of me working as a classroom instructor, and one of me working in my current role – and they both are incredibly need-fulfilling in their own way. I know that no matter what happens – whether I am chosen for this position or not – that I can choose happiness and fulfillment. I just don’t know what decisions are going to be made by external forces outside of my control. If I’m not offered the new job – I know I have the power to choose thoughts and behaviours that will make me feel relieved that I can remain with my current colleagues and students and continue the important work we do. And if I am offered the teaching position – I will feel excited about the opportunity to face a new challenge and expand my experiences and skills.
I could choose the opposite. I could focus on feelings of rejection and lost opportunities should I not be offered the position. And if the opposite were to occur, I could lament all the extra time and work that is going to be required, not to mention my lost hopes of a winter vacation this year!
This is the gift of control theory – having the knowledge that no matter what the world throws at me, I have the control to determine what I’m going to do, think, and feel about it. And with that knowledge, I can always choose happiness.
I’ll keep you posted! I don’t know what I’m going to be doing next school year – but I know it will be a great year!
We all spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get people to do what we want them to do. How can I make my boyfriend commit? How do I get my kids to clean their rooms? How do I stop that guy at work from coming in late every day? There are so many different tactics that we attempt to use in order to get what we want. We try to give someone “a taste of their own medicine” with the hopes that they’ll figure out how we feel. We try to buy someone off, or punish them by giving them the cold shoulder. There’s a million games that we play in relationships – and often they backfire.
For example, huge issues quickly arose when a dear friend of mine and I moved in together, but had never discussed what it meant to each of us to be roommates. Her picture was that we would do everything together, and she was very upset to find that I carried on my life much as I had before we moved in together. The angrier she got that I was leaving her out, the more frustrated I became that she was trying to control me. Looking back, I realize that the whole situation could easily have been avoided if we’d actually had a conversation about our picture of what living together would look like, instead of us each lashing out and getting angry with each other.
One of the things that can really help prevent problems from arising in relationships of any kind is to have a clear understanding of the social contract which establishes the “rules” for the relationship. When we actually make these rules explicit, it ensures that everyone is on the same page. Often, the problems that arise are simply because there is a difference in expectations.
I heard a story about the staff a daycare centre that was frustrated with parents who were picking up their children late. They decided to implement a late fee – a certain amount for each minute the parent was late in picking up their child. To their surprise, instead of solving their problem, it actually made it worse. Instead of parents feeling like they needed to be there on time, parents felt that as long as they paid the fee, it was ok to be late now. Daycare staff and parents had very different pictures of how the relationship was going to work. How different might this have turned out if instead of implementing the fee, the daycare staff had simply talked to the parents about how important it was to have the children picked up on time so that staff were not working overtime and being forced to miss out on their own family obligations?
How often do conflicts happen in life because we just haven’t really talked? Instead of playing games, trying to understand and be understood?
I used to get frustrated about how much time got wasted in my workplace. People would interrupt me when I was working to chat about the weekend, or things going on in their lives. I welcomed the odd storm day that forced me to work from home, as I could get so much accomplished when I was able to work without all those distractions.
But if you really want to talk about efficiency, email has been an amazing time saver. I’m part of a diminishing group of people who used to work before there was such a thing as email. Looking back, it’s mind boggling to think of how much longer it took us to do business when you actually had to catch someone on the phone to talk. I can fire off a dozen emails in the time it used to take me to make one phone call. And when things had to be done by phone, you couldn’t just get straight down to business either – that would seem rude. So you had to do the small talk, chit-chat thing before moving on to your real reason for the call. What a massive waste of time!
Except that it wasn’t.
I’ve seen good ideas wither on the vine because people could not work together to make them happen. I’ve seen how simple tasks can become incredibly complex because people are playing games, or don’t want to put in any effort for someone they feel doesn’t respect them.
I appreciate now that everything about work is really about people. Without relationships, very little happens efficiently. Differences of opinion do not turn into battles or become personal attacks when opposing sides know and respect each other. Good ideas can turn into great ones when people go the extra mile with their contributions to a project.
So I’ve changed my tune. Spending time building relationships does not interfere with my work. It is my work. Although I still appreciate the time saving that things like email have brought, I’m also aware that I need to attend to the people I work with – not just our tasks. After all, belonging is a basic human need, and without it, things go off kilter.
I heard a great line recently that I think sums this idea up very well: We need to loiter with intent. We need to hang out with people, get to know them, build relationships. Sure – it can be a break from work, but remember – it’s not a waste of time.
I’ve been working my way through a really cool course… it’s all about how those of us who work with Indigenous people can cultural safety in our practice. I have to admit, I was skeptical about how painful it might be to do an online course – but it’s really well done, and I’ve quite enjoyed it If you are interested, you can learn more about it here.
However, it’s not to plug this course that has led me to this post today. I had a bit of an “aha” moment when I was working my way through a section today that I really wanted to share.
They were talking specifically about the experience of Indigenous people with the health care system, and how so many times, people’s different experiences, perspectives and beliefs are not valued. The comment was made that we should not approach Aboriginal people as if we know what’s best for them. The importance of listening, and working to understand where a person is coming from and what is important to them is key in truly helping a person. For example, it’s easy to tell a person that they should be eating a healthier diet, but without listening, you might not find out the challenges of doing so in a remote community where fresh fruit and vegetables are not readily available or financially reasonable to purchase.
What struck me is that this is really true for every person in a helping relationship. It’s so easy to think that we have all the answers and know what’s best for a person. But each person is truly unique – with a different balance of basic needs, and different preferences about how to achieve these needs. What works for me to fill my need for connection with others may totally backfire for someone else. The things that make me feel powerful and like I can make a difference in the world are not the same as they are for others. My idea of fun and freedom is not skydiving out of an airplane – but it is for many other people.
Yet, it’s so easy when we are working with people to make judgments and think we know the answers to people’s struggles. I know I catch myself all the time thinking “If only this person would….”, without really honoring the fact that whatever they are doing they are doing for a reason. If only I was able to slow down and explore the reasons, perhaps I could be a better helper….
Perhaps those of us in the helping professions need to ask ourselves – are we simply telling people what to do, or are we seeking to truly understand and help people find what’s right for them?
Here we are again – the night before the first day of school. I’m excited about the upcoming year, and full of anticipation for all that is to come. I’ve watched as my new students have walked through the doors to register – many are nervous and unsure of themselves, and I want to make sure that each and every one of them leaves at the end of the year confident and capable in their abilities.
But I know that this can be difficult. While school is all about learning, mastery, and achievement, and is designed to reward and celebrate those things, I also know for some of my students this year, in spite of having a great need for power, they might not be able to satisfy that need easily. How does someone feel a sense of accomplishment when they work hard and still fail that test? Or when they are sitting in a class trying desperately to understand algebra, and it’s just not connecting for them? If they are to leave feeling confident and capable, how can we create the conditions for this to happen?
So tonight, I’m thinking about ways that people can gain that sense of power in ways other than strictly academic achievement. I want to ensure that there are leadership opportunities for them- so that even if academics are a challenge, that people still know that they are important to how our school functions and that their efforts really make a difference. I want to ensure that my students learn that no one has all the answers all the time, but that they have figured out where to go and how to get the answers and help that they need when they inevitably hit a wall. I want to teach them how to honestly reflect on their own progress, and to take pride in their own growth instead of focusing externally and comparing themselves to others. I want them to know that when they have lent a helping hand to someone else, that they may have changed the course of another person’s life. I want them to know that achievement and success come in many different ways.
What ways do you help to create opportunities for your students to fulfill their need for power?
I was stuck. I didn’t know what I should do. On one hand, there seemed a clear course of action that I should take. I have always considered myself an advocate, and there was certainly an issue on the table that was worth fighting for. Yet, on the other hand, there was something that didn’t feel right about this. I had this nagging feeling that I might be doing more harm than good, and that perhaps there was another way of tackling this problem that might yield more effective results.
Or was that a cop-out? Was I just rationalizing so that I could avoid a struggle? After all, how many worthwhile causes were won without some personal sacrifice on the part of those fighting for the cause? Was I just being a wimp?
But at the same time, I’ve seen people completely ignored and written off as crazy when they take on a battle only to have someone else come along and attack the same problem with a grace and skill that wins people over and achieves the desired outcome.
What to do?
I’m fortunate to have a very smart friend with whom I was sharing my woes who, instead of telling me what to do, asked me a question.
“What would a leader do in this situation?”
I didn’t even have to pause to answer this question. My choice became crystal-clear. And I haven’t had a moment of doubt since.
The problem was, I’d become hung up on a label that limited me. Now, it’s not that being an advocate is a bad thing. In fact, it’s still something I strive hard to be. But when I got stuck, it was like being hit by a lightning bolt to try on another label that describes another characteristic that is part of the person I want to be.
This experience has made me think about how I might be able to support others in finding the answers to their own struggles by connecting them with the kind of person they want to be.
When someone is fighting because he wants to be strong, what would happen if I asked them what a kind person would do in this situation?
When someone is reacting because they want to be heard, what would happen if I asked them how a thoughtful person might respond?
What labels have you seen drive the behaviour of others that, while on one hand are very valid, on the other, are restricting their possibilities?
What labels may be doing this to you?
I fell in love with Wab Kinew after I had the chance to hear him speak. He was smart, funny, and was able to challenge the audience’s thinking and assumptions about First Nations people in a spirit of true reconciliation. I first remember him from his days working as a reporter for the CBC, and became a fan after watching the 8th Fire series. So when his book, “The Reason You Walk”, was released, it became number one on my “must read” list.
His journey from a reserve in Northwestern Ontario to Member of the Legislative Assembly in Manitoba has been an interesting one, and the path has not always been easy. One of the things that intrigues me is how someone can live through so many challenges and traumas to become such a strong and centered advocate, educator and leader. So many people are not able to see themselves through the suffering they have faced. I was curious to see if there was a hint in his memoir that could explain how he became the person that he is today.
I know that there is never one simple reason to explain how a person becomes who they are. It’s a blend of experiences, opportunities, genetics, luck…. A million different factors influence our personal development. However, there was one part of Wab’s story that fascinated me.
From the very beginning, he was told that he would grow up to lead his people.
I can’t help but think that the fact that he heard this throughout his life didn’t shape him.
It makes me think about some of the messages our kids hear. From simple statements like “You just aren’t a math person” to more cutting remarks like “You’ll never amount to anything”, I do believe that the pathway someone takes in their life is greatly influenced by the messages that they hear that help to form the picture of what they see as possible.
Wab talks at the end of the book about how important it is to him that his own children have a picture of what it is to be a strong, proud indigenous person because this will help carry them through the difficult times in life.
Do your words and actions paint an image of strength and hope for the children in your life, or do they limit their possibilities?