A Story About Change

January 15, 2020

 

One person can have a profound influence on the culture of a classroom. But that same person can also alter the trajectory of a team or school. In fact, one person is all it takes to start to change the culture of an entire organization.

 

I’ve seen it happen, but not in the way you might expect.

 

When I was a senior in high school I had a crush on the captain of the girls’ high school soccer team. She had a deep faith, strong spirit, and was beautiful on the inside and out. She still is.

 

We went on to create a life together that’s been better than anything I could have ever imagined. Except for this one thing. Although we didn’t exactly discuss it in our wedding vows, we have always operated with an understanding that we were not “dog people.” Neither of us. And not just in a past-tense kind of way. We are still not dog people.

 

For starters:

 

I’m scared of dogs.

 

They bite.

 

They bark.

 

They’re expensive.

 

They lick you and have germs.

 

They make it difficult to travel.

 

They smell.

 

They smell even worse when they’re wet.

 

And they make walking barefoot in the backyard risky business.

 

Not to mention, a dog attacked me every morning as I walked to the bus as a middle schooler. So you can see why it makes perfect sense for my wife and I to never get a dog. Ever. 

 

But sometimes things get complicated.

 

My high school sweetheart and I went on to have three incredible kids together. Our resolve to remain a dog-free home was unwavering as our children worked their way through elementary school. It wasn’t until our oldest daughter was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism that I started to understand how a four-legged companion could be especially helpful to her. And when something is good for your kids you become who you need to be to help them. (You might as well start calling me the dog whisperer now because you can guess where this is going.)

 

My wife and I did some research and learned that there are a couple different dog breeds that are especially good matches for children with Autism. And because our longing for our daughter to form deeper connections with the world were more important to us than basically anything on the planet (or my list above) we welcomed a Golden Doodle named “Willow” into our home. And now, I think we might be dog people.

 

Willow has changed our family on multiple levels. On more than one occasion, our daughter has welcomed us into her innermost thoughts and said, “Willow is my best friend.” Times like this are pure-parenting gold. And in a more literal sense, they involve real-actual conversation which continues to be another goal we share.

 

When I look back at what changed from the time my wife and I were definitely not dog people to now, my mind goes to one thing. Had it not been for my wife’s wisdom, open mind, and selfless leadership I would never have experienced such a profound shift in my own thinking. My wife helped me understand why it was important to turn into a dog person and also showed me how to do it.

 

This doesn’t mean I’m able to walk in our backyard barefoot yet, but it does mean the culture of our home is completely different now.

 

As a recent example, my family was heading outside to go to a park and one of my kids stopped and asked, “Dad...should we leave Willow at home to make it easier?”

 

I’m not sure what came over me, but I responded, “We don’t do easy...we do together.” And with that our entire family, including Willow, headed to the park together. 

 

It’s not about easy. It’s about together.

 

This was a clarion moment for me and it really got me thinking about the complex work we do in schools to change culture. Chances are good that you interact with students, parents, or colleagues who have strong opinions about teaching, learning, and leading. (Just like I had a pretty strong opinion about dogs.) And sometimes these people may even be a little set in their ways. Am I right?!

 

Meaningful change starts with at least one person willing to own it. And to gain any traction whatsoever, a path forged from relationships must be intact. 

 

If this blog post resonated, you might like my newest book, Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education. The book tackles a tension many educators are feeling using a combination of stories and practical strategies. If you’re interested in technology integration, Renegade Leadership: Creating Innovative Schools for Digital-Age Students is a best-seller with Corwin Press. Both books are built on the belief that everything we do in education starts with relationships and connectedness.

 

 

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Dr. Brad Gustafson is an elementary principal, author, and speaker. He believes schools can be spaces where creativity and innovation thrive, but only when we prioritize relationships and a relevant, connected pedagogy. 

 

Connect on email at:

AdjustingCourse@gmail.com

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