"What do I even say?" This was one of many questions I asked myself when trying to plan our final staff meeting of the school year. Saying "Thank you" felt grossly inadequate. Celebrating what everyone accomplished didn't feel like enough either.
So, how do you process the past school year in a manner that's meaningful to everyone who poured their heart out to make it happen for kids. Especially when many of them experienced it differently.
Our team took a page from the television show, Survivor. If you're a fan of the show, you may recall that each season the finalists participate in a reflective walk together. A series of flags is strewn along the beach...or jungle...or wherever that particular season of Survivor is being filmed. As each finalist walks by the flags they read the names of past contestants and reflect on the memories associated with whoever's name is on the flag. Sometimes the reflection is outward, verbal, and social...and other times it's evidenced by a small smile or tear trickling down their sunburned face.
Instead of names and flags, our school used signs from a local printing shop. The signs contained 50+ memories and milestones that reminded us of some of the work and challenges we weathered together. Our administrative team generated some of the memories and staff submitted many more. We arranged the signs in chronological order and invited staff to do a reflective walk.
Some people walked and talked in groups. Others processed more quietly. (I think I lost count of how many times I heard someone say, "I forgot about that!" as they were reading the signs.)
Even now, it's hard to put into words how demanding, complex, and emotional this school year has been for teachers. As school leaders, it's important to create a space for everyone to put their own words to the experiences...in a manner that's meaningful to them.
When I wrote, "Reclaiming Our Calling" I wanted to help people hold on to the heart, mind, and hope of this work we get to do together. In the book, I share a quote I kept thinking about as we were doing our reflective walk.
"You cannot invent the future if you refuse to let go of the past."
After this year I'd also add, "It's difficult to invent the future when we don't process the past." Honest reflection is an important part of growth. Whether it's the end of a school year or the beginning of a new one.
Leading for relationships and results requires an honest assessment of where we've been. Before we look to where we want to go, be sure everyone has had an opportunity to process the past in a way that works for them.
Next school year will get here when it gets here. Be sure people know the work they did this year was worth remembering.
Shout out to the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA)! I’m looking forward to connecting with your crew in October. I hope this blog post supports continued conversation about leading in ridiculously complex times…and how we’re always better together. Please reach out anytime leading up to the conference.