William Bridges talks about the importance of good endings. It’s often hard for people to move on smoothly if there isn’t some way to celebrate and honor what has been before. Honoring the past—marking the good times and the bad— helps people remember what was meaningful and learn lessons from the struggles.
So as I move into full retirement, I am reminiscing about the past 50 years of my career. When I was a young, new teacher in Topeka Unified School District, I was a judgmental “firebrand.” Teachers had just gained collective bargaining rights in the state of Kansas and I was ready to right the wrongs of the past!
I believed that school administrators were not “doing” leadership the way I thought it should be done. It was all about budgets, basketball schedules, and busing. Too little of it was about building the capacity of teachers and students. I was arrogant in thinking that I had the expertise and best answers to these problems.
But I learned that negative confrontation may change some actions, but it did not change the heart. And change needs to occur in the heart in order for it to really have a lasting effect.
The greatest satisfaction in my career was when I was able to offer younger educators opportunities for leadership. Appointing them to district curriculum committees, parent groups, or building level planning teams gave them practice in leading highly visible, meaningful projects. I loved coaching them and seeing them blossom with confidence and competence as they stepped into these new leadership roles.
There were a few decisions I made which I have regretted, but for the most part, I wouldn’t change a thing in my career path. I had some wonderful, supportive mentors and learned much from my mistakes as well as my successes.
Now as I begin to “re-career” once more, here are some key communication lessons I want to bring with me:
- Be a good listener—not for the purpose of proposing solutions or giving advice, but instead to understand the perspective of the other person without judgment. We develop deep rapport simply by listening without judgment for the perspective of the other.
- Always assume positive intention. When we assume the other person is whole and capable, we show up differently—less judgmental and more open. We are looking at others for their strengths rather than trying to fix their deficits. Consequently, others are less likely to become defensive and we are able to have greater influence in the conversation.
- The best products come as a result of collaboration with multiple stakeholders. We can only know so much from our own experiences. When we collaborate with others, we get the benefit of the experiences and perspectives of many people. This makes the end product more robust and more likely to be accepted and implemented by more people.
As I begin to move into this next chapter of life, I believe these lessons will help me step into new adventures with an open mind, a generous heart, and humility for all that I have yet to learn!
I want to thank all my readers for their loyal following. Keep on doing what you are doing and learning important lessons from your own successes and mistakes. Your commitment and persistence helps to create great schools which will make our students smarter, stronger, and more caring for a future world we cannot even fathom!
Best wishes to you all,
Marceta Reilly, PhD, PCC