As I was sitting outside, enjoying the sun, on the last lunch time duty I would have as a teacher for ‘who knows how long’, two year ten girls came up to me a little bit coy and handed me a canvas.
“This is for you Miss. We will miss you. This is from all the year ten, eleven and twelve students at NCC. Thank you”, they said to me as I reached out and took the canvass.
Tears filled my eyes as I looked at a picture of a tree, with long brown branches reaching out and on the end of the branches, like leaves, were each student’s finger print with their name printed in black around it. The inscription at the bottom of the picture read “Thank’s for growing with us.” My eyes welled with tears as I saw their faces beaming with admiration and love for the work they had created in order to pass on a gift to me that I would keep forever to remember them by. And as I realised how much I meant to these amazing students I knew I touched their heart in a special way, just as much as they touched mine.
As I was driving home that afternoon ready to embark on a new chapter of my life I began to think about the inscription on the painting. I thought, “Isn’t it interested that they wrote ‘Thank’s for growing with us’ and not ‘Thank’s for growing us’. And this got me thinking about the role of a teacher, the role of a mentor, parent or anyone in a leadership position.
Often when we think about our ‘role’ we believe it is to grow our students, our children or our team at work. We invest in their development and growth financially, with out time and with our emotions. We want to see them grow, blossom and learn from our knowledge and wisdom we so freely pass on. However, is that really what makes a difference in the lives of others? Are they purely looking at us to see what knowledge we have that we have had for years and years, or what we can ‘give’ them? Or perhaps it goes deeper than that.
You see I am not only a teacher I am a leadership coach and Neuro Linguistic Programmer (NLP). And part of that role requires me to constantly invest in my education, growth and development. I am reading material, attending webinars, going to seminars and sitting in rooms with great leaders picking their brain. I walk away from training and immediately think “How can I apply this knowledge to my life?” “How can I teach my students this information in a meaningful and relevant way to enrich their lives?” And then I do just that. I would run ‘gold classes’ where I scrap the curriculum for the lesson and teach a mental strategy for success, or I would incorporate visualisation and relaxation techniques into my classes, or teach a new model I learnt on human behaviour. I would constantly share what I was learning and would tell them when I would be attending my next seminar, webinar or leadership training so that they knew the next class I had with them I would share some ‘gold’. And it literally changed lives. Many students opened up to me in ways that I would never have imagined. One student said “I can now see a light at the end of the tunnel and I know where I want to be”. Another student remark “I am now choosing to be happy. Thank you for empowering me with the belief that we choose our reactions.” And yet another “I need to stop blaming my teachers and parents for the results I am getting in class.” And then it hit me.
Students, children, work teams and anyone we have influence over wants to know that ‘we are investing in ourselves, as much as we expect them to invest in themselves’. We must live by example. They need to see and experience our growth and development as that gives them permission to grow and develop too. It gives us credibility. It teaches others that we are ‘learners for life’. We never stop growing, and most importantly, we never stop sharing what we have learnt. It brings about an element of comradely. “If my teacher (mentor, boss, parent) doesn’t know everything, if she keeps on learning, then it is ok for me to not know everything and to keep learning too.”
And this is when education comes alive. This is when you shining gives others permission to do the same. Because what the world needs is ‘people who have come alive’, what schools need are teachers who have come alive, what workplaces need are leaders who have come alive, and what families need are parents who have come alive. And the beauty about learning, growing and implementing is that you make mistakes, you stuff up in glorious ways, and this allows your team to take risks, to challenge themselves and to also stuff up in glorious ways, but the learning that takes place is insurmountable. However, you also hit moments of magic where the light bulbs come on, where the minds are open and where you literally begin to change lives and those lives change others. And you know it is worth it, because in the end ‘we are either green and growing, or ripe and rotting’. And unfortunately many leaders forget this and are beginning to smell from the rot accumulating in their lives. We can become so busy in learning to teach content, in getting high grades in standardised testing, in learning to push our team and colleagues to meet KIP’s, that we forget to live by example, we forget to apply the principles in our own lives, and we forget to truly shine.
So my question to you is this; “when you leave your career, when your children grow up, when you stop being a mentor to someone, what will they appreciate about you? Right now at this very moment, how much time, money and energy do you place in your personal development and growth, and are you implementing what you learn? Are you truly shining your light so that others can begin to shine theirs too?” Because if you’re a leader and no one is following you, then all you are doing is going for a stroll.
“BE daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” Cecil Beaton
Megan Jaworski is a leadership coach, education consultant and key note speaker at ‘be the change’. For more information contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.