When we met as a full staff in September, I emphasized the importance of being intentional about sharing our stories about the great work we see going on all around us every day–work being done by our colleagues both at Heartland AEA and in the local districts we serve. It’s been over six weeks since the All-Staff meeting and with the days getting shorter, it seems an appropriate time to not only remind us all to tell our stories, but to remember why these stories are so important as well.
The first reason that sharing good things about colleagues is so important is because our colleagues deserve our recognition. Simply put, we take each other for granted far too often. After calling on almost every one of our school districts (I will call on the last four this week) and sitting in on the majority of planning councils and work teams throughout our agency, I can tell you without reservation that our Heartland AEA team is engaging in powerful work every day. Our work isn’t always exciting, but it is vitally important to children and families and it isn’t being done by anyone else. Over time, we all become desensitized to these facts because we are distracted by our own little whirlwinds of the day-to-day, but we need to step back on occasion and reflect on what it is we appreciate about our co-workers and their special contributions, not only to our own work, but to our society as a whole. Our colleagues are making a difference and they are doing powerful and great things all around us every day. Let’s give them the appreciation and celebration they deserve.
Another reason we need to share our stories is that it is the right thing to do for children and public education in general. In 35 years in public education, I have never seen such vitriolic criticism leveled at public education, much of it waged by people who stand to benefit from a public lack of confidence in our education system. You may not see it in your daily work, but I can assure you that there are people across our state and nation who are vey intentional in sharing negative stories about our education system, most of them frankly untrue.
Such intentional negativity is not going away. There is too much at stake. This campaign of negativity is intentional and organized, and the only way to effectively challenge it is through the consistent sharing of good things that are happening in our schools every day. It would be nice if we could leave this part of the work to our lobbyists and public relations specialists, but we simply can’t. All of us have to share in the responsibility of creating a positive perception about public education. George Couros, the well known educational writer and speaker, says it best when he says, “We need to make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear.” The negative isn’t going away, and all of us have an opportunity to raise the volume on the positive because we witness it every day. We just have to remember to take notice and have the courage to share our good news. No amount of formal legislative advocacy can compensate for positive, unsolicited stories from people who really understand the work of education. We can impact the public’s confidence in our schools and AEAs one conversation, one testimonial, one story at a time.
Finally, and most importantly, sharing our appreciation and positive stories with others is the right thing to do because it is good for us. When we are intentional about recognizing and celebrating goodness in others, it keeps our focus outward and people who live with an external focus more than an internal one are simply happier. I know it’s not easy when we are each engaged in our own set of difficult daily challenges, but the secret to empowerment and happiness in the workplace isn’t found by focusing on those challenges. It’s found by focusing outward and looking for opportunities to build up others. Multiple studies show that gratitude really is the secret to happiness. If each of us would make the commitment to share just one positive piece of recognition a week with a colleague and then tell someone outside the Agency about it, we could begin a groundswell of positivity. It will be good for a colleague who deserves your appreciation, it will be good for education as a whole and it will be good for us.