I arrived at the Communities for Learning Summer Institute Sunday evening, just in time to welcome my friend and new fellow, Ellen Gray. I met Ellen earlier this year, and over the last few months, I’ve come to enjoy the perspective she lends to the work that I do as a professional and as a mom. Spending a week immersed in thoughtful planning and discourse with her and with all of the fellows who are a part of this community is an incredible gift, but finding the time and the energy to sit still and capture what I’m learning has been a challenge, especially when I know that there is so much more ahead of all of me over the next three days and my thinking is far from complete around any of it. In short, though, I’ve spent a great deal of time revisiting the Communities for Learning Framework and reflecting on how it has influenced my learning and the work that I’ve done over the last year.
I was fortunate to start my fellowship with this community when I did, and so much of the success that I’ve experienced was directly influenced by the expertise and the support that I’ve received from those I’ve met here, particularly Joanne, Diane, and Giselle. This week has already brought a lot full-circle for me, and I’m finding myself better able to articulate some of the greater things I’ve discovered about myself and the work that I choose to do as well.
It has all come down to defining what sort of a difference I hope to make in the field…for kids, for teachers, for administrators, and for those I consider my colleagues as well. I’ve always felt that success has little to do with the acquisition of stuff , the making of money, or the false sense of security and belonging that fame or titles of any kind provide. In my opinion, all of that tends to be a dangerous distraction, and valuing any of it too much has left many people that I know–particularly business owners and consultants—more than a bit disillusioned. That isn’t to say that my values need to be your values or that I’m right and you are wrong if you happen to disagree. This is what I’m realizing about myself, that’s all, and plenty of wealthy people with impressive titles would second that motion, I’m thinking.
Having some time to reflect on this has been clarifying and validating for many reasons, but what has truly struck me is this: had I not had a vision of the sort of difference I hoped to make in the field and what I would need to learn in order to accomplish this, the last year probably would have left me in a far different and much less rewarding place than I feel I am in right now.
It was far more important for me to have a vision for the difference I hoped to make than it was for me to have a website, business cards, or clients, actually. It’s even more important to ensure that all of the work that I do, regardless of who I am serving and in what capacity, aligns to that vision. Otherwise, I might find myself becoming the sort of change that I don’t want to see in the world. I could also find myself taking on work that I don’t enjoy, that I don’t believe in, or that I don’t have the capacity to do well. It’s important to understand what “done well” truly entails too. What I was reminded of again this week is that having clarity about the difference I hope to make, aligning my work with that vision, naming what I feel I have expertise in and being honest about what I don’t aren’t merely ways to serve others effectively. All of this is about serving myself as well.
People often ask me why I named my agency WNY Education Associates. It implies the “royal we”, and I was deliberate about this. One of the greatest rewards of doing the work that I do is coming to know other service providers who have tremendous expertise of their own. I find myself doing this in large and small ways on a near-daily basis now. The fact is that I value those that I associate with in the field, and I enjoy connecting those who need work done well with those who can deliver it. Sometimes, that person isn’t me, and that’s okay. There is plenty of work to be done. The larger concern is finding those who truly have the expertise to do it. There are very few people who fit that description. Thinking about vision and alignment and connecting ourselves to those who can help us understand what we need to has everything to do with becoming that person.