As I stood on the playground this morning, I wondered whether the way I felt showed. I was having a flood of thoughts and feelings – signals – that wanted to rise to the surface. The timing was bad and I hoped that I could keep these internal communications tamped down. Still, on a playground among hundreds of kids and their parents, I was sure I must have seemed a little off. And, maybe I wasn’t alone. I mean, what if dozens of people were experiencing the same thing with all of us being reluctant to talk about it? Maybe the playground had nothing to do with four square. Then, the bell rang. Phew!
My experience this morning wasn’t new. My thoughts – these signals – have been increasing over a number of weeks. I could tell a great deal was shifting for me. I could verify this much by comparing how I felt even a few weeks before. I had the experience of a man swimming within me – both new and unfamiliar – announcing to me “I’m here at last.” But what was I supposed to do with this stranger?
These signals – a kind of dissonance, really – came on strong during a problem-solving meeting I facilitated. The meeting just wouldn’t end. We kept drawing near to a resolution, only to have an anxious parent shout out another concern and start the conversation all over. I heard my inner voice as though it belonged to someone else – while my outer voice assured parents that their children would be OK and that the weeks ahead of us would be pretty close to perfect. Then it struck me that the weeks ahead would be what they would be. But I couldn’t say that out loud, could I? Could I make the case that life, as is, is already perfect? That would never sell.
One of my students had already given me a vital clue when she came to me in tears more than a month ago. She talked to me about how there were bullies in her class who had been taunting her for some time. Before I could counter her with the usual assurances, she anticipated my stock replies by telling me that she had already been told how she should ignore these classmates, take stock in her own merits, and rise above their childishness. She said to me, “I don’t need you to tell me how great I am. I don’t even know what I need. I just hate that people have to treat each other this way.”
I apologized for not having something that could ease her pain. She said, “I knew you wouldn’t. But at least you didn’t pretend that much. Thanks for not lying to me.” I was standing face-to-face with this wise grade school girl, an expert in her own right, who spoke a truth. The signal got clearer.
As I continue to investigate how I am unfolding as a leader, I know that being a school principal, a teacher, a parent, and a child – these experiences bring joy and turmoil. Change happens in the midst of motion and never stops. I, however, can’t change the simple truth that I am a witness to what is, and truly in control of just a few things. I have this experience of my heart that keeps on opening to others and then inward toward myself. I can’t imagine that anyone could have tipped me off about how my own learning would work out this way. How could anyone – except maybe a child – have known?