My children told me when I began my doctorate in 2016 that they hope I don’t turn into that ‘perfectionist’ again. I tended to agree and shared that I will try to ‘let go’. I began my PhD and after a year, I had completed four subjects but throughout this time, something didn’t feel right. Comments from my supervisor such as, 'I don't want to know what is going on in your life' made me realise there was no feeling of connection. Brown explains the importance of feeling connected in her book Dare to Lead (2018). In response to this awakening, I conversed with and secured two interested supervisors. Unfortunately, the university I applied to took 8 months to tell me that my Distinctions for the four PhD completed subjects was not of an adequate standard. Ah the irony! ‘Don’t be a perfectionist mum’ had come back to bite me. Regardless, I learnt a lot that year, including the importance of feeling connected.
People have made comments about me being so connected and at times I’ve taken it as a negative. The connections are worthless if they are not mutually meaningful and authentic. After reading about and reflecting on leadership, the importance of trust, feeling connected, and belonging is consistently being emphasised. One principal met with me every 6-8 weeks to check-in and chat. She would ask what I was researching, learning, trying out in my classroom. This 30 minute-meeting made me feel connected, valued and provided a strong sense of belonging to the school community. Ten years on, I am still connected with teachers, parents and the former principal, which speaks volumes. It has always been important for me to stay connected with educators in the United States and Australia. These holidays have provided the time for me to reconnect with many former colleagues and edu-friends.
Reading the words of Brené Brown's, Dare to Lead has affirmed my beliefs and behaviours. When asked to work through and determine my values, it became clear that the top two are connection and making a difference. The other values that were on my top four were contribution and belonging. That sense of belonging includes recognising achievement, validating contributions, and developing a system where people know their value. With schools being busy places, I always worried that I was being too needy or my expectations were too high. I felt any meeting with me was taking time away from something or someone more important. I understand now that this need is related to my values, which requires the generosity of others. Brown (2018) provided scenarios that provided such clarification. “You don’t really know people until you take the time to understand their values. We need to make small human connections” (p. 208). I witnessed the importance of making time a priority in coaching and once you see the benefit, it becomes part of your being. No time, no connection, no trust.
Being accountable to those you work with is more effective when you have a connection. As an extravert, my energy comes from interacting with people, both like-minded and those who challenge me. I thrive when being part of something bigger, so being part of a team for me is imperative. When my role requires more managerial or mandated checklists, I struggle and Brown's words were music to my ears. "When we reduce work to tasks and to-do lists, it is ineffective and shuts down creative problem solving, the sharing of ideas and the foundation of vulnerability" (2018, p. 99). Making a difference doesn't have the same impact if it results in feeling disconnected.
The school holidays provide teachers with the time to reconnect and reflect.
We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience. (Dewey)
Learning without reflection is a waste. Reflection without learning is dangerous. (Confucius)
So what have I learnt through my reflection?
My values of connection AND making a difference are who I am. Both have impact but collectively, they are powerful. Brown (2018) maintains that when we are in need of connection, we need to share with those who embrace us for our strengths and our struggles (p.152). This year I haven't sustained my connections with educators in areas such as coaching, research, TeachMeets and supporting women in educational leadership. Upon reflection, resetting & reconnecting is necessary. According to Brown, ‘a skill set that is critical in this rapidly changing world is learning how to reset after disappointments, setbacks or failures'. I intend to stay engaged, stay curious, stay authentic and stay connected. As a friend said to me, "It's time for you to get back on the horse".