Saturday, January 8, 2022

Roller Coaster

What a week this has been! Figuring out how to support a community through a wildfire that took out 1000+ homes in the community is intense. There is so much to do (tasks) and so much to hold (emotionally). It's been a bit of a roller coaster, and as I often write to process, this blog reflects that.

Thinking about 1,084 homes destroyed and 149 homes damaged (along with several commercial properties) is staggering in and of itself. Add in the thousands of homeowners who are dealing with smoke damage and limited utilities (although I think most are back now), who were displaced for several days. And then you go to the ~35,000 residents who were evacuated, many who left through thick smoke, seeing flames in the vicinity of their houses. The collective trauma is huge. Even those who were not directly impacted by the fire are feeling it.

Oh yeah, and it was less than a year ago that we had a shooting at a local grocery store, just down the road from several schools, where ten people lost their lives. Another incidence of collective trauma.

And there's this little thing called COVID-19...and all that comes with it.

It's all too much. I'm seeing big, red, flashing warning lights. We don't have much left to give. Call it compassion fatigue, call it a mental health crisis...but teachers/educators are BURNED OUT. I've talked to more people considering taking a leave of absence for their own mental health in the past week than I have in the past five years. I'm seeing people desperately to figure out their sick days because, three days after the semester started, they need a day...or two...or breathe. It's not unusual to hear that someone isn't sure they can make it through the day. We hired 6 new teachers in my areas at semester because people resigned or retired midyear, and probably have 2 more in the next week or two. We're at the end of what we can handle, and it's showing.

And yet, while I deal with that existential crisis in my mind, I also see incredible moments of joy. Kids being kids, even after everything they have is gone. Kids loving each other, caring for each other, helping each other in the most precious of ways. A community that is surrounding us, being so generous, giving more than I ever imagined possible. Miracles happening all over. For me, it was some sweet friends who brought me food this week to make sure I am taking care of myself as I spend time taking care of others.

How do you reconcile these highs and lows? I don't exactly know, but here are two things I am focusing on this week:

1) Basic self-care. Making sure I eat at reasonable hours (which didn't always happen last week). Getting outside for some fresh air. Moving my body and exercising. Going to bed at a good time. Making sure I have at least a waking hour or two per day that is not focused on work or fire stuff.

2) Self-compassion. As I walked into a school to sub on Friday, I was thinking, "I don't know what I have to give, but I'm here with whatever I have for these kids today." I'm not at my best...and that's okay. I can be gentle with myself and know that doing something is better than doing nothing, and that is enough.

To those in our community: We're in this together.

To those at a distance: Please pray for us. And show some love to a teacher or educator in your life - this has been a tough year, regardless of fires or shootings or anything else!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

#oneword2022 & 🔥 Fires 🔥 in My Community

Last year, my #oneword was ATTENTIVE. I went into the year aspiring to be attentive to myself and the world around me, and to be present. And was I? In some ways, yes. Compared to a couple of years ago, I see huge differences in the way I make time to process and validate my own thoughts and feelings, and I definitely have continued to engage in societal issues and find my voice. But would I say this word defined my year? Not really - I think it got buried through everything going on!

As I thought about 2022, I wondered if I should even choose a word this year. To be honest, I'm ending 2021 on a bit of a low. It's been a hard year on so many levels, and just before the new year, fires ripped through my community, destroying nearly 1000 homes and damaging over 100 more. These are friends, teachers, students, administrators in my district - and the thought of how to move forward is daunting. It felt like we (collectively) were already trying to pour from an empty cup by the end of the semester; how are we going to add even more trauma and need?

Yet I am still drawn back here to my blog, and the word that pops out is one I had several years ago: LEAD. The first time I chose the word LEAD, it was almost prophetic. I was heading into my first time being in major leadership roles, from being a principal of summer school to moving to the district office from being a classroom teacher. I learned so much as a new leader that year.

This time, I'm coming at it with a little more experience and a lot of thoughts about different styles or characteristics of leadership I have seen through the past several years. I've spent a lot of time reflecting on my own leadership, both the leader I am and the leader I want to be. I don't have a nice sketchnote, and my thoughts are pretty consumed by the events of the past couple of days, but here are some of my current reflections on leadership.

I want to be an authentic, honest, and vulnerable leader.
I think that there is an unwritten chapter in leadership school that says that when you step into a leadership role, you have to have it together all of the time and not show weakness. That's simply not true! I find that it's a rare thing to have a leader who is truly authentic, but it's a huge blessing when it happens, and leads to deeper connection and community. I sent an email to my teacher leaders yesterday addressing the fires, and I won't lie, it was hard to write. I know that some of the people I was writing to just lost their homes. I wanted to strike the balance between looking forward with hope and acknowledging the devastation...and that, in many ways, I didn't know what to do or say. After hitting send, it was nice to get some texts and emails back, all checking in on each other, and then to see these teacher leaders send emails to their respective groups with a similar sentiment. When we are real, we are all a little more human.

I want to be a people-first, caring leader.
There is so much to do - all of the time! And I have ideas or programs or tasks or projects that I work on that I think are pretty great ;-). But, ultimately, my leadership needs to be about people first. I think of one of my leaders who always seems to find a moment to check in on me as a person, especially when I need it the most. With these fires, I've been trying to reach out and email and text teachers and some community partners who I know, just to ask how they are doing. Truth be told, it feels awkward at times. I don't know them particularly well, and sometimes it feels like I am going past the bounds of a professional relationship, but I have made a commitment to myself to err on the side of caring for people. And you know what? It has been appreciated. People need people - and that is true whether both at work and in our personal lives, and even more when disaster hits the community.

I want to be an advocate as a leader.
One of the most important things I can do, I am learning, is advocate for my people. That doesn't always mean I have to agree with them or support less-than-stellar work. But I can help set them up for success by thinking proactively about their needs and being aware of those who are looking for a different situation or who would do better in a different environment. I can advise them about what I know (and am allowed to share, whether good or bad) as they make career decisions or even just try to figure out how to problem-solve a specific issue. And I can share their great work with the world and quietly steer them in the right direction when needed. Advocacy is turning into one of my favorite parts of the job - the ability to help others create successful situations is wonderful, and benefits us all!

How closely will I pay attention to my #oneword2022? I'm not sure. I'm trying to go easy on myself right now and take things as they come. But I am confident that leadership will continue to be a part of my journey, and I look forward to seeing how that plays out over the year!

Finally, please keep our community in your prayers - with 1000 families who have lost their homes, I can't imagine how that will play out in the classroom ❤️.