As I work with schools and districts across the country, I find one question becomes essential above all else:
Is your heart visible?
Michael Fullan describes that when organizations and schools falter it is not because there is a resistance to change, but because too many initiatives are taken on all at once with little time to get good at any of them.
The more scattered our focus, the less focused we truly are.
I find the question–is your heart visible–is an important one. What we make visible in our classrooms, in our schools, even in our lives, shows what we value, what is important, and what we feel and believe.
At my home, for instance, if you walk into my daughter’s bedroom you’ll find mountains of art supplies and in-progress projects of all kinds. Paper, glue, crayons, scissors, pipe cleaners, googly eyes and mountains of little characters she has created. In my son’s room puzzles rule, as well as maps (oh so many maps. Seriously, if anyone needs a globe or map we have extra), and his illustrated dictionary is always open on the floor.
From the time each of us are young, we gather what is important, keep it close at hand, curate it, and sometimes even display it for others to see. In our schools and classrooms, when we make our hearts visible we not only own a deeper sense of our mission, we also invite our students and our community to share it with us.
Show Off Your Love
The first striking feature is that New Milford HS looks like nearly every other building in the US. It’s stately, yet aging, and locker filled hallways lead to linoleum-green classroom floors. The heart is not held up, or held back, by the physical plant. It is in the vision of the staff and students.
Take Laura Fleming‘s Library/Media Center. A MakerBot 3-D printer, lego robotics, a little circuit station, and more. She has devoted part of her space for experimentation. “No one signs up, they just come when they want to come and try what they want to try. Not just the students, staff come to play around, too,” Laura pointed out during my visit.
It’s easy to be dazzled by the cool stuff. The message is bigger, though. There is a keen sense that learning is about doing, making attempts, rethinking things, trying again.
This is carried throughout the building, students and teachers see learning as a blend of online and off, and as risk-taking. One teacher we ran into in the hallway I said, “I’m not technology phobic like I used to be, because I’ve learned that it’s all about trying something out.”
As the building leader, Eric believes in making his beliefs visible but then also stepping back to allow his staff to experiment and grow.
At another school, Cantiague Elementary, principal Tony Sinanis wears an incredible love of his community all over everything – his office walls, his blog and my favorite, his twitter account. He regularly tweets and retweets images of students and teachers at work with captions celebrating their work.
Recently I was able to visit his school, one focused on supporting students’ growth in literacy. His belief in literacy meant he has made room in his budget for a terrific literacy coach and together the school has been spending a good amount of time on best-practices in reading instruction. As with all things, what you focus on often grows and what you don’t can sometimes stagnate. Together we wondered if students were writing enough each day, to really practice the skills they were learning.
In another example of making your heart visible, his school, in what felt like less than day after my visit, looked at students’ current writing and made a decision to make the time and celebrate the time students would spend writing.
A big shift happened, and so quickly, because a focus was placed on making a school value more visible.
Reflecting on Your Heart
These are two of the many examples of schools and organizations who are striving to unite their communities in the best interest of learners. In the busy, sometimes scattered, often frantic pace of the school year, it is important to stop at times and reflect. Is your heart visible in your classroom? In your school?
Step back and take a look:
- When you look around your classroom, what do you see the most of? Is it what you value?
- When you look through your students notebook and folders, what does their work say to you? Do you see evidence of why you are an educator? Evidence of why you love what you teach?
- When you walk through the hallways of your school, what do classrooms and displays have in common? Can you see the heart of your community or is it unclear?
- If you talk with your colleagues, is your community’s heart visible in conversations?
Sometimes these questions reveal the lack or erosion of a shared belief system, other times they reveal qualities you may have forgotten were there.
The best news is that showing your heart only takes a little bit of bravery–once you begin an incredible path lies before you.