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HeartMind e-News: Teach, Learn, Lead

A monthly publication dedicated to trauma-informed, compassionate school practices that help educators, students, and families move toward a sense of wholeness and well-being


FEATURED ARTICLE

A Heart Centered Community: “You are valued, and you belong!”

Melissa Patschke, Director of the CEI Coalition for the Future of Education


“We can do this. We are educators. We’re born to make a difference.”

~ Rita Pearson

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Educators are instructional experts, system managers, caretakers, advisors, disciplinarians, supervisors, consultants, safety specialists, and motivators. Sometimes it is hard to prioritize—which crisis do we handle first? How do we teach all students and find time for the one student who needs our personal attention? Each engagement is an opportunity to truly see the other person. All interactions have the potential to say, “You are valued, and you belong.”


Leading a heart centered system means taking care of people. Every time you interact with someone in the school community, it matters (Murray, 2019). Leading from the heart requires that we see each individual as a valuable human being. It’s finding strengths and building human capacity in each person. 


As children and youth return to school, restoring a sense of community will be key. We have all missed our connections with each other. Children have missed their friends, and they have missed the personal interactions with their teachers. Feeling connected makes a critical difference for our self-esteem, our sense of well-being, and for our sense of security and safety (Mason et al., 2021). However, making individual connections with each student will take time and intentionality. 


Slowing Down, Reaching Every Student

Even as we search for time and ways to connect with students, we are currently preoccupied with the process of restoring education to some semblance of what it was like pre-COVID. Educators are operating with little time and on high speed. Decisions are often being made quickly. We move forward, hoping that our support, advice, and judgments are made with integrity and that they are always centered on what’s best for our students. Hope is promising. Intentions are purposeful. However, as we strive to help students catch up, we must slow down and focus on what matters most: an inclusive climate that looks, sounds, and feels like belonging (Brown, 2018).


A highly inclusive, heart centered community reaches every student, creates a culture of joy, and respects all (Mason et al., 2021). There’s no golden path that will result in “leading from your heart.” Teachers, administrators, counselors, psychologists, and other staff must reflect, react, and respond to the human needs and strengths in their communities. It’s the difference between a job and a passion. It’s opportunity, not obligation. It’s the feeling of empowerment versus conformity. It’s a pointed belief in unconditional caring, authentic trust, and inspirational practices. 

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Community Building Blocks 

To lead from your heart and build community, start strong by establishing the following beliefs as ground rules for everyone in your space (Mason et al., 2020). 


1. Acknowledgment. All human beings deserve to be acknowledged. This is one of our basic human needs: to be included. A heart centered leader must consistently send the message to all people that they are valuable, wanted, and have something to contribute to the school. This applies to the 5- or 50-year-old walking down the hallway. It also applies to the parent visiting a classroom and to the technician servicing the copy machine. It means that staff members talk to each other, smile, nod, shake hands, and high five. This is done as a genuine gesture that silently says to those involved and those watching, “I see you. You are a valuable human being.”

 

2.    A School Significant Other. Everyone in a school must find a person or people that they can trust, talk to, and that is able to listen to them vent. This significant someone is a person that will listen, advise, offer a shoulder, and not take your conversation anywhere beyond the walls where it happened. We all have bad days, difficult interactions, frustrating situations that come up, and it is very healthy to blow off steam in an appropriate “closed door” setting. Principals can set a protocol and model a practice, encouraging staff to find their trusted confidant. We can each also be that person for another staff member. Some people will have several of these “go to” friends, but everyone MUST have one person to fill this role. Ultimately, the permission to rant and rave with confidentiality solves concerns and provides just enough support that the issue doesn’t need to travel further. If it does, it is more often handled with appropriate and intentional professional filters.  

 

3.    Touch Hearts. We all have a need for supportive feedback, positive or corrective. The expectation of touch is one of outreach. It’s the basic caring of each other. Even with physical distancing, we can reach out to support another. You can send a note, write an e-mail, have a conversation, express that you care about each other. Share messages of gratitude, of pride, of support. This can be through voice, writing, text, calls, or actions. Buy a cup of coffee for someone going through a hard time. Send a positive text message. Give a needed pat on the back or high five. Prioritize the time to touch a heart and build a relationship, with other staff, with families, and with students.

 

4.    Assume Positive Intent. Ninety-nine percent of people wake up each day and want to do the right thing. The majority of people we meet, work with, teach, or lead are truly trying to make good choices. Step into every situation assuming that the person on the other side of the conversation has a positive intention. Try hard to reframe your own thinking to listen and hear the other person’s perspective. It may not change your mind, but you will be better prepared to compromise, empathize, and/or find a common place of agreement where you can rebuild and create a new outcome. 

 

5.    Act with Gratitude. Gratitude is the most powerful emotion in the toolkit of human emotion. It is the single feeling that can stamp out all other negative feelings. Try to place yourself in a pure state of appreciation and remain angry, mad, or upset. It’s impossible. The general expectation you need to set is to express gratitude purposely, openly, and freely. There are never too many genuine actions of appreciation taking place. When you express gratitude, receive gratitude, witness gratitude, or even tell the story of an act of gratitude, you benefit emotionally as a human being, and you impact heart centered culture immediately.

 

6.    Permission to be Human. Everyone has “off” days. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone feels down sometimes. This is a human experience. This is normal. The expectation you need to establish here is forgiveness. It must be “ok” in the school culture to mess up. We must learn to accept life’s challenges and be able to share our feelings about them. Forgiveness can be very difficult to manage, especially when it is to ourselves that we must give grace. It is critical to move past wounds and not harbor resentment or feelings of ill-will. Everyone needs help, support, and time to heal. Everyone needs to be heard. We all deserve “permission to be human.” We all deserve to be forgiven.


7.    Celebrate Success and Share Joy. Since the beginning of time, people have used diverse methods of celebration to reward, unite, and express joy. Joy is play, it is gratitude, and it is togetherness. As emotionally functional beings, we connect to each other through the memories of our joys. We hold on to the treasure of traditions and find comfort in the smiles generated through sharing of happiness. Take photos, eat cake, host events, make announcements, break bread, deliver balloons, blow bubbles, wear hats, dress in common t-shirts, hold ceremonies, attend weddings, hold baby showers, high five, hug, smile, laugh, and most importantly, have FUN! Create the expectation in your school to announce, rejoice and enjoy positive achievements, spontaneous happenings, and long-term milestones. These times will not be forgotten and in turn, the smallest of joys will become the fabric of happy memories for years to come. 


True community means that you are not alone. Coming together with a feeling of fellowship, common purpose, and passion is one of the greatest motivators we have. School leaders are in the daily position to fill the basic human psychological need of belonging (Maslow, 1968). By building an intentional community that values all individuals and elevates the importance of trust, caring, empathy, appreciation, forgiveness, and joy, we amplify all that’s right to a level that becomes so loud that the culture can no longer hear the negative (Couros, 2015). Belonging to this type of community is as important to your health and happiness as food and water (Brown, 2018). School leaders make this happen. Slow down and focus on what matters. “You belong, and you are valued.”


“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place,

 where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

 – Dr. Maya Angelou

References

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead. Penguin Random House LLC.


Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.  


Maslow, A. (1968). Some educational implications of the humanistic psychologies. Harvard Educational Review, 38(4), 685-686.


Mason, C., Asby, D., Wenzel, M., Volk, K., & Staeheli, M. (2021). Compassionate school practices: Fostering children's mental heath and well-being. Corwin Press.


Mason, C., Liabenow, P., & Patschke, M., (2020). Visioning onward: A guide for ALLschools. Corwin Press.


Murray, T. (2019). Personal & authentic: Designing learning experiences that impact a lifetime. IM Press.