Once upon a time I was the center of the universe.
It. Was. Awesome.
In my high school social studies classroom, I was the sun, and all of my little planets circled around me. Where I drifted, they drifted, what I wondered, they wondered with me. I burned brightly as the uncontested middle of my own Milky Way, and I loved it.
Lecture? Sure I lectured. But I was different - I was really GOOD at it. My supervisors lauded my engaging presence in the classroom. I did voices, I sang, my one-woman show in the front of the room had the audience (yes, read that again - audience) in the palm of my hand. Many students, even those who might not have listed social studies on their chart of personal passions, would comment, “This class is really interesting.”
My desire to be a teacher started around 2nd grade, when I would give my preschool-aged sister coloring page “assignments,” and then brutally correct them with a fat, red crayon. I wanted to be a teacher because I thought correcting papers would be a good time, and that it would also be fun to write on the board. (Turned out I was half right - I do like to write on the board.)
The excitement for becoming the next Mrs. Beadle (see also: big fan of Little House on the Prairie) waned as I learned of much more glamorous opportunities. What about being a politician? A lawyer? How about a ROCK STAR??? Note to self: Write thrilling autobio-blog about the harrowing tales of an 18-year-old me auditioning for bands around Philadelphia … but I digress.
I ended up majoring in Political Science Pre-Law, but as life unfolded and I, now a young mother with law school not in the immediate realm of possibility, realized that I wasn’t seeing “Political Scientist Wanted” in the small town local paper, I realized I needed to go with plan B (Plan C? D? There were a lot of plans). What job can one do with a political science degree in a rural area with a small child?
I can be a social studies teacher!
It appealed to my need for a mom-friendly schedule, my inclination to work in public service, and, I reveal with a modicum of embarrassment, my true desire to be “on stage.”
I am a person who can really tell a tale. I can lace up a story like nobody’s business, have the listeners enthralled, engaged and perhaps even in stitches. The power is DELICIOUS. It reminds me of my years as a cheerleader and later as a cheer coach. We talked frequently about getting the crowd “in your pocket.” Once they are in your metaphorical pocket, they will stand up, turn around, call back, stomp their feet.
Go Back in Time With Me to a Classroom Far, Far Away -
“One day the mighty Athena challenged Arachne to a weave-off!” I declared. (Get in my pocket.)
“And that, my friends (*arms wide for dramatic effect), is why it is called ‘Rome’ and not ‘Reme!’” I announced. (I totally own this room.)
“The legend says that as the carpet roll was laid at Antony’s feet, the rug was suddenly unfurled to reveal a very committed, though probably sweaty, Cleopatra. ‘Hello, Antony,’” ← Read husky voice there. (Class snorting with laughter - Oh man, I’m killin’ it here!)
Note: Artist rendering - not actual photo.
And all of this is fine, perhaps even admirable. Students engaged in listening to riveting stories of historical heartbreak, fanatical fervor, and courageous capers, what else could one want? But who is missing from this story?
Now, I don’t want to say I never included the students in my lesson planning. There were lots of opportunities for collaboration and reflection on my lectures, chances for students to show what they learned from my lectures, and carefully created assessments to make sure they had gleaned the intended information from my lectures.
But she who does the teaching does the learning. And after all that lecturing, I knew my stuff.
My students were experts at receiving The Knowledge, and I was the Keeper of the Knowledge. The Sun in the Solar System of My Classroom. The Center of the Universe.
And that wasn’t so great.
Because while my Drunk History (Yes, I was once told the reason my class was engaging was because I taught like that TV show on Comedy Central - I swear it was a compliment) style of class instruction could reel them in, it wasn’t leaving my young consumers of The Knowledge enough space to become the creators of The Knowledge.
It shouldn’t have been me spinning out of that imaginary Cleopatra carpet, it should have been them. The truest evidence of understanding is when we can teach the idea to someone else, and I missed an opportunity to let them discover, interpret, and share what they understood.
So today I implore you - whether you are a teacher in a classroom or a leader of adults - to stop saving the best stories for yourself and let your team tell the tales. A true leader doesn’t have to have all the answers, they just need to facilitate the process of their team’s learning and understanding.
A great leader points their team toward the carpet and lets them uncover what (or who) is inside.
Gentle Breezes -
PS: As I continue to reflect on my own growth, I invite you to join me in thinking about ways you have grown as a leader of humans - mistakes made, lessons learned, and aspirations developed. Me? I will be over here, thinking about the blessing of that time I learned what it means to truly be a facilitator of learning. (Ah, I sense another installment of Confessions From the Former Sun coming on - - -)