Family Lessons: Joy is a Gift to Share!

One of my most prized possessions growing up was my bicycle. It was the old school type. A white banana shaped seat, wide handle bars, and a beautiful baby blue color. I cherished that bike. Santa Claus delivered it on Christmas Day 1984. I was seven years old. It snowed that Christmas, and Momma let me try and ride it in the snow because I was just that excited.

For as much joy as that bicycle brought me, it also brought me tough love, punishment, and hard life lessons. I seemed to struggle with self control when allowed to ride the bike. Whether it was not coming in on time, using Mother’s dishwashing liquid to wash my bicycle, or riding it beyond the areas I had been told to remain in, I always seemed to push the boundaries when on that bicycle. It was no trick bike, not made for jumping curbs and popping wheelies, but of course I had to try it. That usually resulted in a blown tire and ruined inner tube, which meant I had to wait until my uncle had time to come over and fix it before I could ride again.

Each time I violated Momma’s rules for me on that bicycle, I was punished for what felt like an eternity, but usually meant no bike riding for one to two weeks. That bicycle taught me about taking risks, calculating the cost of each one I was willing to take, and deciding if it was worth it. Most of the time, I decided it was absolutely worth it, even knowing I’d be punished. I imagine Momma’s frustration having to keep telling me the same things over and over again only to have me repeat the offense. However, I am grateful that she did not give up on me. I graduated from that bicycle years later and got a ten speed. I was grateful for the upgrade, but it didn’t bring me nearly as much joy as my banana seat blue bike. By then, I’d gotten into sports and my main objective for going outside was to play basketball.

I knew just how much joy that bicycle meant to me when I arrived home one weekend from college and saw that my bike was being ridden by a neighborhood kid. Momma had placed it at the community dumpster, and some lucky kid was trying to ride it. My heart sank. How could she? No I couldn’t ride it anymore, but I loved my bike! It brought me such joy, and even just looking at it made me reflect on memories of riding it down the hill with the wind blowing in my face feeling free and fearless. As I walked in the house, I approached Momma and said, “My bike. You threw it away!” She replied, “You can’t ride that bike anymore. It was time.”

What I learned from this experience is that one of life’s greatest gifts is joy, and our greatest opportunity lies in sharing that joy with others. Seeing another kid trying to ride that bike should have made me happy that day, but I was too young and inexperienced to understand that. Now I get it. Joy is meant to be had and to be given away. Feeling joy is great, but sharing it is even better.

As of late, I’ve been trying to think about what makes me happy and what brings me joy. I want to make sure I am clear about those things because only then can I live my life accordingly. Now I know that joy isn’t derived from possession of material things, but from an experience. It comes from what we’re doing and who we are doing it with, not from what we have or possess. I can’t help but think that we’d all be better people and friends if we could answer that question clearly: What brings you joy? Because then we’d be much more deliberate and intentional with our time and our connections. In this season of life, I’m on a quest to discover that for myself with such precise clarity that I can articulate it without pause. I’m not there yet, but I’m definitely closer than I’ve ever been before.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: Everyone Needs A Soft Place to Land

One of my fondest memories growing up is eating supper at the dinner table. It seemed to be the place where minds were opened and hearts were relieved. Momma often had to remind us that we couldn’t bring books to the table as we all loved to read. Her expectation was that we talk and connect with each other, and reading a book at the table wouldn’t align with that. We blessed our food, with the homemade prayer Momma made up just for us:

“Thank you Lord for happy hearts and rainy and sunny weather. Thank you Lord for this our food and now we are together. Amen.”

Together-that was the key word. As we grew up, the conversations at Momma’s dinner table took on a different spin. The challenges of friendships, college, and becoming an adult made their way to the table. With Momma’s love and encouragement we worked through them all. That table has been key in a lot of ways throughout my life. It’s where homework was done when I was young, but it’s also where I spent many weekends reading articles and taking notes for the literature review of my dissertation. It’s where peanut butter and banana sandwiches were eaten after church on Sunday when we were children, and also where we’ve discussed everything from politics to religion as adults.

Momma’s table is a safe space. It’s where you can be sure you’ll be loved and listened to, no matter what it is. No matter what is happening in my life, how challenging life can be, or how crazy the world feels, I know a “sitting spell” at Momma’s table can make everything alright. Problems can be solved, hurt feelings can be soothed, joy can be shared, and happiness can be felt.

As a professional, I’ve always tried to make my work space a safe space for others too. In my office and in my classroom, all folks have always been welcomed. From the moment I started teaching, I always had a lunch bunch-a group of kids, some that I taught, and others who I did not, who elected to eat their lunch in my classroom. As a principal, I also had students who sometimes asked to eat lunch with me, and the answer of course, was always yes. It signified for me a need to connect and I happily obliged.

Thanks to my Momma, I understand what it means to have a place to work through life’s complex problems, to talk through what needs to be done, and how to get through it. I’ve always wanted any space I occupied to be that kind of place for others. Momma’s dining room table has always been my soft place to land, and because of that I’ve tried to make my workspace the same for others who might need that. A filled candy dish on the corner of my desk has been a staple in every space I’ve occupied as a professional. A little chocolate can fix a bad day, soothe a crazy one, and share a space with a smile when there’s something great on the horizon.

As I grow older, and hopefully wiser, I am eternally grateful that Momma didn’t let us read books at the table when it was time for dinner. Because of that, I see the opportunity to share a meal as a chance to build and strengthen connection, and I hope I can practice curiosity and care with others the way Momma did with us. If I can can come close to Momma’s example and make others feel the way she’s always made me feel when I sit and talk with her at that table, I will have made something special of my life.

I imagine if we all practiced being together-being present, listening to one another, sharing our joys and troubles in equal measure, our lives would be fuller, our hearts would be made stronger, and our connections more authentic because then everyone might have a soft place to land.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: Be Who You Are!

I was my Momma’s hardest child to raise. I was the one to always push the limits, to do the opposite of whatever my Momma said, and to add levity and joy to almost every classroom I entered as a student. That ended in 11th grade. Mrs. Fields, who had taught both of my older sisters, called to tell Momma she didn’t think she’d approve of the way I was cutting up in class and making everyone laugh. She was right. Momma didn’t approve. That was the last phone call Momma got about my behavior at school. She made it simple. Stop or you will not play basketball. No threats. Only promises. I knew that, and because of it, I made sure Momma didn’t get anymore phone calls.

Momma never compared us to one another. We all had different interests, talents, gifts, abilities. She connected with us on an individual level that allowed her to nurture each of us in just the right way. Whatever we were interested in, and as long as it was positive for developing us into self sufficient and independent young women, she encouraged it. Momma had one rule: Always do your best.

I get it. Lots of parents have that rule and yes, it is cliche, but here’s where my Momma differed. She always followed that with, “whatever YOUR best is,” meaning that she understood clearly that everyone’s best is different. That’s why when I told my Momma I wanted to be a teacher she responded, “That’s great. We need great teachers.” My older sisters chose business and engineering as their career fields. Momma never steered us in toward any particular career. She simply asked that we do our very best at whatever we chose to do. It wasn’t about being the best. It was about doing our best, whatever that was. There’s a difference.

My Momma is the most unselfish person I know. She never brags about how much she does for others, but when it comes to servant leadership she’s at the top of my list. I think that’s why I find it a tad bit irritating when folks self describe themselves as servant leaders. Shouldn’t other people be the ones who decide that? I digress. My mother’s unselfish acts have always been an example of what unconditional love looks like, sounds like, and feels like. More importantly, Momma’s example has taught me how to love others and what it means to know that if you need help, support, or just a listening ear, you have someone you can consistently depend on for that.

Momma has always valued belonging over fitting in, and here’s what I mean by that. She never pushed us to be a part of certain social networks it put pressure on us to engage in certain social circles. Some parents feel an enormous pressure for their children to be a part of certain social groups, and struggle with disappointment when they are not. My Momma just wasn’t wired that way. Momma encouraged us to select friends who accepted us just as we were, not because of what we could do for them or what they could do for us, whatever that might be. For Momma, belonging was key, and she taught us that there was no criteria to belong. If God put you on this earth, you belonged and were good enough (not better than anyone else), with or without other people’s endorsement. Because of that, I’ve always been comfortable with not fitting in, and in many cases I haven’t cared to fit in anyway. My goal has never been to be like everyone else. Momma used to tell me, “I want you to be who you are and do your best,” and those words have given me comfort and security throughout my adult life.

When my sister had her second child, I was blessed to be in the delivery room. I count it as one of the top two miracles I’ve witnessed, my niece’s birth and my Grandma’s death. I apologized to Momma for how hard I’d been to raise after that. Momma knew she had a strong willed child on her hands when it came to me, but she taught me to use it for good, and today I attribute that to my determined spirit. It has helped me get through tough situations and given me a sense of confidence knowing that if there’s something I wish to accomplish, I’ve got the tenacity to endure whatever may be required.

I imagine the world to be a much kinder and loving place if we were to love each other for who we are, accepting one another, not because we fit in, but because we all belong. There would be a lot less group think and we wouldn’t see those who think differently than us as contrary. Instead we’d value the diversity that life can offer us when our hearts and minds are attuned to people being just who they are and not who we think they should be because that’s the beginning of unconditional love.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: Watch Your Words

I have vivid memories of my Grandma Moa. I’d write the pronunciation for you but can’t seem to quite get it right. At any rate, I spent a lot of time with Moa as a child. Even when I got into my teenage years, a time when many pubescent hormonal lads are too cool for anyone, including themselves, I still enjoyed hanging out at her house. We did all kinds of things together. We tended to her four o’clock flowers, walked to the grocery store and back, and visited with her friend Beatrice. Moa never had a driver’s license, but she was fiercely independent. She loved to ride in the car. She said it was good for getting earth air, which meant the windows should be rolled down, and many times just before we were dropping her off she’d share that she could ride to New York. She exhibited a heightened curiosity when we were in the car, taking it all in as we traveled down the road. No matter how many times we traveled the same routes, to church, the mall, or the grocery store, she seemed to practice the same awe. She was curious about the world around her, and having a sixth grade education did not limit her way of living.

She read the newspaper cover to cover every day, and when she came to a word she was unsure of how to pronounce, she’d call a family member for help, spelling the word over the phone, and then practicing it by repeating what you’d said. She had the birth weights and stories of how she named each of her 10 children memorized, and she called in everybody’s birthday to the local radio station for a chance to win the dozen doughnuts they raffled off each day. I know everyone thinks their Grandma is special, but mine was clearly one of a kind.

Moa taught me to be intentional with my words. She had a number of sayings , but many of them revolved around using your words with care and intention. “Never say what you won’t do. Don’t talk about other people because you might be talking about yourself. The only way to keep a secret between you and someone else is if one of you are dead.” Moa knew that words, once said, could not be retracted. She was careful with what she said and would guard anything you told her in confidence as if you had died. You could be sure it would never be repeated. There were so many lessons in those three sayings. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to better understand the value of each of her wise offerings.

Moa was right. None of can be certain of what we won’t do, and that’s what I believe is at the heart living and loving in a way that doesn’t render judgement upon other people. Life is tricky and uncertain. Our interactions cannot be predicted and we can only hope to behave in a way that won’t result in regret. Our fragile state as humans doesn’t allow for us to use the word never when speaking about ourselves and our future hopes and dreams. We really don’t know what’s ahead of us and we’d be wise to not put ourselves in a box that later feels like a prison.

Moa valued trust. She’s honestly one of the few people I know in this world who actually could keep a secret. I don’t have any recollections of her gossiping about other people. In fact, when I’d call her and ask, “What you know good?,” her response was inevitably, “All on myself and I’m not telling.” She carefully chose her relationships and their depth. She didn’t offer depth to just those who were willing to listen because I believe she knew that humans needed people to listen, but more importantly to care. She clearly didn’t confuse listening with caring, and I recognize now that the two are not the same.

One of my goals as of late is to be present and curious. I’d like to be as curious as Moa was every time we were riding in the car, as if it were a brand new experience with lots to see and enjoy. I want to exhibit a curiosity in others that doesn’t wane when the phone buzzes, a cheer is heard from television, or the clock ticks. There is so much to take in when we practice curiosity with care. Questioning can indicate curiousness, but it’s not necessarily indicative of caring. It could be plain and simple nosiness, cloaked under the cloud of asking lots of questions.

Everyday I hope to notice something I didn’t notice before. Practicing curiosity with care can make me a better person, and hopefully a better daughter, sister, and friend. It means entering conversations with others with an expectation to learn something, no matter how regular the interaction. Moreover, it means being more curious about the world and people who I desire to connect with deeply, and carefully selecting those who demonstrate care as much as they do the ability to listen.

One of the most significant experiences of my life was being with Moa when she made her way to heaven. This February will be 15 years. I am still learning from her, and her words seem to come to me exactly when I need them. Her love, which she said we had just because we were hers, is something I value greatly, and something I want to give away to those who are curious enough to care even more in my lifetime.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: Interdependence Makes Us Better.

My Grandaddy was the oldest of 17. That’s right. He had 16 brothers and sisters. A pair of his siblings were twins, named Mary and Joseph, his mother having named each of her children after someone in the Bible. Granddaddy was what I’d call an entrepreneur in his day. He was a farmer, not a sharecropper, because he owned his own land. He sold milk, eggs, and butter on the weekends, and worked at a local mill during the week. He also had a vineyard, and was said to have gone to jail for selling moonshine three times. Each of his children had their own cow, which they were responsible for milking and caring for per Grandaddy’s expectations. Momma said she named her cow Fred because she was so young when he was “given” to her she did not realize cows were girls. She tells us stories about getting up early in the cold, milking cows, helping Aunt Gloria fetch her cow who liked to run away from where she was supposed to be, picking cotton before breakfast, and growing up in a time where people lived off the land and had a mutual respect and interdependence with it.

Other than these stories, I can offer no similar recollections. From one generation to the very next, things can change, and they did for us. However, these stories offer me something greater than just knowledge of family history and traditions. They help me understand the value system I now hold dear and give me an immense amount of respect for my family and all they’ve experienced. That interdependence, the land and its people or the people and their land, is something that’s missing in our world today. In Momma’s time, people believed that community and mutual interdependence were necessary for success. Within families and among neighbors, people helped one another. From borrowing an egg or cup of sugar to sharing a meal, interdependence was not only necessary for survival. It was expected and enjoyed. Today, society seems overrun with a focus on self. Personalization seems to be the marketing genius of every new product. Even the ads on our phones are “made just for us” thanks to an algorithm that takes note of our likes, purchases, and technological behavior.

Before anyone makes an assumption that this is an anti-technology post, let me make a point of clarity. It isn’t. This is a pro-community post. In the midst of all the technological changes of the world, it seems to me that the connection we so desperately need and many are seeking, won’t be rectified by going live on IG, TikTok, or even with the opportunity to FaceTime our friends and family. If there is one thing I’ve learned through this pandemic, it’s that we need to be in the physical presence of one another. While those substitutes may help us bridge the gap in the short term, the human condition won’t be sustained and the disease of loneliness won’t be healed with these methods. Good old fashioned living room sitting, chatting, and sharing the same physical space honors the interdependence that human beings need to thrive.

I imagine the world we live in would be quite different if we were to honor the fact that we need to be in relationship (romantically or otherwise) with others to thrive and that those interactions serve us better when we share the same physical space with others. So how do we move from a world where we count our friends by the number of followers we have and who we are connected to through Facebook to the ones who sit with us in our grief, share with us in our joy, and enjoy our company in the physical sense?

I don’t have the answers, but here’s what I’m going to try in 2022. I want to spend more time in the company of those who are important to me. When safety allows and whenever possible, I’d like that to be time where we are physically present one with another. I intend to share more laughs, smiles, and story swapping over coffee or cocktail with the persons who I believe I share a sense of interdependence with and need in order to thrive. The list isn’t long, but it doesn’t have to be if the quality of the connection is solid and strong. I’m convinced that if we all did more of that, this hyper sense of individualism that America seems to be infected with right now would shift. Instead, we would see and understand that our humanity is connected to that of our neighbors and friends, and that no matter what we achieve individually, we are only as valuable as the community we are connected to is. Just like Grandaddy needed that land to feed and take care of his family, we need each other too, and when we honor that need, we all can thrive.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

2021 Reflections

A year ago I remember hoping for things to transition back to normal-whatever that means. Right now I’m simply looking forward to moving on and coming out better on the other end of things when this pandemic era of living is finally done. There will be no return to normal. None of us will exit this thing untouched. We’ve all been changed by it, and to say otherwise is to deny the reality of a trauma we’ve all shared.

But the world is sick, and I’m not just referencing COVID. I’m certainly not making light of the 800,000 plus Americans who have lost their lives to this pandemic. It’s tragic and certainly a grief we all share. Beyond the obvious illness of the COVID virus, there’s more disease. Hearts and minds are not well. Rugged individualism has perpetuated a new line of behavior that permeates our lives, our schools, and our legislatures. Book banning, infighting over masks, and disagreements about what being American has meant and should mean continue to cause strict division. Common ground is scarce. Differences of opinions, beliefs, and perspectives about who is responsible for what, and most shockingly, what is truth and who gets to tell it, suffocate the timelines, social media feeds, and conversations at American dinner tables, and show up at public comment opportunities of all kind.

A debate usually consists of two concepts, both which usually represent opposites, but possible and realistic perspectives. Weighing the pros and cons of both concepts, using experiences to connect one’s position to the lives of those listening, and understanding how our experiences influence the values we propose to hold dear all makes sense. Yet, what seems to be under debate right now is whether or not America will own its truth-all of it, the good, the bad, and the painfully ugly.

As a child, I remember my Momma distinctly using two phrases that seem to be applicable to these times we are living in right now: 1. “A lie don’t care who tell it,” and 2. “An excuse is whatever you want it to be.” It took me years to fully understand the meaning of these colloquialisms, but I feel as if they are playing out right before my very eyes right now. The people are divided on every issue you can think of-from vaccinations to voting rights. Some of the same battles of the past that the people already decided are back in the debate circle-Roe v. Wade, voting rights, etc. It’s absolutely perplexing to me, and it echoes that nothing is final-not even justice. Freedom is an eternal battle that must be fought continuously in order to ensure that is available and accessible for all. The thought of that alone exhausts me, but there is no time for fatigue.

Over the last year and a half, and throughout this era where everything seems politicized-even when it’s clearly not a matter of politics, I recognize a few things in ways I did not before. The mind is fragile. Group think is powerful. The battle between good and evil is a real thing, not just a thematic concept in the books we read. If we are not careful, we can find ourselves going through the motions of life without thinking about how we are being influenced, and more importantly, how what we do or fail to do, and what we say or lack the courage to say, impacts the lives of others.

Even with all of this heaviness, I have no desire to go back to the pre-pandemic world. Clearly we need to do something different, especially if we want healing. Healing of all kinds-physical, mental, spiritual, societal healing that America so desperately needs. Healing never comes from ignoring the wound, neglecting the sore, or pretending it doesn’t exist. Doing any of those things creates a breeding ground for infection.

Healing comes from dealing with the root issue, facing it head on, with courage, honesty, and love. Momma says if you don’t get to the root of a problem it’s definitely coming back. I recognize I have an incredibly tiny part in the grand scheme of things, I’m taking my part seriously, because in my little corner of the globe I only want to live in a space where love and truth are honored and not debated, because those are the only absolutes in this crazy world.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

My Break Up With Social Media: It’s not you. It’s me.

90 days ago I decided to take a break from social media. I’m glad I did. My thumbs are in much better condition because they haven’t spent the last quarter of the year scrolling up and down to see what everybody else is posting on whatever their favorite social media platform happens to be these days. 90 days with no TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, or my fave-Twitter. Interestingly enough, I missed Twitter the most, and I use it for social purposes the least. It’s more of a professional platform for me, and I’m looking forward to joining my PLN again tomorrow. The others not so much.

I made a decision to deactivate my Facebook page near the conclusion of my hiatus. I determined Facebook was mostly responsible for my decision to detox from social media and so maybe staying away from it might work best for me. Prior to the hiatus, social media started to feel like I was spending time bathing my brain in bad vibes. Even when I made attempts to post something positive every morning, I still found myself sucked in and watching the comments on various posts, which tended to land on the negative and complaining end of the spectrum. At the same time that I broke up with social media, I started seeing stories on the news about the Facebook whistleblower. I was intrigued and felt affirmed in my decision. I’m happy to report that I don’t miss Facebook. At all.

I couldn’t help but notice all the ways I had used social media as an escape, often spending countless hours scrolling and looking…at other people, their experiences, and their stories. A few weeks into being off of social media and I found the stack of books on my bedside table had dwindled to two instead of six. Suddenly, I had time to read. I’d also somehow found time to make new music, reimage my computer, listen to podcasts, and enjoy two new television shows. Each week I decided to start my Mondays by writing a thank you card to people whose friendship and connection had been important to me during the pandemic. I enjoyed the messages I got from each of them after being surprised by receiving my card. That was a really good feeling.

I worked to be more present in my conversations and with my thoughts, ideas, joys, and thinking about my future goals and aspirations. I started journaling again for the first time in years. I enjoyed simply sitting in the quiet, taking naps on the couch, and sitting out in the sunshine on warm days listening to music. I was taken aback by how often I initially reached for my phone at first, especially in those “there’s nothing else to do” moments. I didn’t realize how accustomed I had become to scrolling and looking, and now that I think about it, I can’t help but wonder how much of my life I’ve probably missed because I was so busy looking at everyone else’s.

My goal isn’t to condemn those who enjoy social media and use it to stay connected to family and friends. I, too, want and need that connection. I just want it in person, being present, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, rather than virtually. It seems to me that life is comprised of a series of exchanged experiences, and I want to savor the ones that bring me joy and happiness, with the people I love and care about the most. No matter how many likes or hearts a posts might receive, nothing can take the place of an exchanged smile, a shared laugh, or an offered hug.

It’s a new season of life for me. I have no idea what the future holds, but I promised myself I won’t miss it looking out when I need to be looking within.

Until next time,

Latoya

What I Know For Sure…

In this era, it is easy to allow the cloud of uncertainty that seems to hang over the world right now to seep into our daily lives in big and small ways. If we aren’t careful, we suddenly become unsure of what we want to do with our time, how we want to use our gifts and talents, and who we want to spend time with nurturing friendships and relationships. The ambiguity of the future grows with each passing year of life for me, continued technological advancements, and now, a global pandemic that I believe we all anxiously await to end. The idea of not knowing is instinctively uncomfortable for human beings, and this is one time when none of us can pretend that we know how things will end. This kind of atmosphere can make clarity feel unattainable and little pockets of doubt can creep into our hearts, our minds, and our spirits if we aren’t cognizant of what is happening around us. For me, I’ve taken this as an opportunity to focus on the things I believe I know for sure. Challenging times have a tendency to precede clarity, and right now is no different.

So, I’ve started a list of things I know for sure. A small, yet comforting gesture, in a time like this, and as I sit enjoying a late cup of coffee, I felt it was worth sharing.

8 Things I Know For Sure:

1. Pride will make a fool out of you if you let it.

2. The mind is fragile and must be cared for and protected as much as the body.

3. Love is still and will always be the most healing form of medicine available to us.

4. I must always be sure about who I am, what I believe, and what I am not willing to do if I wish to be a leader.

5. Relationships don’t just matter. They are the lifeblood of humanity. When healthy we flourish, and when toxic, we struggle. We need each other to survive and to live a life that has meaning and purpose.

6. Quiet time-time to be still in mind, body, and spirit is very important, especially when the world feels like chaos is all around us all the time.

7. Changing someone’s heart is far more likely than changing someone’s mind. Hearts are changed through experiences though, and not opinions.

8. It’s important to make time to do the things that make you happy, to be with the people who give you good energy. The less you allow what others think to influence how you live your life, the happier you will be.

So no, I’m not sure of where we are headed with this pandemic, and I’m not comfortable with the sickness and death we’re witnessing, and I don’t know when things will get better. But what I know for sure is this:

Things will get better.

As the old hymn goes, trouble don’t last always.

The way of the universe is that that nothing lasts forever-and that includes the chaos of this world and COVID-19.

The best is yet to come, and I have absolutely no doubt about that.

Until next time! Be you, be true, and be a hope builder!

Latoya

@latoyadixon5

Love and Leadership: A Recipe for Success

I was recently speaking with a writer who was working on an article that highlighted advice and wisdom for new leaders. We talked about all the things you’d probably predict: trust, relationships, and communication. At the end of the interview she asked me if there was one central piece of wisdom that I thought every leader needed to know, and I answered: “Make sure love is at the center of everything you do.” In that moment, the thought came from a very natural and casual place, but after reflecting on that quite a bit, I’ve determined that love is a critical component to effective leadership.

Now there are a few points that I should clarify so that my sentiment isn’t misinterpreted. When love is at the center of your leadership, it doesn’t mean that you don’t address hard things or difficult situations. It means because you care deeply about helping those you serve become the best they can possibly be, you do the exact opposite. You challenge them, encourage them, and push them to grow, even when it is difficult. That’s real love; love with purpose.

I believe that it would be hard to find joy in leading if one does not love people, love the idea of serving for a purpose far greater than one’s self, and love the idea of having a positive impact on the lives of others. I’ve never been in love with the idea of being in charge, the boss, or the person who bears the weight of making the final call on major decisions. In fact, those are my least favorite things about leadership, and quite frankly I find that the idea that one is in charge is a grave fallacy that brings many of the wrong type of people to leadership.

What I love about leadership is the opportunity to help others, to support them in their growth and achieving their highest potential, to point out something great that they may not see in themselves, and bring people together around a common goal to make a difference in this world. I believe that’s what all good leaders love about leadership. They love the people and the purpose in equal measure.

I fell in love with leadership as a youngster. I loved the idea of bringing people together. Sometimes that meant getting everyone to agree to play kickball on the playground in elementary school, or encouraging classmates to bring in their can tabs on aluminum soda cans so we could see what a million really looks like, or serving on student council. What I found is that I enjoyed is people, talking to them, supporting them, encouraging them, and most of all helping them. Helping others bring such joy to my heart because it is one of the simplest ways to give and receive love.

In a recent conversation with a colleague who was moving to a new school and somewhat saddened by it, I shared with her that the emotional pull she felt was absolutely normal. It’s the result of her investment in other people as a leader, and their investment in her. In fact, it’s the way it’s supposed to be, especially if love, a love for people and purpose, is at the center of all we do and why we do it as leaders.

I want to encourage leaders who are reading this blog post to think carefully about the role love plays in your leadership. If love isn’t at the center, it’s not worth doing. Let love be your guide!

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya

Public Education’s Pandemic Opportunity

“Let’s be good stewards of the unknown by embracing this time as a time to reimagine our profession, to bring back the joy to teaching and learning, and to do what our children need us to do: be steady. This will not be an easy task and it won’t be perfect. Let’s all lead during this uncertain time with the certainty that our profession and public education is a cornerstone of America’s democracy.”

From my blog post, Leading In Uncertain Times: A Call for Unity, July 26, 2020

There should be no doubt now. There should not have been any before the Corona virus took hold of our lives, our work, and our socializing. Public education is an essential cornerstone of American democracy. Our approach and operation moving forward must be one that honors the clear indication of the needed change to the way we conduct teaching, learning, and leading. Here are a few insights that come to my mind in this regard.

1. Leaders must become comfortable and competent at leading change. The future of public education is uncertain and the ability to adapt to the social and structural changes occurring in our world is going to be a critical component in leading effectively. Leaders who are future focused, visionary, and willing to utilize innovation and flexibility to produce better outcomes for both students and staff will outlast those who maintain a fixed mindset centered heavily on the management of people and operations rather than the creation of new opportunities and experiences.

2. The voices, needs, interests, and passions of students must be honored in the way we approach the teaching, learning, and assessment practices. Caring and trusting relationships and authentic connection with each student is of critical importance. If we don’t provide students with the personalized experience they desire and deserve, they may seek other avenues to equip themselves with the skills, knowledge, and characteristics they need and desire. Students will demand and develop a sense of community with or without pubic education’s invitation. To combat this, we must work to ensure a sense of belonging and affiliation for every student we educate coupled with opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in authentic ways.

3. The post-pandemic successful teacher must be provided with personalized professional learning opportunities and given the flexibility to innovate in his or her classroom. Further, the voices of teachers must be honored in what we ask of them and how we support their efforts to provide students with high quality, meaningful, and relevant learning experiences. These teachers will demand a sense of community and an opportunity to lead from their classrooms to improve their professional experience and the learning experiences of students.

Our ability to look forward towards a brighter and more equitable future in public education matters more than it may have ever before. The consequences of missing and failing to seize the opportunity before us are large and serious. Let’s make sure we’ve learned from our past, but more importantly, let’s ready ourselves for a better future for all of our children, those who serve alongside of us, and do so by redefining success for ourselves and our students.

Until next time-Be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya

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