Monday, December 7, 2015

What I learned from my students last week

I guess they are more like reminder lessons than brand new lessons, but through my students' eyes it became clear that these values are more important than ever. As educators and learners, we are always moving, connecting, sharing, and experiencing the world around us thanks to this Renaissance of innovation, thanks to this digital age. It is important to stay grounded, even when we are feeling like we are in a whirlwind of progress. Here are the clear focused reminders from my students of the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Leadership Institute, which occurred in Walt Disney World last week.

We are all in this together.

As the week started, the students entered the orientation room together. They chatted amongst themselves and even partnered quickly when asked to tackle their first leadership task. I was impressed that, even though they were thrown into unfamiliar circumstances and were being directed by unfamiliar educators, they shared resources and ideas and encouragement throughout.

They were ready to tackle it together on Day 1.
The next morning, quite early, they were sleepy but excited. When I asked them to rally for the first picture of the day... they did! Of course, I was impressed. Their actions and words throughout that first day indicated deep seeded values of servant leadership. Whenever they were asked about the values leaders should have, I heard a recurring theme: "Leaders see themselves as equals with the people they lead." "Leaders lead from within."

Adult leaders would be wise to remember their humility and heed these values.

When you're hungry, eat.

I'm so so guilty of this. I started out as an educator because I was pretty good at school myself. Individuals who can stay organized, set and keep to their own time management systems, and thrive on meeting goals and deadlines tend to fit well into academic systems. As young students, we pushed ourselves during the day and rested each night to prepare for the next big day.

My students, feeding their bodies with food
from the Morocco Pavilion at Epcot last week.
Except that, in this brave new world, there is no time for rest. Communication, information, and opportunities for learning are available 24/7. When I was a kid, TV networks didn't broadcast between midnight and 5am. Now there is media from all devices available at all hours. While those of us who are hungry for knowledge can be tempted to overindulge, we have to remember to feed our souls, and our stomachs.

In Walt Disney World, it is easy to fall into a feverish pace. Everything is larger than life and there is more to fit in one week than is humanly possible. (My colleague was wearing a FitBit and we hit 25,000 steps every single day we were there.) When I felt like it was my job to push the kids a little harder and further, I noticed they were finding any opportunity to sit or grab a snack. Their bodies were asking for rest and energy. I was asking them to ignore that.

While these actions from teenagers might seem like laziness, remember that these were kids in Walt Disney World. If they were feeling this way and listening to their bodies, why shouldn't I listen? As the week went on I found myself giving them slightly longer breaks and telling them I knew they were hungry. They appreciated the honesty and were willing to hang on a little longer, even when they were exhausted, because they knew I would give them the break they needed.

When I got home from a feverish week and thought of everything I had to catch up with at home, I felt overwhelmed again. Then I remembered by students. So I slept. A lot. And now, 48 hours after returning home, I've gotten enough sleep and family time - enough food for my body and soul - to have the energy to write this post.

That important lesson is thanks to my students.

Laughter is the key to success.

They were proud of what they accomplished last week,
and that pride was well deserved.
Leaders with humor are the best leaders.
We speed walked from conference center to park, from shuttle to meeting place, and from attraction to attraction. There was a tight schedule with incredible activities planned. The students didn't want to miss anything and neither did the educators. Every time we were walking, the kids were joking.

"Look! Don't step on that!"

"What's up there?"

There was nothing there.

A silly game, but a funny one. A way for them to connect to each other and build culture, even in the busiest moments. Sure, they were being goofy. On the surface, there were no leadership or academic goals being met. But they found a way to laugh in every moment of our time together. The culture of joy they built through this seemingly silly game helped the group as a whole accomplish more together.

I have rarely found a fellow educator who does not have what is best for students at the core of what he does. At times, though, I have seen those same educators go forward with what they believe is best, but forget to ask students for input. Teachers' days are overscheduled and overtaxed. In the midst of that feverish pace, we all need to remember to listen to our students.

Remember to be in it together, remember to feed body and soul, and remember to laugh.

Author's Note: For more pictures, videos, and details of last week with these incredible student leaders, check out the #BOLT2015 Blog.