It’s not personal

“Carol, Don’t you ever get upset about anything? You never seem to get mad even when people are mad at you!” This comment came one day from a teacher during a particularly difficult time in my 2nd year as a principal. At the time I laughed, because of course I get upset like everyone else when situations are stressful, fraught with negative emotions, or seem personal. But there are a few core principles that, upon reflection, I hold that led to this teacher’s observation. I thought I’d share some of them with you.

Mindfulness
The concept of mindfulness was something I practiced before really knowing of it explicitly, through my interest in yoga as a fitness activity. Later, learning about mindfulness in the context of education (for example with the MindUp program for students) led me to a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, mindfulness as a technique and way of being that helps me manage my own reactions (what I can control) to stressful or difficult situations (that I can’t control). I love following and sharing the tweets from @mindfuleveryday to keep myself on track.

The Four Agreements
I was first introduced to this book by Don Miguel Ruiz through a short video from Aboriginal artist Roy Henry Vickers. The book summarizes ancient teachings of the Toltec people that lead to a happy life. One of the agreements is “don’t take things personally”. In essence, this means that each of us sees a situation through our own lenses and it is real to us. If someone else is upset with a situation and thinks that you are the cause, that is their reality but it does not need to be yours. If you believe in you own reality, and believe that you are doing your best and being honest and acting with integrity, that is enough. They are upset – that is their reality. You are fine and confident in yourself – that is your reality. This is honestly one of the most powerful things I have ever read and I come back to it often when I find myself in a situation of conflict.

Getting mad doesn’t get us moving forward
This one is just a part of my personality. I’ve never gone in for arguments, never had the need to prove I am right or try to change someone else’s mind. I don’t see the point of getting angry and making a big fuss. It doesn’t help solve the problem or move us forward; it may actually just make the situation worse by leading to words or actions that we soon regret.

So with all of that being said, of course I still sometimes get upset. I am human, after all! But I use these principles and techniques to work through it in private or with a trusted friend, or my husband or my daughter, all of whom know me well and allow me to talk myself around to a state of acceptance and calm. Like all skills, the more they are practiced the more easily they are used and the more effective they can be. In a human and relationship-based profession, conflict or disagreement is inevitable. I just don’t take it personally.

How do you deal with conflict? What strategies do you practice to maintain relationships and your own serenity in difficult times?

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Energy Crisis

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I only took two periods of physics in high school before I changed my schedule to add drama instead (and that leads to a whole different story) but I do remember the basic principle that work requires energy. A the best of times, the work that is done in schools by educators at all levels and in all roles takes a lot of energy. My uneducated guess would be about the equivalent of a minor supernova.

The work that is happening now to transform education takes enormous energy to begin, maintain and see through to fruition. This winter I struggled to maintain the energy I needed to keep things moving, to keep encouraging the great things going on. I felt it in my daily life as well and I am sure my dogs would rat me out for missed walks in the park as a result.
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I have been thinking about why it seemed so much more difficult than before. It’s my third year as principal. A colleague suggested that it’s like a marriage. Maybe this is just the natural progression from honeymoon to long-term relationship. We all know that takes work and energy too.

I don’t know if there is one reason for my energy crisis. I do feel that with the return of spring I am committing to a few things that will hopefully keep my energy up so that I can be in good shape to provide my best support of learning in my school. I am not going to skip any more morning exercise sessions. I am going to make a real lunch at least once a week. And eat it. I am going to keep my iPad with me as I walk through classrooms so I have the evidence of good learning to celebrate with our community. I will smile even when I don’t particularly feel like it (proven to release happy chemicals in the brain).

I’ll let you know how it goes. Time to get to work.

Balancing act

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I love my life. I was thinking about it today, wondering if some of the people closest to me in life feel the same way. At times it’s pretty darned invigorating being a school principal with all the opportunities for having a positive impact on learning and lives of so many amazing human beings rat different stages of life and learning. I feel like the collective energy of the work we do together, and the joy in my friends and family, lifts me up.

But just as with any complex system there are some times when those difficult moments that are a normal part of any life seem to clump together and weigh a little heavier. They can start to pull down on even the most positive person, especially when you throw some nasty cold virus into the mix! I’m just on my way out of one of those clumps and am working on getting things back into balance for the students, staff, parents, friends, family members, dogs 🙂 and self that rely on me.

There are little ups and downs that occur daily and I appreciate greatly the skills that I see in people all around me in weathering these storms, big and small, and supporting each other. Life really is a balancing act but the trick is not to always keep things in perfect balance. It’s to recognize the variations as just part of the ride, and riding it out with those who you care for, and who care for you.