Over the last several years I have had the opportunity to travel the country and speak about everything from educational leadership to culture to the importance of telling your school/district story. The opportunity to work with teachers and administrators from around the country is consistently a source of inspiration for me because I learn so much from the many passionate, enthusiastic and dedicated educators I encounter. Invariably, the conversations always get personal as people share stories about everything from what inspired them to become an educator to what sustains them to do this important work on a daily basis. My personal experiences definitely impact who I am as an educator; my experiences as a father; my experiences as a son; my experiences as a sibling; and my experiences as a partner all affect the way I approach my daily work as an educator.
After several conferences and workshops I decided to include the following picture in my presentations so the audience could better understand me and the people who shape my work as an educator…
This picture is generally the opening slide in my presentations so I can introduce the audience to my personal “tribe” – my son, Paul, and my partner, Felix – the people who sustain me on a daily basis. Paul and Felix impact the way I think and feel and when I am making decisions as an educator, my experiences as a father and partner certainly inform those decisions. Including this picture also served a very selfish purpose – I get to take my guys with me whenever I travel and I love talking about them for a couple of minutes.
I never realized the impact this picture might have on my audience. About a year ago I was doing a keynote in the Midwest and after I finished my presentation several people came up to me to thank me for the experience, which is always incredibly humbling. While speaking with this small group, I noticed one gentleman standing to the side. Once I was alone, he stepped over to me and thanked me for including the picture of my family in the presentation. He shared that he rarely talked about his husband in professional contexts because he worried about how people would react because he always assumed he was the only one – the only gay educator in the room. He went on to share that while my presentation on digital leadership was great, it was the first workshop he attended where he knew he wasn’t the only gay educator in the room and that changed the whole experience for him. He talked about how he felt comfortable and empowered because he wasn’t the only one; and this connection allowed him to engage in the learning in a totally different way than he had ever engaged in the past.
What this educator didn’t understand was how much his story impacted me. While including a picture of Paul and Felix was more for me than it was for the audience or the presentation, on that day I came to understand the potential impact it could have on those around me. Sharing this picture, and its story, allowed me to connect on a personal level with my audience; sharing this picture served as a window for some members of the audience and a mirror for others; and sharing this picture was an opportunity to build relationships with people I may never have otherwise had a connection.
I have presented a few times since then and have received DMs, emails and private FB messages from educators who had some connection to the LGBTQ community thanking me for incorporating my personal story as part of the presentation. These messages have inspired me on so many levels and remind me about the importance of relationships in education. You see, we could have the most robust math program or the most amazing Makerspace or the best professional development but if we don’t have positive and healthy relationships with those around us, those “things” won’t have a sustained impact on learning in our classrooms, schools or districts. It all comes back to relationships – relationships between teachers and students; relationships between educators; relationships between teachers and administrators; relationships between the community and staff; relationships between students and administrators; and relationships between students. The research is there – see John Hattie’s meta analysis – relationships impact learning and achievement in effective learning organizations. No matter what happens we can never lose sight of the fact that education is personal!