A wholehearted teacher knows who she is. She acknowledges her flaws and her strengths. She is kind to herself and uses failures as a sign that she needs to adjust her practice – not that she herself is a failure. She seeks out opportunities for growth, and believes she can make a difference in all of her student’s lives. She understands her power, and embraces it. She doesn’t bring her own areas of inauthenticity or insecurity into work nor does she try to get unmet needs met by her peers, leaders, or students.
This picture represents the ideal – teaching with authenticity.
But let’s start with the “real” before we jump back to the ideal. And for that, I need look no further than my own real life:
All my life I’ve been a crier – at touching commercials, my neice and nephew’s performances of any kind, inspiring TED talks – you name it – I’m crying. Most embarassingly – I cry at standing ovations. Always have. Always will.
Don’t ask me why I do it. I just do.
But all my life I’ve been ashamed of it. I would try to turn if off or hide it before my brothers would see and tease me for it. I got really good at counting light fixtures at the top of auditoriums which would distract me just enough to pull it together before the lights came back on.
About 4 years ago, I decided to stop being embarrased by this simple little silly thing. I decided to look at it not as something to hide, but as a sign of the qualities God put in my heart that make me, me. I am tender-hearted. I am easily touched and moved. I am grateful and love creative expression. I love people. I love seeing people succeed.
Turns out – these are all the same qualities that made me a great teacher, a great teacher-leader, and now a great coach.
When I try to turn this trait off, I run the risk of hardening my heart and dulling the expression of my God-given gifts.
We each have gifts – some of which we try to squelch or hide because those same gifts on one end of the spectrum are wonderful and on the other end of the spectrum are shameful, embarassing, or difficult.
I coach teachers with extremely unique gifts. Not a single one of them is the same. In fact, it is one of my greatest joys to understand the different qualities of those I coach and how those unique gifts contribute to their lives and life purpose.
Unfortunately, a lot of times I hear “this will probably sound silly” or “others would think I was crazy for this” or “I know this is terrible, but…” and then they go on to describe some quality they possess that they have found a way to twist into shame.
For example, a competitive spirit drives a person to persevere like no other and push you to limits you never knew possible. But sometimes that same spirit can make losing feel really low and sad.
Likewise, a tender, people-minded spirit creates a gift for seeing other people’s feelings and being thoughtful and compassionate. But sometimes that same spirit can make boundaries difficult.
So, what if we did something radical? What if we decided instead of focusing on the negative, to begin seeing how these traits make up our being? What if we decided to look at the many traits that color who we are, and started valuing these traits as gifts?
What if you decided to stop hiding what makes you, you?
When I decided to stop being ashamed of my tender heart, I began to see what a valuable gift it was to me. Instead of being embarrassed, I began to be endeared to myself. I began to actually laugh and smile at myself when I would tear up at a commercial or a standing ovation or a really amazing song on the radio. I smiled and thanked God for making me tender-hearted.
Then the coolest thing happened – I began to actually tell others about my tenderness. I laughed with my friends about crying at standing ovations. And I realized that it endeared me to them too! I actually connected better with people because I let them in to my heart and embraced what made me, me.
On my 30th birthday, my husband arranged a surprise party for me. It was shortly after I had “come out” about my standing-ovation-crying issue and had laughed with my friends about it. When I walked in to the party, they all yelled “SURPRISE!” and then stood up and clapped. (honestly just typing it has me tearing up remembering the moment!)
I cried. We all laughed.
I was known…truly.
I was outed for my tenderness in the most beautiful way.
What if our students saw us this way? What if our students saw us being authentically ourselves. Embracing the things that make us who we are?
I don’t know that there is a more powerful lesson for students than teaching with authenticity and seeing us live authentically.
That’s why this is the granddaddy of all the habits of wholehearted teachers. Cultivating work/life balance, self-care, healthy eating, a peaceful environment, community, mindfulness, gratitude, passion, and purpose all contribute to authenticity.
When we stop asking our job as teacher to meet our needs for balance, care, health, peace, community etc., and instead we take on those issues in our lives ourselves – we own our role in meeting our own needs – we are able to simply live and teach from a wholehearted place – a place of deep and wonderful authenticity.
Teaching with authenticity is ultimately the side effect of wholehearted living.
~Alison, A Teacher’s Best Friend
Check out these other posts that are part of the 10 Habits of Wholehearted Teachers Series: