We Are The Bridge
There are few things on the internet that inspire me and fire me up more to keep fighting the “what matters most fight” in the world of public education than Seth Godin’s blog. Yesterday I was attempting to prepare myself to say goodbye to a group of teacher leaders and inspirational human beings that have been on the front lines of innovation in education with me and when I came across Seth’s blog post for the day I realized it might have been written specifically for me, or rather for us, to get through this difficult farewell and bring it all back to why we are doing this in the first place. For the past year and a half I’ve been working with 9 small school teams comprising into 1 large district team of roughly 100 teacher leaders, instructional partners, and media specialists known as the Technology Innovation Experience, or TIE. Last August I came bursting into Enterprise, AL with a dream, a passion, a very loud voice, and the leadership support to create (and hopefully sustain) a truly innovative professional learning experience. To say the least, I was pumped. While it hasn’t even been 2 years, the closeness with which we’ve worked and the enthusiastic commitment to the cause has created a community of people that I will be calling my colleagues and friends long beyond my career with ECS, and Seth’s post has not only inspired me but also fueled me to fight for how we are going to keep this work going long beyond any of our official TIE “memberships”.
The blog post is titled: Empathy is a bridge. It’s short, to the point, and universally applicable while also deeply personal. And it hit me right in the heart. Seth argues that anyone doing the deep work that matters most is playing a long game, possibly even one that never truly ends, and that because of this it is critical we bring people along with us. More than that, it is essential we are present for these people because even though it may not seem that the relationship is currently balanced with a give and get eventually we too will need something from them -- even if that need is just a non-judgemental listening ear. Not to mention none of us are always going to be here so the more folks we can add to our teams the longer the game can be played and the more likely those end goals are able to be achieved. When we started TIE I repeatedly reminded our teams that this is about so much more than just us as TIE teachers improving our craft and becoming more innovative, that it was also just as much about sharing what we learn and do with others to create a ripple effect throughout our entire school system. Seth argues further that empathy is the way to opening the door, that through active speech, thoughtfulness, and connection everything can change (for the better) and the ripples can be made. He also argues that if this positive new way of being, living, interacting, teaching, learning doesn’t currently exist in the space you are within that it can start right now -- with you.
This is why TIE matters so much, we are the bridge. Empathy is what we are walking on and also what we must be carrying with us and passing out along the way to ensure others know they are welcome to join our cause. TIE is not, and has never been, about me or the current members specifically -- it has to be about everyone. To make these bridges and ripples a reality we have to continue to meet people where they are. We have to always welcome and begin the conversations. We have to trust ourselves, and each other, that there is always something awesome to share, and then wait and listen for what the other person has to share too. This work is so much bigger than each of us individually, and as a team, and in the end we’ve only ever truly won the long game when everyone feels welcome to play and knows they have something to contribute and that their contribution is not only welcomed but needed. The smartest person in the room truly is the room. There are a lot of rooms, a lot of people, and a lot of bridges that need to be built to ensure our work continues to create the impact it has since the first day we started. We must continue to be the change we seek every single day. When it gets too hard it’s okay to rest and lean on each other, we just have to make sure we always get back up and try again -- each person is just simply too invaluable not to be a part of this work, this team, this change in education that our students need -- and our world needs -- so drastically.
To my team: thank you for always rising to the occasion. Thank you for being vulnerable and transparent. Thank you for being the inspiration for each other, your students, your colleagues, and me to keep going. Thank you for making real innovation in education a reality and never giving up. Please support and challenge each other to continue the work of building the bridges, creating the ripples, and playing the long game regardless of how daunting it might feel on the tough days. Celebrate every small win, we’ve already had too many to even begin to list and I cannot wait to keep learning from and with you regardless of where we all end up. Please inspire the world to know that whether it is a TIE team in Enterprise, a Forward team in Madison, or whatever new thing we dream up at my next school district adventure with Pike Road that we are always in this game together, that you are always on my team, that the invitation is always open for new people to join, and that we truly do have the ability to create the bridges that help everyone get there -- together.