Association of Washington School Principals
Volume 2 – 2020-21
SEL Isn’t Just for Students
Becoming emotionally agile as a school leader
Gina Yonts
Associate Director, AWSP
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture
The School Leader Paradigm has been an amazing accompaniment to AWSP professional learning since its inception a few years back. It makes sense to me as a school leader, but also helps me to think and be reflective around areas that might not naturally appear in my leadership life.
As we approach spring — a hopeful time of year — and acknowledge all we have weathered over the course of the global pandemic, I have been reading and researching personal growth and emotional agility as we head into the final months of the 20-21 school year. Susan David, author of “Emotional Agility, Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life” has been an amazing influence in my life this past year. She was there even before the pandemic with her amazing TED Talk, “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage.” This woman has not had a picturesque life, but her story of courage and resilience has resonated deep within me as a mother, a child of aging-parents ,and a school leader quarantined in a 12 x 12 office while missing my friends, colleagues, and school life. If the quarantine taught me anything, it was no matter how hard I did my part and adhered to “rules,” other factors affected my ability to do what I wanted to do. Luckily, my loved ones, as well as my immediate family, weathered the COVID storm okay and we leaned on each other in ways we really hadn’t needed to in a very long time. But through missing out on family milestones, an early COVID retirement for my dad, re-painting every room in the house, several trips to the landfill and Goodwill to purge neglected spaces in our home and turning two rooms of the house into an office and HS P.E./Health classroom,I found myself having more time to reflect, be quiet, spiritual and thoughtful. The past year has been a “leaning in” to many facets of my life: as a human being, mother, wife, daughter and of course, school leader. I was raised to be a hard-working person and my life in leadership has mirrored this same adherence to a work ethic to be proud of. The challenging part of this past year has taught me that hard work can be an answer to stress, but it’s really not all it’s cracked up to be, especially when you really aren’t in control of anything happening around you. The events of the past year have challenged me, brought me to my knees, created a heartbreak I wasn’t even aware I needed to have (but thankful for) and challenged me to really look in the mirror. In order to BECOME the best family member, office mate and colleague I can be, I leaned into the AWSP School Leader Paradigm. It was a helpful place to land, reflect and dig into. I found myself reflecting and digging into the different intelligences and making plans around how to develop areas of my leadership skill set that could help to best support the people around me.
If the quarantine taught me anything, it was no matter how hard I did my part and adhered to ‘rules,’ other factors affected my ability to do what I wanted to do.
Through this journey, I was introduced to Susan David’s Emotional Pyramid of Needs. When you can’t control things, it has been most helpful for me to take a step back. “It is, what it is.” Gentle Acceptance is at the base of the emotional pyramid. Who doesn’t want gentle acceptance? You know the reassurance you give to others? It’s OK to have difficult times, it’s OK to be worried about a situation or circumstance, but you show up anyway. Accepting that things may be hard and not trying to convince yourself otherwise is gentle acceptance and it allows us to be ready for positive change. (Personal Intelligence: Humble, Reflective) “Meet yourself where you are.” We’ve all had those conversations with staffulty when a situation didn’t go as originally planned. There are pieces to pick up and odds are you are kind, empathetic and exercise a healthy dose of compassion towards anyone in this situation. Do you give this same kind of compassion to yourself? Cut yourself some slack and let go of things needing to be perfect within your own leadership role. Give yourself the grace to grow and learn, — and even mess up on occasion! Picking up the pieces is what we do for others and sometimes what we do for ourselves-it’s a part of being an empathetic human being. (Social Intelligence: Empathetic, Relational) Create Pockets of Healthy Routine and “Let it go!” Routine helps all of us keep a sense of order. Nothing like a global pandemic to rattle our cages and throw routine out the window! When routines are out of whack, unfamiliarity can fill these caps in routine with fear. Encouraging those around us, as well as reminding ourselves, to fill the gaps with things most connected to our values can be a way of focusing and controlling situations that feel out of control. During the past year I focused on my spiritual and meditation practices, a little less on what I ate (within reason) and enjoyed spending time in my yard, enjoying my home and some creative endeavors that had been neglected. (Systems Intelligence: Strategic, Responsive) Nurture relationships. Connection and community are invaluable for relationship building. The connection to my co-workers on a more personal level, my parents and extended family as well as the neighbors in my cul-de-sac, saved me. Yes, there was always social distancing, but not a lack of connection. We talked more frequently, we shared more about what we were doing on a daily basis. We called and checked in on one another and frankly we were more aware and connected. We all need the support of connection in our lives and being creative as we went about it was key! (Personal Intelligence: Innovative, Optimistic) Emotions can be small or BIG: Stay open to the tough emotions. Emotions can sneak up on us and with a more recent national focus on SEL we are growing in our understanding of emotions, both ours and others. Occasionally, BIG emotions show up and what I have learned is that they are just like big waves…the kind you ride and bob above! When big emotions show up, it’s an opportunity to use these emotions to identify what matters most. I was personally devasted by the murder of George Floyd and the realization that racism is so prevalent in so many places. It seemed as if a BRIGHT light started to highlight everything I didn’t know and the lack of knowledge was frightening. This fear was turned into action as our organization really dug in, to support, grow, push and learn about equity, all of the “isms” and to grow collectively in this area. (Systems Intelligence: Advocative, Transformative) Make habits out of behaviors you consciously choose. As our professional learning team wrapped up a full year of professional development, a question often asked is: What are the /silver linings? What will you keep? What will you not return to? I love this, because so much of what our systems did prior to the pandemic were on auto-pilot and not questioned. With the pandemic, we’ve now had the opportunity to reflect on practices that were never really equitable or serving students well anyway. We’ve been able to see these stark realities play out with our students, staff and families. Many of these realities have taken a toll on wonderful school leaders. But how will we use this information to do a hard reset and begin making habits out of behaviors we CHOOSE? I encourage you to think what gets tossed, what you keep and how to keep good practices rolling forward. (Systems Intelligence: Visionary, Responsive, Evaluative) Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility: wisdom. Susan David says it best, “Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility. We are young until we are not. We walk down the streets feeling confident until, one day we realize we are unseen. We are healthy until a diagnosis brings us to our knees. The only certainty is uncertainty, and once we realize this as truth, the healthier and more authentically happier we will be.” This may not be the uplifting truth, but it is full of wisdom. It’s not an overly positive sentiment, but at the same time it calls out courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, but courage is fear walking…one foot in front of the other. It takes emotional agility to navigate the intensity in leadership at this time and it is up to each and every one of us to walk alongside one another, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder. At the end of the day, we are all just walking each other home. Let’s walk together with compassion, connection, courage, and wisdom. Are you with me?
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Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 2 – 2020-21