Saturday, August 6, 2016

Does Your School Build Dreams or Crush Them?

Yesterday, I had a conversation with one of our teachers about some new ideas she wanted to share with me about her plans for the coming school year. She shared ways she wanted to create more relevance for her students, give them more ownership, and create a more engaging learning experience in her classroom. Wow! Those are awesome goals.

She had several specific ideas for achieving these aims. So we chatted about them. She was seeking feedback so I made some comments and asked some clarifying questions. I also handed her a book I thought might be helpful as she's thinking more about where her ideas will lead.

After the conversation, I was reflecting on it. I thought to myself, I wonder if she is more excited or less excited about her ideas after our meeting. Of course, my intention is to generate excitement around new ideas and create a culture of risk-taking and innovation in our school.

But trying to be a good coach, I shared some cautious comments too. While I loved the direction of her ideas, I wanted to interject some wisdom from my experience. I'm not sure how helpful that was. It's difficult for me not to launch into my own ideas about how I would do such and such. For the most part, I think I avoided that. But the last thing I want is to be a dream killer.

I remember a conversation I had with someone who was a leader in my life. I was sharing some ideas that I was very excited about. My passion was in this area and my energy flowed when talking about the changes I was planning. 

My leader didn't completely reject the ideas I shared, but every comment seemed laced with caution and barriers. I can remember two words distinctly from that conversation my leader used over and over.

Yeah, but...

Those two little words cut my enthusiasm in half. I didn't feel energized by our discussion. I felt deflated. Instead of throwing gasoline on my dream, they poured water all over it.

I believe successful organizations are dream building organizations. They tap into people's passions and create a sense of excitement and enthusiasm in the culture. I guess there are successful organizations that aren't great at this, but I would venture there are no incredibly, extraordinarily successful organizations that don't have a dream building culture.

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And I think this post is challenging for all of us in schools, not just principals or others in formal leadership positions. If you're a teacher, how does your classroom support students' own goals and dreams, not just your goals for teaching a subject well? Does your classroom allow students enough freedom and flexibility to pursue things that are important to them?

And when your students share their dreams with you, do you pour gasoline on their dreams or douse them with water?

We've all had students share dreams with us that seemed impossible. Or, we felt they didn't really understand what it takes to achieve the dream. Their actions weren't lining up behind the words of their dreams. I think we must be very careful about how we show up in these conversations. We have a delicate balance to help build dreams and guide actions. 

Unless someone in our life is about to go off a cliff, I think we should do everything possible to lift them up and speak support and encouragement into their lives.

Jim Carrey was once a struggling young comic from a poor family trying to make it big. He didn't have much, but he had a dream. And he wouldn't give up on it. When he was 10-years-old, he even mailed his resume to Carol Burnett. He was bold and audacious believing he would someday entertain millions and make them laugh.

In 1990, he wrote himself a check for $10 million dated Thanksgiving 1995. He placed it in his wallet. At the time, he was broke and struggling to find work as a comic. In the notation on the check, he scribbled 'for acting services rendered.' He carried that check with him as a powerful reminder. It was the tangible representation of his dream.

By 1995, he had starred in multiple films, Ace Ventura, Pet Detective and Liar, Liar. He was earning nearly $20 million per movie!

I wonder how many people in Jim Carrey's life thought his dreams of being a comedian were misguided? I bet there were lots of people who thought he'd never make it. Those people probably doused him with water. But there were probably others who saw something special in him, who threw gasoline on his dreams of being an actor and comedian.

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When we see students or teachers who struggle with apathy, I think it's often because they've given up on their dreams. Everyone must have something to aspire to, something that makes you want to get up in the morning and push forward in life. We need dreams to chase. As educators, we should be that spark of inspiration for both our students and our colleagues. 

When someone shares their dreams with you, how will you respond? Will you be the 'Yeah, but...' voice in their life? I would suggest a different response. How about these two little words, instead? 

Yes, and...

1. Yes! You can do it.

2. Yes! I believe in you.

3. Yes! Tell me more about that.

4. Yes! Why is that important to you?

5. Yes! How can I help you?

6. Yes! You are on the right track.

7. Yes! Your dreams matter to me.

If you are going to inspire others in your life to dream big, you can't get stuck in the where, when, who, and how. Dreams are about what you want and especially why you want it. I feel so guilty about this in parenting my own children. I feel like sometimes my expectations have placed limits on their dreams. Our adult minds are so practical and boring.

But today I am reminded to help those around me dream big, audacious dreams. I don't want to crush dreams. I want people to be excited about their dreams and not the dreams I have for them.

How will you encourage the dreams of those in your circle of influence? Reflect on who the dream builders were in your life. I want to hear from you. Share a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

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