What Do You Want, Friend?

A friend posted on social media that she was talking with her BFF one night and the BFF, after listening a while to her concerns and worries, quietly said, “What do you want, friend?”

This question got me thinking. In education, we spend an awful lot of our time doing for others, making sure others have what they need and want. We make sure our students have what they need in terms of supplies, solid, well-planned lessons, and emotional and social support. We make time to chat with each one of them at some point, building relationships and trust so that our community of learners can run smoothly. We make sure their parents get what they need, everything from communication about upcoming projects, learning opportunities, behavior or areas of struggle to happy notes and phone calls home about something great their kid did that day or a shoulder to cry on when they’re frustrated with “Why can’t my kid just..” We’re not always successful, and some will feel we didn’t do enough. But we try. We make sure our teammates and co-workers have what they need–coverage for duties so they can make copies or call a parent or have a break, a shoulder to lean on or cry on when things get tough. Here too, some will say we didn’t do enough to make their jobs easier or make them feel appreciated.

We work so hard, and often they get the short end of the stick, to make sure our families get what they need and want too–dinner made, laundry done, bedtime stories read, cuddles and chats and quality time together being “just us.” A friend mentioned that her kids wondered during the school year when “t-shirt mommy” would be back. Pretty sure her heart broke. Mine did. I doubt the kids were being nasty about it, rather simply wondering when she’d get to take off her educator hat and put her mommy hat back on. We all do it–every educator I know has a really hard time switching those roles, even those of us who aren’t parents struggle with it.

But we rarely ask ourselves what we want.

I’ve been asking myself what I want for my life for well over a year. It used to be simple. I wanted to be a teacher. Done. Except, as I grew into that role, what I wanted changed. I wanted to improve in this area or that, or take on this role or work with that committee or organization. Gradually, I wanted to have a larger impact beyond the classroom…which led to the role I’m in now and the presentation opportunities I’ve taken. I was talking to a student last spring and my job description came up in conversation. I noted that I got to write my own, really, because my role hadn’t ever really been defined beyond some basic things. He thought that was pretty cool–not a lot of adults get to do that, settling quietly into a description created for them instead.

There have been more days than I’d like to admit where all I wanted was to go back into the classroom, into a familiar space that the kids and I created together, do the things I knew I was good at and the things I could do without thinking that led to praise instead of fierce conversations that made my heart and head hurt. All those things had, over time, come quite naturally…when to give The Look, for example, and when to stand next to the child who is friends with everyone and can’t, for the life of them, stay quiet…when to celebrate a lesson gone well and when to bail on one that is going not at all the way the movie of it you made in your head last night did. I look back and now those are the easy things…the familiar things…the comfortable things.

Growth and change are hard and often quite scary. In gifted education, we talk a lot about universal themes or “big ideas” and generalizations and use them to help kids make connections between ideas and concepts. We share them with kids when we start units of instruction to give them a foundation to begin the work of learning. In looking up generalizations for another big idea for a project I’m working on, I found these for the universal theme of “change” and thought they applied quite nicely:

  • Change is inevitable
  • Change can be either positive or negative
  • Change is generates additional change
  • Change is necessary for growth
  • Change can be evolutionary or revolutionary

I think my friend’s BFF is incredibly wise. In asking ourselves when we feel uncomfortable “What do you want, friend?” we can acknowledge that we’ve grown a bit and started the process of change. We get to make choices in our lives about what we want and who we want to become. We get to decide the kind of educator or business owner or parent or friend we want to be. We get to write our own job descriptions for each of these things–how cool is that?

So friend, what is it you want? Think on it. Roll it around in your head a while and then on paper and eventually, on your tongue. Say it out loud, more than once, and create something that illustrates what you want so you don’t forget. Remember, it can change, of course, but it’s good to have a first draft. 🙂

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