My husband and I recently updated the front of our house. We’d had a closed in porch that I loved from the inside. It gave us shelter from the winter winds, kept us dry from the summer thunder storms, and gave us some spare ‘kid’ space whenever we needed an extra play room.
But from the outside, it was uninviting. We knew 25 years ago when we married and moved into this house that the porch needed… redoing.
Over those 25 years, my husband and I often discussed what we’d like to do when we changed and updated the porch. I, of course, wanted a closed in porch. Not because an open porch was a bad idea, I just thought that giving up the extra 150 square feet wasn’t a good idea. Our family is still growing and when we need it, it’s a great play space. Add on the fact that I liked the shelter it provided from our southern exposure during bad weather, and I thought it was a no brainer.
He, of course, wanted the porch open. As many times as we had discussed it over those years, I didn’t find out until the porch was actually finished why his heart was so set on an open porch. As it turns out, he wanted to be able to see outside without screens or windows. He wanted to be immersed in the peacefulness of the street on which we live.
Ultimately, we decided on an open porch with two rocking chairs. While I begrudgingly acquiesced to the open concept, once I truly heard his heart, I was glad I had caved. As it turns out, we really love it.
The Open Porch
I have made a surprising discovery. The porch has given us the opportunity to have wonderful conversations. We drink our morning and evening coffee there. Together. We talk about stuff. And it makes me feel more connected to him.
Are people like porches?
As I thought about how our conversations made me feel more connected to my husband, I wondered about how great it would be if I could have those kind of conversations with my students. You know, conversations about ‘stuff’. I wondered what kind of things I would learn about them. What kind of stuff is happening that really makes them smile? What keeps them from doing their very best? How can I help them do better? As a teacher, I wondered about my most challenging students. The ones that I like despite their determination to sit inside a closed porch. The ones who work hardest to make themselves unapproachable. I wondered if my students knew I was an open porch with an empty rocker just waiting for them to sit down so I could listen and connect to their heart.
Leaders should be like an open porch.
Leadership means modeling the behaviors that will bring your staff to the best they can be. In “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader” John Maxwell lists listening at number eleven. Maxwell says, “leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand. That’s the Law of Connection. But before a leader can touch a person’s heart, he has to know what’s in it. He learns that by listening” (p.41). Many school administrators wall themselves into their office, accessible to only those in the the golden circle. They are missing so much.
According to My Future, people work because they like to be productive and to contribute to society. People also work to feel a sense of well being and accomplishment and to meet and interact with people of different backgrounds and cultures. Work provides a social life and makes us feel good about ourselves.
Administrators who do not freely flow among their personnel miss making the connections that bring meaning to the staff’s work as well as, quite frankly, their own. The people in his/her building have many great ideas swirling around it. Making time to chat to all members of the staff opens this administrator to the lives of the staff. Perhaps someone is dealing with a dying husband. Perhaps another has had her son hospitalized. Perhaps others have heard news of a new baby or a new house. They call this relationship building.
As I continue my journey toward leading a school, I reflect back on graduate school where we discussed that one of the first qualities that distinguishes a leader is his/her ability to move people toward a joint vision.
John Maxwell says that before you can ask for a hand, leaders need to touch people’s heart.
I’m thinking that have a rocking chair mentality just might be the first step a new administrator should bring with them.