Have you ever thrown a stone into a glass-like pond and noticed the ripples spread outwards long after the initial impact? One tiny pebble, breaking the surface tension of the water, and causing the water to spread, influencing the water around the initial point of contact, and the water around that.
In any organisation, we all have the power to make an impact. It doesn’t matter the role you hold – your actions, your words, your smile – can effect someone in ways we simply might not be able to imagine. I’m sure lots of people will have heard of the story of the caretaker working at NASA headquarters. According to the popular legend, during a tour of NASA HQ in 1961, John F. Kennedy encountered a janitor mopping the floors. “Why are you working so late?” Kennedy asked. “Mr President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
This commitment to a cause, this determination to do our best and make an impact no matter how small, really resonates with me. Especially when I think of education and schools. Like the smallest of pebbles hitting the water, no matter what part we play in the life of a young person, we have the opportunity to make an impact. It might be the canteen staff, office staff, cleaning staff, janitorial staff, teachers, support staff, middle leaders or senior leaders. I think of my own P1 boy who talks so highly of the friendly support assistant who always talks about sweets at interval. Or the kind dinner lady who gives away cakes at the end of lunch time or stops for a chat at breakfast club. Or the lovely office lady who always has a wet paper towel to fix any playground injury. Our interactions matter.
I’m the teacher who will happily volunteer for lunch duty; who will sign up to help at the school dance; who will go along with my own boys to support the fundraiser. And all of those things are so important because we should value the community in school and beyond. These aren’t ‘duties.’ Instead they are opportunities to make an impact. To positively effect someone’s experience outwith the classroom. To show ourselves as human first, teachers second.
I love this quote by Haim G. Ginott,
‘’I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.’’
Our impact as educators can be positive or negative. We can choose the adult we want to be and how we respond to our young people. It won’t always be easy. We will experience disappointment. We will feel infuriated. There will be times when we feel like giving up on a young person because we are so frustrated by their choices. It can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle. That we aren’t making any difference. But those are the very moments we are having the biggest impact. We might not see it at the time, but your reaction in those testing times won’t be forgotten. Young people are learning to be grown up, by watching you.
Unlike the ripples in the water, our impact as teachers isn’t always quite so instantly visible. And often that makes it hard. As performers at the front of a classroom, we can seek instant gratification. But often we don’t come to realise our impact until long after our pupils have been sitting in front of us. Yes the assessment will tell us instantly whether we’ve done our job in terms of the teaching of knowledge, but it might be years or even decades before we understand the impact of our kindness or our determination not to give up on a young person. Pupils are incredibly astute. Your interactions never go unnoticed. In fact, positive or negative they will make a very definite imprint in the hearts of those on the receiving end.
This week, news of my new job and imminent departure from the school I’ve been at for 10 years, was made public. The messages and kind words I’ve received this week have confirmed to me that our impact as educators is very real. We just don’t always hear about it day to day. But never forget the impact you are making. It may be months or years before a young person looks back and realises just how much of a positive influence you were. You might never find out. But know that you were.
Most of us are now on holiday. Please use this time to recharge and reset in order that we have the patience, and resilience to make that positive impact when we return to school. Have a fantastic break.