A person came upon a construction site where three people were working.  They asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the person replied: “I am laying bricks.” They asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the person replied: “I am building a wall.” As they approached the third, they heard the person humming a tune as they worked, and asked, “What are you doing?” The person stood up, looked up at the sky, and smiled, “I am building a cathedral!” – referenced in The Story Factor by Annette Simmons

We are all a part of building “the cathedral.” Unfortunately, many of us are not given the opportunity to realize it. Not only are we not given the opportunity to see how our part contributes to the greater whole, but we are also not given the opportunity to be a part of the dreaming, vision, and mission development. In order to be ALL IN at the fullest and most wholehearted level the following must be true:

  • We must be known, embraced, and celebrated for who we truly are and for the ways that our special magic contributes to the greater whole.
  • We must be invited to the table for conversations about advancing the greater mission-where our feedback, thoughts, and dreams are truly considered, regardless of positional authority.

Notice it says invited. It’s human nature to want to be included even if you don’t actually want to go. And that’s OK. If we know we are being invited because people genuinely care what we have to say, even if we don’t attend, we are reminded that there is a greater purpose and a sense of “us-ness” to this work. The flip side of course is that if we are invited to the table when all decisions have already been made to just “look” like the involvement of others was included, that’s a culture killer.

I recently had the opportunity to connect with a friend who used to teach a state-tested subject but is now teaching different courses. I loved hearing about what this teacher learned about himself, his teaching practices, his students, and his school as a result of this new opportunity. He had such a greater appreciation for all of the roles in the school. He mentioned, “I used to think, ‘Oh, it’s just chorus. They can be a few minutes late.’ But now I realize, ‘There is such important work that happens in chorus and all elective courses alike.”‘

I’m so happy for this teacher and his personal and professional growth. And yet, that story makes me sad because it shows us that we, as professionals, often do not have an appreciation for the ways other contribute to our communities. I’ve heard stories of educational assistants, many with masters degrees, feeling like second class citizens in their schools because they are not given the official title of teacher. I cannot imagine where our schools would be without their endless patience and persistence with students. Many people show up to work every day, wipe noses and rear-ends; they cook, they clean, they drive buses filled with rowdy students, they greet angry parents with a calm smile while managing two calls on hold and that student who was sent to the office, and they do it without complaint, and yet they still have a sense that their part isn’t as significant as someone else’s part.

This. Is. Not. OK.

And so why? Why is this happening in many schools? I believe it’s happening because when we feel overwhelmed and underappreciated. For state-tested and AP teachers, there is also fear. A fear that their students won’t perform well, and their evaluations will decline. There’s a fear that, “I know this is right for my kids, but my colleagues and/or administrators will judge me, and if the scores aren’t there, they will be “proven right.” When we are overwhelmed, underappreciated, and distrusted, we go to an ugly place. Our egos gets loud and grouchy and say, “You know what, this sucks, and other people have it better than me. ” And off we go, we grab our hiking boots and backpacks to take a long, bitter walk alone into the VOP – Valley of Pissedofness.

When we get this way, there’s a chance, not an absolute chance, but a chance that being alone in the VOP might be the last thing we need. And here’s where it gets tricky, while we probably don’t need to swim around alone in the muddy waters of hatred; we also don’t need to swim around in the cesspool of other people’s negativity for hours on end either. So, what do we need?

We need honest connection. We need the opportunity to be with people we trust and instead of being outwardly focused on all of those external factors that feel like injustice, we need a safe place to say, “You know what. I am not OK. Here’s what I’m feeling.” Because often, when we find ourselves judging other people, it’s a mask. It’s a way to mask the fact that we are feeling incompetent. Perhaps we want to be perfect, and we know we are so far from it, so it’s easy to point to other people and their contributions and point out their imperfections too.

But the truth is, it’s never going to be perfect. Not our situation, not other people, not us. And it doesn’t have to be perfect to make a difference. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be worthwhile. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be enjoyable.

So, we need to create spaces in our schools that promote emotional safety and connection for people across all positions and levels of authority. David Whyte says, “The antidote for exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”

How can we create spaces for wholehearted connection in our schools?

How can we make space to empathize with the experience of others? And do so from a place of genuine interest and curiosity and with our egos under control?

How can we learn more about how other people across all roles are contributing to this building of the cathedral?

How can we celebrate those contributions? And learn from them?

And finally, how we create structures that invite people to the vision, mission, and planning table? How can we create round tables where there is no hierarchy, where we all hold the same value in this space?

Because we are building a big, beautiful cathedral. A place to nourish the hearts, souls, and minds of adults and children alike. And to build this cathedral, it will require all of us.

There are no small jobs. Only small thinking about jobs.

And we don’t draw energy from laying bricks.