This post was first published on Pam Moran’s Medium page and is republished with her permission.
I’ve been in deep reflection on the grief of leaving after 43 years my work as a public educator inside schools and learning. I’ve seen the best and worst of what education can be from diminishing and even hurtful behaviors to those that are exhilarating and filled with joy. Children depend upon adults to create the conditions of their success, to build them up rather than tear them down. To accomplish that the best educators have value for seeing children as they are and not as who we wish them to be.
The best educators whom I have observed create conditions in which people are valued and they approach life with that same regard and value for all others, peers, parents, family. Their compassion and empathy flow from a full well spring within them. Children around them feel that. Adults do too.
The educators I have known who model empathy and compassion also take the time to study what others need. They do not act impulsively nor are they always looking for the quick fix or expedient solutions to challenges in their lives whether at home or in school. They care deeply about making just decisions that are based on doing the right thing. That means at times moving slowly to discover the wisdom of Solomon, a flow from the heart more than from the mind. Their heartfelt decisions, actions, and responses always put the other person first — not politics, not the system, not the rules.
Educators who build and sustain abiding relationships look to the heart to determine truth and realize that the seeming facts of our life’s work are not always true. It takes time to be honest, to acknowledge that life should be fair rather than seeing life through a lens of “not always fair.” They realize that numerical data filter what they most need to see in others — their worth and potential. They see the person and they see humanity.
Mostly, I have noticed that educators who reach their potential and in doing so help others reach their potential too have a capacity for understanding that mistakes are opportunities for learning not for punishment. They have a seemingly infinite capacity to forgive, to coach, to lift up those around them from the worst of failures to help them learn from mistakes. They are sensitive to the unintended consequences of their words and actions.
I have learned much about respect and regard for others from great educators who have stayed in the classroom and from great educators who continued on the path to become administrators. What they have in common is a quality of leadership that inspires others to see the good in children and in adults rather than constantly inspecting for what’s wrong. They take responsibility. They protect. They defend. They never take the easy path to dismiss a child or an adult when things have not gone well. Instead, they go to the heart to find what they need to help make things right. They believe in the restorative process and not a heavy hand.
Such educators frame themselves ethically and form themselves as leaders— not from positional power but from working beside others to create exhilaration and joy rather than hurt and despair.
So, when I think about the traits of educators who influenced me they are people who:
- Work from the heart
- Exhibit compassion and empathy
- See mistakes as opportunities to help others learn not as life sentences
- Restore not punish
- Take responsibility. Defend. Protect.
- Slow time for decisions.
- Incite joy.