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Creating and Nurturing Inviting Spaces

by Jenn Drake, Early Elementary Teacher

Our entire staff was lucky to take part in a workshop led by Pat Hughes from The Center for Ethical Leadership in recent years, and the messages have really stuck with me.  Pat was asked to speak to everyone because every teacher at UCDS is expected to collaborate fully on a daily basis, regardless of whether those relationships form one of a mentor-mentee, peer coach-new faculty, or various teammates across levels and departments.  One of her major talking points was Gracious Spaces, which she defines as “a spirit and setting where we invite the ‘stranger’ and learn in public.”

The first part of this definition is about you and what you bring to the table every time you walk into a room.  It’s making a conscious decision about who you want to be and acting on it. It reminds me of Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly where she explains whole-hearted living.  It’s about being brave and showing up with the intention to lift others and be yourself and diving into your work head first.  I kept thinking how easy it is for me to show up with this spirit in August after weeks of vacation, and how important it would be for me to keep showing up… even in the rainy, dreary, reporting days of January!

The second part of her definition brings the space, reminding us how important our environment is in shaping our work.  My colleagues and I set up our rooms each fall, and we are masters at creating inviting spaces. There are new books on new shelves, thoughtful arrangement of furniture to promote collaboration, quality supplies, and inspiration in every corner.  Pat reminded us how critical it is that we create those same welcoming environments for ourselves as a staff, and it got me thinking about where we meet in our various configurations. As our teams grow and change each year, will require more space and have to work at keep it informal and inspiring.

It struck me as strange at first to hear Pat talking about inviting strangers in, but I appreciated her view as she went on.  It means that it’s critical to bring people in who can help you ask questions and see things in a new way. Every year when we hire new residents, we’re opening the door to new ways of thinking.  It is so critical that we keep those doors open and really consider these new perspectives if we’re going to continue to push our own limits as a school.

Finally, think of learning in public as a celebration… for failure.  Again, I go back to Daring Greatly.  We must try new things, we must stink at them, we must reflect, and we must give ourselves the freedom to grow.  What Pat brought us was an opportunity to live this together. I couldn’t dream of a finding a better sense of belonging than a community that not only allows for mistakes and growth, but gives you a pat on the back for trying.