Thursday, June 2, 2016

Living a Legacy

A life well-lived is full of surreal moments.  Good or bad, these moments are benchmarks for our lives and worthy of reflection.  Many times these life events are greatly anticipated and full of joy.  For me, exchanging vows with my wife and watching my children come into this world are at the very top of the list.  Another event that is near the top of the list happened on May 4, 2009.  On that day, I was introduced to the staff at Morton Ranch Jr. High as their new principal.  I don’t remember what I said but I keenly remember the feelings.  Joy, excitement, and fear all mixed together in a delicious cocktail that left my head spinning.  Seven years later I stand on the brink of another surreal moment as I anticipate standing in front of my staff and wishing them farewell.  In the days leading up to this moment, a different emotional cocktail is brewing.  This one is bittersweet. Melancholy and pride laced with a dose of discomfort.  As I drink it all in, it leaves me reflective and thinking about legacy.

Legacy is a popular topic these days in education circles.  Recently, my district adopted a vision statement, “Be the Legacy!”  I like the promise and challenge that this simple three word vision statement holds.  Legacy can be described as what we leave behind as an inheritance to others.  Legacy can sometimes be seen as a tangible item, but not always. 

 As I walk the halls of the school, I see evidence of a tangible legacy.  These artifacts include murals, panoramic class pictures, commemorative benches and many other things.  I love the history and the stories that are told by these objects.  Many folks focus on this type of legacy as what matters the most, simply because it is concrete in nature.  It is easy to see.  It is easy to touch. 

The type of legacy that I want to celebrate is less tangible.  It is relational in nature.  Let’s call this “interpersonal legacy.”  It is about investing in those around you.  Leaving an interpersonal legacy is more about leaving every place, conversation, or interaction better than you found it. This can seem to be a daunting task.  Here are a few actions we can take to invest in one another and build interpersonal legacy.

Extend respect to everyone before the expectation of receiving it.  One sure way to drive people away is to expect the gift of respect to be given to us when we have not offered it to them unconditionally from the start.  This can be especially problematic when working with students who have trust issues with adults due to their experiences.  Give respect in order to receive it.

Seek to truly see others and allow yourself to be seen. Everyone has a story that colors the way they see and interact with the world.  Seek to understand before reaching judgment. Remember to share your own story. Be real. Be authentic. Be human.

Listen and respond empathetically instead of sympathetically. This can be a true struggle in professional settings.  Actively listening and identifying with one another brings us together.  Work to remove the words, “At least….” from your response when others are sharing their struggles.  If you need further clarity regarding the difference between empathy and sympathy, Brene Brown addresses it beautifully in this short animation. (Click here to see the video).

Embrace the discomfort of courageous conversations.  What we choose to ignore, that is counter to our values, often speaks more to our leadership than anything else.  In my experience, when done respectfully and with the right motive, relationships are strengthened when we openly address our concerns with others. 

Mend fences when things head south. The world of education is a human business.  As much as we try, every interaction will not end positively.  Be purposeful in reconnecting to others when you know it is needed.  Don’t make it personal and don’t take it personally.

Speak appreciation in the moment.  My New Year’s resolution was to not to sit on a compliment. What a joy it has been to pull people aside, students and adults, look them directly in the eyes and say the good things I am thinking about them in that moment. 

Be an energy pusher instead of an energy drain.  Bring your best high energy self into your work.  Enthusiasm is contagious. 

Acknowledge the presence of others.  All people need to know they matter and long for a sense of connection.  Meeting and greeting others is a simple action that pays huge dividends in building interpersonal legacy.  At MRJH it has been such a pleasure to connect through thousands of hugs, handshakes, head nods, “good mornings,” smiles, fist bumps, high fives and even a few shakas! Lift others to lift yourself.

I believe that we all have a desire to make an impact.  We want to matter, to make a difference.  In my mind, that is the ultimate reward for our work.  What better way to leave your mark than by building an interpersonal legacy by investing in others?  Since it was announced that I would be leaving my campus to open a new school, I have received many positive notes and letters from staff, students and parents celebrating what we have accomplished.  When a staff member writes, “I am a better teacher because of you” my heart rejoices.  When a student approaches me and says, “Mr. McCord you were the best principal I ever had and I am going to miss you” I am honored.  When I reflect on those words, I know my passion and purpose are well aligned.  It is in these moments when I know I am living a legacy, and in those moments I feel fully alive. 

One last thought about interpersonal legacy.  It goes beyond the lives we influence in a positive way.  It is not just what we leave behind, it is also what we take with us.  As I move forward on my professional journey, I take with me the interpersonal legacy of my staff, students and parents.  If I have left a mark on them, be assured they have left a mark on me.  I am a better leader and a better man because of my work with the Morton Ranch community. Thank you for investing in me. 

This post is dedicated to the 4,000+ students and staff that I have had the great pleasure of serving in the role of “School Dad” at MRJH.  Safe, civil and productive… that’s The Maverick Way!