The Miracles of Community Leadership
“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed.” – Rumi
Each and every day I am a witness to teachers working miracles of community leadership. I watch as they encourage the discouraged, empower the powerless, and welcome the stranger into their midst. I see them conquer fears, rise up out of depressions, take on new challenges, and grow in ways they not long ago considered impossible. When one does not have the skills needed to do the work that needs to be done, I watch as others step forward to offer their assistance. When one falls back in need of rest and renewal, I watch as others step forward with open hand to say yes. When one suffers the sort of loss that leads to clenched fists and a closed-up heart, I watch as others step in to lift that one back up. This is how leadership works in communities. We take turns doing what we can for each other, and we do it because we’re teachers and this is what we do. We build, we connect, we comfort, and we love. We hold each other. We don’t break faith. This is how we keep the lights lit, how we hold the sea back from engulfing us all.
“All right Chuck,” I can almost hear you saying, “but what does this have to do with me?” and I have an answer for you: everything. If you’re a teacher, you’re working in a community of other teachers, and you’re a leader. If you haven’t recognized this fact yet, now is the time to raise your hand and say yes. You’ve been called. And yet, there are many ways to answer this call.
Please take a good long look at this photo that Luke Meddings introduced me to awhile back. While it may look like a stand of trees, it’s not. It’s a community of teachers. Keep this idea in mind as you answer the following questions for yourself:
1. Where in the community of teachers are you at this moment in your life? Are you one of the teachers on the left leading the way, one of the teachers hidden almost anonymously in the middle, or one of the fallen down teachers on the right. Are you happy where you are? If so, great. How could you help others be happier? If not, then what change could you make and who could you reach out to for help?
2. How many places in this community have you occupied at different times in your teaching career? Which place has been most and least comfortable for you? How could you help others in the community see that where they are now is not where they have to be? How could you help those who feel stuck where they are see the options they have? How could you help the lost get back on track?
3. Where in the community of teachers would you like to be in the future? Who in the community could help you reach this place? In what ways could you reach out to them for help? What could you offer in return? Who could you collaborate with and on what? Who’s doing a project that you’d like to be involved in? What would it cost you to reach out and take the one step you need to take to get one step closer to where you want to be? What’s stopping you from doing this?
4. Who do you know who’s fallen down, gotten lost in the middle, or is out there on the left over-exposed, over-their-head, and in need of assistance? How could you help these people? What skills could you offer them? How could you lend a hand or shine a light? What comfort could you bring?
The ways I’ve seen the teachers I work with in the communities I am a part of answer these questions are the miracles I’ve witnessed, worked, and received. They are the miracles of community that happen when we embrace our connectedness, accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and work together in the all the ways we’ve been called to work together. We’re all capable of working these miracles. We’re also all worthy of being the recipient of them. It’s not just about helping others. It’s also about allowing others to help us. This give and take is what keeps us all from becoming paralyzed in place like a stand of trees.
This is how leadership works in communities. It is what we are called to do and be. We are teachers working in community. We are leaders called to serve. This is why we must raise our hand and say yes. Everything depends on this. As James Baldwin writes “one must say ‘yes’ …for nothing is fixed, forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.