Being You in the “New” Workplace
I'll be honest here--after my college years, any chance of me being a dedicated night owl pretty much flew out the window. Late-night five-page papers in Courier New font were only temporary. Now, when I stay up late, it is usually a result of an itch I need to scratch. I have a piece of writing or a level of flat out curiosity about the work I do. Surprisingly, nights like those come way more often, and each one leaves an intriguing morsel lingering on my brain.
To balance out the numerous sprints that my brain seems to make more and more often, I find myself turning to the television to find anything to ease my racing mind: An old episode of Fresh Prince? Some nightly infomercial for an offer only available at this price for 20 minutes? An awful movie even Rotten Tomatoes would give 17%?
One night I found myself tuning in to ESPN for 30 for 30 capturing Dennis Rodman. Amidst looking at the captivating pictures and intricate stories surrounding this figure, I was reminded of how influencers express and brand their individuality. The ease of some people to make a name for themselves and speak their mind has been such a phenomenon to me. I guess it ultimately brings forth the question of how do they do that? Why is there such freedom?
As an educator, I've learned that our profession restricts my freedom, unlike social influencers' freedom. Even though educators are granted a level of freedom to teach, lead, and inspire, the possibilities are still inherently confined in a box. There are still lesson plans, grading policies, and curriculum resources mandated by our school or district -- sometimes limiting the ability to create an experience all of our kids deserve. However, we know how important it is to continue to think differently about educating our kids. Our children want to break the mold, and they see education as more than just a set of questions in a textbook. The same could be said for a charter school leader who doesn't believe in the "no excuses" mindset or even a superintendent who chooses the progress of children over job security that "playing the politics" can assure. These small examples all break the mold and should make us think differently about our workplaces.
As you think about your place in your workplace, here are a few things to consider as we all enter into a new era of work. The mold has been broken, and the possibilities of work, especially in education, have been opened up unlike ever before. How we think about educating our children going forward will largely depend on how we think about working in education. Here are a few things to consider as we enter our "new workplace."
Be okay with not having all the answers
The days where being large-and-in-charge have disappeared. The way we run school districts, companies, and the world, for that matter, has changed. Being agile and open is here to stay, and the organizations that open their doors to difference-makers will see more opportunities to improve in our new workplace. The ability to pivot, seek understanding, and an insatiable desire to grow will reign supreme. Having all the answers is not possible (unless you are that guy from Jeopardy). As a person who has hired hundreds of people, I always valued the person who was able to figure out something different from the person who knew only one way to do something. The times we live in are looking for those who can do things differently. Being that person shows your ability to be malleable and resourceful in times of need.
Be okay with being you
My best advice is to be great. Not the most exceptional person, educator, or leader, but the greatest version of you. Everyone wants a winner in their organization, so go out and be that winner. Be the one who will push the conversation when it doesn't want to be pushed and open up to others with eagerness and humility. Be okay with your comfort, and connect with those who seem uncomfortable when they see you by the virtual water cooler. They may want a sip of your greatness. Our workplace needs people who can bring and be their authentic selves, and the only way for people to accept who you are is to begin seeing who that person may be. This level of vulnerability may come easier to some than others. However, the freeing nature of being yourself and removing the mask that we wear when we step on to that Zoom call will allow your best ideas and, most importantly, your best self shine through.
Expand the box
If there ever were a moment in time to take a chance or think differently, it would be now. We sit between two pandemics -- the invisible virus and continued violence against people of color. Our world is different than it was in January, and in this space, we need to evolve, think freely, and push the boundaries of possibilities if we want to see a better world for all. As you work in your newly created home office only feet away from your kitchen, it is time to cook up something different for your organization, school district, or classroom. It is time to think about what we need right now to become better. Everyone has an idea that sits in the back of our heads and periodically pops up and goes away. This time, allow that idea to become more than an afterthought. Take note of your thoughts in a journal and ask yourself, "what do I have to do to make this a reality?" When new approaches are needed, your workplace will thank you for your innovation more than ever. No one has seen this type of workplace before, so why not help create it?
About David Hardy
David Hardy is a Managing Partner at Education Elements. Dave Hardy Jr has led the state turnaround efforts of the second lowest-performing district in Ohio since 2017. In this capacity, he assumed the responsibilities of the Superintendent and the school board. Under his leadership, Lorain City Schools received its highest performance marks in nearly a quarter-century, moving from an F grade to a B grade in the Achievement Gap Closing metric, and touted as being in the top ten percent of the fastest improving school districts of the states 646 school districts in the state of Ohio by State Superintendent DeMaria. Previously, David was the Deputy Superintendent of Academics for St. Louis Public Schools. He was charged with the mission-critical task of setting and meeting academic standards, which resulted in St. Louis Public Schools receiving full accreditation for the first time since 2000. Prior to his role as Deputy Superintendent of Academics, he spent a year as a School Systems Leadership Fellow in the School District of Philadelphia as the Chief Academic Support Officer. David also served as the Executive Director or Regional Achievement in Camden/Burlington, New Jersey after being the founding principal of Achievement First Middle School in Brooklyn, New York. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics as a scholar-athlete from Colgate University. He has also earned his Master’s degree in Urban Education from Teachers’ College, Columbia University and will complete his doctorate from Columbia University in 2020.