Lean In

“We also need to keep in mind that schools serve a need other than learning.”

Peter DeWitt

If we truly believe this do our actions reflect this belief? Or like a bumper sticker, is this one of those mantras that we claim is important to us, yet always remains in the rear?

I do not know the answer to these questions, but I do know that in our attempt to make our schools a better place, we have become so focused on the what that we have begun to neglect the who.

And while the what is important, it should never take precedence over the who. We always keep our Standards and our Lesson Plans and our Technology and our Evaluation Tools and our Checklists within arm’s reach. But in so doing we leave no space to embrace something much more important: the people that we are trying to positively impact.

We have forgotten how to be close.

We have stopped leaning in. Figuratively and literally.

And in our effort to better connect, we are not connecting.

We can communicate with our students via Skype, Google Hangouts, Voxer, etc. But when we interact with students are we doing so in a way that brings us closer together or farther apart? When we sit down with students are we sitting next to them, close to them, with them? Or are we behind our desk taking notes and checking our email? Are we holding their hands, giving them hugs and providing them the closeness they need? Or are we pushing them away with our talk of grades and tests scores and report cards?

Lean in!

Are most of our interactions with staff about instruction and data and teaching? Or are they about family and friends and life? Do we actually take the time to sit down and talk, or more importantly, listen? One minute of undivided attention is more valuable than five pages of feedback. We can spend hours crafting evaluations that we think will have enormous impact. But if we haven’t first established the connection with that person, then our words will not have the resonance we intended.

Lean in!

brian andreas

When we meet with parents are we telling them about their child or are we trying to learn more about their child? Do we make them feel welcome and comfortable or do we use jargon and sit in judgment? Parents can sense within thirty seconds what we are all about.

Do we keep our distance because we are afraid? Do we pack the room in an attempt to help us feel safer? Or do we sit face to face in a close setting and truly listen? If we truly want to build the relationship and the trust, then we must get closer. And this is not easy. And this can be uncomfortable. But it works! We must always remember that if a parent does not trust us then neither does their child.


We must not ever forget that school is what we do, but it is not who we are. In our attempt to better connect we have forgotten how to connect. These connections don’t require a budget and they don’t require a plan. We don’t need to assemble a committee and there is no need to collect any data.

There is one and only one way that we can start to make these connections that are so crucial.

We must start to lean in.


My thoughts above were inspired by Peter DeWitt’s piece Reimagining Schools: What Does That Mean? that was posted yesterday on Finding Common Ground. Sometimes I think that I am only replanting seeds that have already been fertilized by my PLN. But that is okay because I believe we learn and grow and stretch together.


  1. Jon, sometimes I think we need students to lean in, as well. I have a student who cries one day, and the next is able to ask for help. I would CARRY her if she’d let me, but some days she pushes me aside. I feel as if we have a rubber band connecting us, and sometimes we actually crash, as well. I’m having a hard time leaning in at this point in the year, when I’m being pushed away. However, I think that is because some students need to create that space once again in order to survive the summer and the start of a new year without us. When we have created that bond, they don’t always feel great moving on. Thank goodness for the bonds created by “leaning in,” but it’s bitter sweet on May 23rd…

    Sorry if I sound like I’m rambling – it’s been a tough week! Thank you – as always – for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Thank you for this post. The importance of leaning in to support our staff, students, and families is so important to the culture and climate of a school. As we approach the last six weeks, the practice of leaning in even in the midst of the pushing away is difficult but as you noted Joy, but critical since they are protecting themselves for the 6-8 week summer break.

  3. Jon,

    Nice post. I love the quote by Becker…I’m going to use that in the near future. I don’t disagree with you, what I do find is that sometimes as adults we become numb. I have a couple of adults that constantly come up to me each day and it is always a gripe, complaint or something terribly wrong with one of our procedures. I’ll be candid, I dread this in May. I listen intently most of the year, but by May I become worn out with gripes. You’re correct, I should Lean In…I just cringe because I know what will likely occur.

    My second takeaway is similar to the first. This time of year I see so many adults with short fuses and no patience. The “lean in” process needed to take place much earlier in the year for the adults to truly take ownership. I will say, it’s never too late, but I’ll also add, waiting to the end is not the ideal scenario.

    Nice post Jon. I encourage you to repost in late September…it’s critical to hear this message multiple times during the year.

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