This past weekend, I had the privilege of driving a group of boys around town on a photo scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt was fun, but what really struck me was that at every location we stopped, I knew someone I had met in or through school. This included a stop at a random house that just happened to be the home of two bus drivers.
As I reflected on the day, I realized that after ten years, I have put down roots in this community. This may not mean much to those who have always lived in one area, but for me, this is a first. The first time I've lived in the same community as my students. The first time I've been at one district more than four years. The first time I've had younger brothers and sisters come through the school. The first time I've known former students who have graduated and have kids of their own. The first time I've been to former students college graduations. So many firsts in the last eleven years.
Why is this important? For me, there are several advantages to "putting down roots" as an educator.
1) Relationships - Relationships are paramount. They can make or break an educator. But, strong relationships are not formed overnight. They take time and concerted effort to build. By choosing to put down roots and invest in the community, I've been able to build stronger relationships both in and out of school. As a teacher and now a principal, these relationships have been so important in allowing me to positively impact the lives of children.
2) Trust - Like relationships, building trust takes time. It is neither an easy nor simple process and is built on the foundation of relationships. Yet, trust is imperative before success can occur. When I first moved here, I could sense that there was a lack of trust in me. I was the new person in a community where many people had lived their entire lives. It took time to break down walls of distrust and build trusting relationships. Now, my job is to do everything I can to maintain that trust with students, parents, and the community. Fortunately for me, with trust comes a more forgiving attitude as parents realize I do have their child's best interest at heart. I know I need that regularly.
3) Belonging - We all have a need to be a part of something bigger than we are. We all need to belong. By choosing to stay in one place, many more doors have opened through avenues such as church, community and civic organizations, as well as the educational community. Through these connections, I can fulfill the need to serve others while being of part of the bigger picture.
4) Friendships - As an educator, it is so necessary to have close, trusted friends that we can turn to and share with when we just need to talk. As an introvert, building strong friendships has always been a struggle. I have lots of acquaintances, but just a few really close friends. By settling down, I've been able to nurture those friendships and make them even stronger.
5) Professional Relationships - Being in the same community and the same district for ten years has allowed me to build professional relationships that otherwise might not exist. These relationships are not only with fellow building administrators and teachers, but also with central office staff. It is so much easier to get your job done when you have strong working relationships with other professionals and support each other.
For many years, I said I would never settle down in one place. And, for many years, I didn't. Now, after eleven years in the same community, I am so glad that I finally chose to ignore my own advice and "put down roots." It has made a huge difference in my life as an educator.