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As soon as I heard Margaret Wheatley start her talk by saying that there is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about, she had my full attention and heart. I had the good fortune to hear teacher, writer Margaret Wheatley twice this last week while at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, CA. Her topic was “The Roles of Leaders During Difficult Times” which was delivered to educational leaders from across the state.  I so appreciated her thoughtful words. When I hear a talk and feel it deeply, it’s sometimes  difficult to recreate the right words to convey the meaning. But here it goes…

We’re in the winter of discontent.  What’s going on right now all around us is a complete meltdown of life as we know it. Our structure and systems are breaking down in a huge way. Our best resource is each other, seeing everyone’s potential. We need to look reality in the eye and recreate the world.  We become more viable or we die. In order to rebuild we need to refind caring, compassion and generosity.

What do disasters teach us about human capacity and leadership?  We see the truth about the human spirit.  Neighbors and strangers always pitch in to help others.  There’s no sense in not taking a risk during a major disaster since there are not many ways to make it worse. It won’t do for us to moan and groan about the present condition.  Our nation is fighting for its survival now.  As leaders we need to evoke human goodness.

Life’s basic building blocks are relationships.  The “individual” is made up.  Nothing lives alone.  Aspen trees are a clone species. They grow through their root structure at a level we can’t see. People are likewise all connected at a level we can’t see.  We are all connected and interdependent. This world runs on collaboration and cooperation, not competition.  We are all bundles of potential that manifest only in relationship. Right now is an opportunity to explore our own and other’s potential.

It is a biological principle to create health, create more connections. We can be human only together.  I exist through you and you through me. It’s not critical mass, it’s critical relationships. The most common leadership is lead and control. This approach alienates us, disengages us.  As leaders you want everyone in the game, every brain in the game.  All organizations are networks and are interdependent.  The human spirit thrives in reality, not in denial, because it unleashes our potential.

When a leader serves as host, there is awareness of the experience you want people to have.  There are some principles for shifting from the leader-hero to the leader-host.  People support what they create.  Work done by self-managed teams increases productivity by 35%.  We know this is how people make do with much less. If we want people to create solutions, people need to be involved. People act responsibly when they care.  Discover the issues that people already care about. What are people worried about? As leaders, find out.

You can depend on diversity.  Diversity is a survival skill.  We need everyone’s eyes and ears,  We need to really listen to others.  Leaders need to keep expanding the circle of inclusion. Ask who’s perspective is missing. To change the conversation, change who’s in the conversation.  Expect that leadership emerges from anywhere, if people get connected and care.  It is through the heart that courage happens. Exhaustion comes from our hearts not being engaged.

The single most important leadership act is creating time to think together.  This needs to be regular, frequent, sacrosanct, with no preset agenda, focusing on current work and separate from staff meetings. People create trust together, solving problems together.  People dip into their own inner trust and confidence when they frequently reflect together.

It is helpful to remember why we do our work.  What are the values and principles that brought us to our work?  The conditions are different, but so what? We can together all come through this chaotic time.  As a wise person once said while reflecting back on his life, “We were together…I forget the rest”.

Margaret Wheatley’s website can be found at http://www.margaretwheatley.com

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Change  seems to be all around us now.  The economy is depressed, unemployment is up, spending is down, personal budgets are being scaled back. Some folks are jobless.  Other people are worried about being laid off their jobs. The US has a new President. TV news is reporting that unemployed persons are going back to school to upgrade their skills.  The person who first stated that change is all there is, seems so wise.  For many people, change is uncomfortable or downright painful.  

Recently at a meeting of California educators, we were discussing the changes we see on the horizon for school districts, schools, teachers, principals and students.  It appears that public school districts will be forced to make mid-year cuts and further slash their budgets for the following year. Many districts are already cut to the bone and for next year they may be into the bone marrow. It looks like class sizes will be increased, classified staff will be further cut back, some teachers will be laid off. Textbook money, Professional Development funds, Visual and Performing Arts grants and other categorical money may be swept away into district budgets so districts can make payroll.  It feels like California public education is back-to-basics with a teacher, students and a chalkboard. 

Persons in our group talked about how to best help schools step back from the emotion of the scene and still focus on program improvement. The research has already been done that supports nine essential components that help schools/teachers/students be successful.  Our job will be to help the schools determine which of those essential components can they best leverage at their sites to make the most positive changes for student achievement.  

We need to be the keepers of the vision for our schools and districts in which we work. We’re here for the students.  We realize that things are going to look different.  We know that drastic changes are going to be made at schools due to budget crisis. The winds of change are here.  We may not be able to control the wind, but we can control our sails.  We want to set our sails and help chart the new best direction possible.

As my coworker, Nancy, and I left our office today we knew we were in for a challenging drive home to our neighboring home community.  The soft floating snowflakes were suddenly larger icy globs in a hurry to drop down and collect en mass.  In other words,  Mother Nature was dumping it out!  As I focused on my careful driving, Nancy’s talking became more intense.  She busily chatted about different adventures of living and driving in Yosemite National Park when her kids were younger.  I was smiling at her stories and driving cautiously around cars who were stopped in the road to put on chains or spun out of control. Their cars were along the banks of the road where the drivers sat with their hearts pounding and their emergency lights and wide eyes blinking. Eventually, we made it to our car pool parking area and Nancy unloaded half of her office out of my car and into hers. I drove off with the most of the contents of my office, in anticipation of having to do a lot of home work during the next fews days and predicted storms.

I now needed to drive  over a steep mountain climbing 1000 feet.  I was so surprised that the pass had not already been closed.  But no, trucks and cars were still starting to make the climb out of the little village, heading towards the San Joaquin Valley.  I felt dread as there were two large grocery 18 wheeler trucks immediately in front of me.  As we moved up the grade, both trucks started slipping and sliding like you see in movies in slow motion.  I had distanced myself back hoping they wouldn’t go over the side of the mountain.  They both stopped their forward motion in very ackward positions, but they were at least safe.  I was able to go around them both when there weren’t oncoming cars.  Up ahead, the road suddenly got packed full of cars, trucks, pick-ups, vans, law enforcement vehicles all stuck in both lanes.  There were only a few of us who miraculously were still moving at a very slow off and on forward pace.

I glanced in the mirror and saw a Sierra Ambulance approaching behind me with their red lights on.  At that moment I was able to squeeze over to the right and not get stuck.  My first hero was the ambulance driver.  I was able to follow in his tracks over the top of the grade and what vehicles were still on the road moved aside for the emergency vehicle.  OK,  I was now in the home stretch of my drive and  needed to take my 4 wheel vehicle (Silvia) up a very steep and narrow road in a residential- type area.   I made a curve as I started to accelerate up the hill and  saw that there was a large charter bus askew in the middle of the road. It was completely stopped.  All the kids trying to get to the nearby mountain camp were off the stuck bus and were dangerously in the road, as were their pillows, sleeping bags, backpacks, suitcases, etc.  Rats, all I could do was just slide to a stop immediately.  I knew Sylvia was doomed to now become one of those spinning-wheels vehicles.  I slid Sylvia as close to the side of the road as I could.  

I started  hiking the rest of the mile or so I had left to get home.  Out of nowhere was smiling, neighbor Mike, hero number two, to pick me up and drive me on home.  Hero 3, my husband, was just leaving home after snow blowing the driveway by himself, ready to search for the overdue me!  The three of us went back down the road, around the bus and campers to my car to try and maneuver it onto the now plowed section of the road.  Smiling hero number four came up behind us and offered to move along Sylvia with his wench. (This item is now on my wish list for next Xmas). Finally, Sylvia and I have made it to our home sweet home.  The 40 minute drive had taken me over four hours! I couldn’t have done it without my friendly, smiling heroes.  Thank you, gentlemen, for helping me out today!  I believe “mountain men” have that certain “je ne sais quoi”  quality of doing purposeful acts of kindness especially on this snowy, Friday the Thirteenth!

 Nancy’s adventure going to her home is a story for another day!

N

The storm seemed to come quickly last night and with it a “snow day” was declared to the delight of school aged children.  Of course the power was temporarily out due to the weight of the “Sierra Cement”.  But it was a wonderful opportunity today to do some work from home all cozied by the fireplace with hot peppermint tea.  I also managed late in the day to watch a recorded movie: Definitely, Maybe.  At least the weather announcer was more decisive. He indicated that there is a series of storms all lined up to parade through the state.  I love California snow that coats the landscape beautifully and then quietly melts away.  This is a view from the front deck.

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I have always been a dog lover.  Suzy was my faithful canine childhood companion.  Suzy walked me to the bus stop and greeted me upon my return at the end of the school day.  She and I spent adventurous summers together at my grandparents’ mountain cabin nestled in the forest.  More recently I have totally loved our two friendly dalmatians: Zepppelin and Hendrix. Yes, my daughter named them after Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix.  Life was never dull with Zep and Hen!  

But now I find myself without a dog and trying to decide how long to wait before getting another one one.  In the meantime, a skinny black kitten has come timidly to our door.  I put out some table scraps and she gobbled them down.  I wondered if she strayed off from one of the neighbors down the road or was she dropped off, or got lost?  Well, skinny kitten has  filled out in the last month and her coat is a beautiful shiny black.  So, she’s Bella.  It’s funny how a cat can  adopt people.  She was certain that this was the right place with the right people.  So, there hasn’t been a decision to make about getting another animal because Bella found Stella!

Well, not really.  Daughter here… helping mom get started with her very own blog!  I realize it may be a bit odd to start the blog out with a post featuring a picture of my mom under an umbrella when the blog is actually called Stella in the Sunshine but, to me, it’s perfect.  My mom lives life in the sunshine…no matter the weather.

Love you mama bella!

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