Sharing who we are and letting people in are so important to building trusting relationships with students, staff, family, and the community.
Yesterday, I was in my office gathering some things together after the bell had gone, when a kindergarten student, “K”, peered into my office and in the smallest,sweetest voice said, “Mr. Wejr, would you like to come and meet my dog?” My first thought was that this was a child excited about her new dog and wanted to share it with people so I immediately (and excitedly, as I love dogs) said, “Sure!”
When I walked to the front of the school, not only was there a dog there waiting to meet me… but a BULLMASTIFF waiting to meet me! Two years ago, we lost our beloved Ozzy to cancer. This was such a challenging time for my wife and I as Ozzy was our life for so many years. We still miss him every day and whenever I see a bullmastiff, my stomach fills with excitement and my mind fills with great memories of our big bear.
I said to K’s mom, “Oh my… a bullmastiff! My favourite breed in the world! Did you know this?” She then let me know that she had walked with her dog to school to pick up K and there was a group of parents at the other end of the school. When they saw the bullmastiff, they told her that she had to take her to meet Mr. Wejr!
When Ozzy was diagnosed with cancer, I was very emotional but I actually mentioned it at an assembly and shared much of his final months/days with people through social media. As hard as it was, I let people in. Staff reached out to me. Students continually asked how Ozzy was doing and always were there for hugs. When we lost Ozzy, inspired by words from my buddy George, I wrote a blog about losing our “little” guy and celebrating the life of Ozzy. Staff and families of Kent School, along with many people online whom I have never met, read the post and reached out to me with empathy and care.
I think too often we feel that we should hide our personal stuff from work. We hear (especially on social media), “keep the personal and professional separate”. I know that we need not share ALL our personal stuff but what if I had not shared any of the love and struggles we shared with Oz? What if I kept stories of who I am as a person outside of school completely private? Would I still get moments like the one that happened yesterday?
I strongly believe that, as educators, we need to share who we are. Put ourselves out there. Let people in. Be more vulnerable.
I don’t meant that we need to do this solely through social media and I don’t mean we need to just share our tough times. We need to be comfortable with sharing more of our personal side – the moments of joy, sadness, success and challenge. As a principal, there is nothing I love more that hanging out, playing and chatting with the students every recess and lunch. I get to share a little bit of who I am and I get to see a little more about who they are. My students check out photos of my family on Instagram and constantly ask how they are doing. I also really enjoy the informal dialogue with parents and staff at the end of the day. I love it when a parent or staff member comes to tell me something about an event or topic which they know I can relate (ex. dogs, toddlers, books, sports). When we do this, we humanize us. We move from Mr. Wejr: the principal – to Mr. Wejr (or Chris): the person, the teacher, the husband and father, the sports fan… and the guy who would love to meet my dog.
When staff, students, and families see us for who we truly are, the relationships change… the conversations change… and the moments change.
Thank you to K and her mom for taking some precious moments out of their time together to share a little bit of them in a moment with me… and their dog.