Quiet Leaders

TulipTreeElm House Blog3 Comments

By Bee

Working with children has truly taught me that there are ALL types of people in this world, and that many of us experience different phases of being. While reflecting at a recent staff meeting we talked about our tendency to capture the thoughts and actions of what I will refer to as loud leaders for the purpose of this post. These are children who are vocal, and often direct the play of others. These children draw attention to themselves with clear communication of their desires, and grand invitations for others to join in their play. In an attempt to get the attention of their peers, they naturally draw our attention as well. We then feel motivated to share their games, wonderings, and ideas with all of you. This of course leads to a skewed perception of what is happening at our school, because all sorts of work is happening all the time, yet we tend to document the work of whoever is in a phase of loud leadership.

Mage challenged us to narrow our focus and celebrate the work that is less obvious. This is critical to our Anti-Bias work. So I began to wonder…What is happening on the periphery? What is taking place in the quiet fuzzy places out of our direct line of sight? What problems are being solved, and what curiosities are being explored? What bonds are forming with no witness to appreciate them?

These questions coursed through my mind this morning as we were sitting in the basement, waiting for Heidi to arrive. Heidi arrives within a 15 minute window, which may not sound like much to you, but in the scheduled world of school it can feel like a lot to the children. To be honest having all of the children present in the basement always makes me feel a little edgy. It can get crowded, and the children LOVE experimenting with how their voices bounce and echo off the walls. My tendency is to try and manage the children with an activity or game while we wait. Today, with Mage’s challenge in mind, I chose not to. I took a deep breath, reminded myself to trust in the intentions coursing through these tiny bodies, and I sat down. I widened and softened my awareness. Ignoring what called my immediate focus, I waited for something to happen around the edges. I waited and waited and waited some more. At this point I was worried that Megan might be wondering why I wasn’t reading a book or singing a song. I trusted that she would trust my intentions (SO MUCH TRUST HAPPENS AT SCHOOL) I heard ZC start to cry. ZC loves our schedule and is always a little perplexed when we don’t go outside on Wednesdays like we do every other day. I turned around to offer my reassurance, but she had already stopped crying. My curiosity was piqued. ZC isn’t prone to distraction, and prefers to have her feelings echoed and honored so that she can move past them. When I turned around I felt my breath catch in my throat. 

MS had immediately responded to ZC’s need by scooping her into her arms. She gently cradled her while touching her hair and quietly speaking to her. I longed to know what she was saying but didn’t dare interfere in such a tender moment. I wanted MS to realize her own power and to know that SHE was helping ZC all on her own.

MS eventually felt my gaze and raised her eyebrows in question. It seemed like she wanted my confirmation that what she was doing was helpful and okay. I quietly responded, “You heard ZC was sad. I see that you are holding her so gently. She stopped crying. You helped her feel better. You knew just what she needed. Thank you for taking care of her, MS”

MS smiled softly. I got the impression that she actually knew what she was doing was helpful, but appreciated having it said to her nonetheless. Despite trying to stay soft and quiet to protect the sanctity of the moment, a couple of children had noticed something was happening and wandered over.

SM leaned forward to investigate. MS wasn’t sure of her intentions, and pulled ZC close to her. “She’s sad. I’m holding her.” she explained.  I echoed MS’s description. “ZC was sad and started to cry. MS wanted to help her, so MS is holding her. She is being so soft and gentle. She is taking care of ZC.”

“Me too.” said, LR as he stepped closer. He looked to MS for her approval. She moved back and away from ZC, allowing LR to embrace her.

“And me! I am helping too!” said SM, looking to MS again, hoping for her acceptance. MS smiled and made room for SM to hold ZC close.

“We are helping her.” MS said beaming up at me.

“You are,” I said softly, “you noticed ZC needed help, and so you took care of her. Your friends saw you, and then they wanted to help too. Now everyone is helping ZC because you showed us how. Thank you for showing us how to take care of people.”

I thought again of Mage’s challenge. In the periphery, I had found tenderness and compassion. I had found love and a quiet leader. I had found a person who inspired others with her actions and her heart. And I found other tender hearts just waiting for a spark of light to guide them.

In lieu of Mage’s challenge, I invite you to accept MS’s challenge. I invite you to find ways to be a quiet leader, ways to inspire others just by being tenderly present. When in doubt, as always, follow your children. They will show you the way. <3


3 Comments on “Quiet Leaders”

  1. Ahhhhhh!! As a habitually loud leader in currently engaging in quiet leadership, I love this reflection so so much. Wow. And I hear the Alexander work that we did echoed on many levels. And it’s such a good reminder that if we ever need a lesson in radical presence, all we have to do is look to our youngest. Thank you Bee for sharing such a beautiful about the learning of these children and yourself.

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