Saturday, November 28, 2015

Finding Whitespace

It was a Thursday evening, and there was nothing special about it to start. I was late getting out of school because I needed to take care of a few things. The tension was high, I felt myself internally snap a few times, and my attitude was quite poor. I knew I needed to leave because my anxiety was only going to make matters worse, which it did, and so I fixed the problem I created, running out of the school later than I had hoped.

I told my boys we unfortunately had to do our homework in the car as we ran to get my youngest son from daycare, because we had wrestling practice at 6:00, and we weren't going to make it. They were amazing, working as we drove, reading aloud to me and helping each other out.

When we got home, we quickly finished our homework, ate a quick dinner, changed for wrestling, and we were out the door.

My husband met me at wrestling, where he took the oldest two, and I went home to get things done around the house. I cleaned up my children's dishes, all the while thinking that my husband and I are not going to eat dinner until at least 8:30, which is fairly common. All the school work I wanted to get done at night might not happen as I had hoped. From start to finish, I knew I was not giving the time to my family as I had wanted and I felt my anxiety continually rising.

While folding laundry, I decided to multi-task and catch up with the voxes from my LeadUpNow PLN. This tribe always puts out amazing words and ideas throughout the day. The topic was “Whitespace”.

Whitespace is that time we intentionally build for reflection and rejuvenation. This was pretty foreign to me. I have a hard time sitting down. If I sit, I'm typically plugged in or I'm running around with my kids. Time for myself is rare. And so, I listened to the wisdom of this group, vox after vox. And I began to cry. I finally stopped, sat on the bench in my bedroom and sobbed. All of the feelings of the day and week came rushing over me. The constant desire to work to be my best for my school. The wish to be a better mom and wife. And I knew that I had to make a change or I was not going to be my best for anyone in my life. If I aim to be a leader, I must give myself time to process, think, reflect, and rejuvenate. This is not healthy.

After I calmed a bit, I let my LeadUpNow tribe know how much their words resonated with me. I was emotional and raw, but I needed to be vulnerable in order to change. I needed to put myself out there as I was in that moment. The beauty of this group is that they accepted me for who I am, allowing me to be vulnerable, and I felt their words impact me more than ever. I want to be leaders like them. They inspire. They affect change and see a bigger picture. They have changed me, and I am truly grateful.

So, now I write, once again vulnerable, writing about my internal journey and the importance this reflection has had for me. If I want to be a better leader, I need to take better care of myself and the time I have. I need to be intentional about my whitespace. I always believe in leading by example, and if I want others to reflect and rejuvenate, I must do it too.

Since then...
It has been a couple weeks since that Thursday evening, but the feelings still stir inside. I have been more intentional about my whitespace, making sure that I find even 5 minutes in a day to enter a quiet space to do nothing. Just sit, close my eyes, reflect, and then get up to go about the next task. A few evenings, I have unplugged, not opening a computer, but sitting and watching a cartoon with my kids or talking with my husband. Instead of constantly multi-tasking, I have tried to focus on one task at a time so that I am not overwhelmed and my mind can focus. This intentional whitespace has helped me reclaim my sanity, thinking more clearly and focusing my attention on the things that matter in the moment and in my life.

This whitespace hasn’t just been about me either, though. I now need to build more whitespace for my staff. Instead of filling every meeting with “stuff”, I am going to intentionally build time for my staff to reflect, giving them time. We created whitespace by celebrating our accreditation, having a lunch carry-in, eating and laughing together. I need to model this for my staff so that they too find the whitespace in their lives, rejuvenating for a moment, bringing clarity.

Our Whitespace
Our whitespace is critical to our emotional health. We all feel the need to fill time with all of our to-do lists, but filling every moment is not going to yield better results. In fact, we will be less productive, innovative, and clear in our tasks. Reflection and rejuvenation are critical to be our best. We should never feel bad for taking a moment to breathe, taking a moment to stop and sit, taking moments to spend quality time to reflect, taking even more moments to enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed atmosphere.

Whitespace is important.

As a leader, I must create whitespace for myself, model it, give time so my staff can create it for themselves and understand its importance. More importantly, this will then filter to our students. We are better educators because we have clarity and focus, and then we build that whitespace for our students to reflect and innovate as well.

We must value the critical nature of whitespace, being intentional about it daily. This cycle of whitespace must take hold in our schools so that we can be better for our students. In turn, they will grow into the creative thinkers we wish them to be. But it all starts with our own whitespace. It is time we ensure it happens.

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