Gotta Have Grace

By Melissa Tebbenkamp, Director of Instructional Technology, Raytown Quality Schools

Leadership is hard. There are days that it comes with great reward, and others where it stretches you beyond what you thought were your limits . . . and sometimes, leadership helps you find yourself. 


COVID, however, took leadership to a whole new level. This pandemic has affected us all personally in some way. There are new struggles with our own virtual learners at home, sickness in our families, growing debate amongst those closest to us, and the impact of a sudden change to how we live our lives. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own world that it’s hard to remember that everyone around us has also been impacted by the pandemic. 


As leaders, we are called upon to be the rock and guiding light in times of crisis. It can feel like those around us forget that we are also personally impacted. My team feels this as well, as IT is expected to work without flaw so that teaching and learning, and business operations, can happen. Our community and staff forget that there are humans behind every support provided by the IT team. 


When things get rough, it feels like we are expected to be perfect. But, that is far from realistic. When people are in crisis, when they are overwhelmed, overburdened and unsure of their world, they make mistakes. We all make mistakes, even on our good days, but particularly when our world is abruptly disrupted. 


So how do we, as leaders, support our team and district during these times of uncertainty? How do we balance the district’s need for the IT team to come to the rescue, while realizing that our team consists of people who are experiencing all the emotion and personal stress of the crisis while striving to meet all the new challenges? . . . . Grace


Grace . . . for your team and for each individual person on your team as they strive to support technology in a way that is so far removed from what they knew before. Grace for your team who in many cases are supporting way more than before, who are drowning with no light to be seen. Grace for your team who feel guilty that they cannot accomplish all that is needed from them. Grace for your team who are facing new challenges in a world that is frequently changing, in some cases daily.


Grace . . . for your district’s staff and leadership as they strive to provide the best education possible for students in this time of crisis. Grace for administrators who are trying to create a new way of learning that they had never considered before. Grace for administrators who are taking the daily calls from parents and so desperately trying to serve the disengaged students. Grace for the administrators who feel the burden of making big decisions that have tremendous impact on students and knowing that no matter what they decide, some will be upset and many will question the choice.


Grace . . . for the teachers who are trying their best to learn so many new tools and strategies so that they can provide some sense of normalcy for their students. Grace for the teachers who are torn between being scared for their health (and the health of their family) and their desire to comfort their students. Grace for the teacher who struggles to engage every student and worries about those they are not reaching. Grace for the teachers who really want to do their best, but are stretched thin as well.


Grace . . . for your vendors and partners who are trying to provide what their districts need in a time where the supply chain is disrupted. Grace for your vendors who are also human and dealing with this very real crisis. Grace for your vendors who have so much outside of their control and are just doing the best they can to meet your needs.


And most importantly . . . 


Grace . . . for yourself as a person, for yourself as a leader and for yourself as a member of the team as you lead your team and district through the ever-changing unknown. Grace for yourself, who wears so many hats and tries to keep it all together. Grace for yourself, who sacrificed so much of your personal and family time to make remote learning a success. Grace for yourself as you try to take it all on and be wildly successful. Grace for yourself when you fail, when you have to start over and when plans change. Grace for yourself when you reach your breaking point and feel like you just . can’t . go . any . further. 


We so often set such high expectations of ourselves and take the criticism, veiled cries for help, and new emergencies (like we didn’t already have enough) personally. We internalize all that is going on and make it our personal mission for everything to be successful. We look outside our area of control and take the failures of others as our own. We are leaders and we care so deeply.


But, at what cost? It doesn’t matter how much we care if we have nothing left to give. We must focus on our own personal wellbeing before we can take care of others. It’s like flight attendants say; in the event of a crisis, put on your mask first before helping others. We must first give ourselves grace before we can extend it to others. We must first allow ourselves to feel and react and fail and be ok with where we are at and where we are going. We must accept ourselves as imperfect before we can be the leaders our team and students need us to be.


Give yourself a break, you are human. And, when it all seems too much, take a break. I know it sounds counterproductive, but it was the best advice I have been given as a leader. You will continue to spin out of control if you do not stop to regroup and approach your situation refreshed. It could be as simple as making sure you take a completely detached lunch, or a day off, or even just a fun evening with the family. When you feel the stress the most, take a break, give yourself grace and then be the leader you are driven to be.


‘Cause I gotta have grace

I gotta’ have grace

Because I gotta have grace, grace, grace

I got to have grace, grace, grace