The One Gesture That Can Make the Difference

Joanne Emery’s bio: I have quietly worked myself up the education leadership ladder over 36 years—first as an early childhood teacher, then as an elementary teacher, a learning specialist, and finally as an English-Language Arts Curriculum Coordinator. Many administrators still hold the belief that if you are authoritative and commanding, you are an effective leader, but I believe that one can effect great and permanent change from the bottom up quietly and respectfully.

This is just to say…

As a young girl, I was quiet and shy. In class, I would be the child who would slide down into her chair trying not to be noticed, not because I didn’t know the answer, but because I didn’t want my classmates to look at me and judge me. I had a vivid imagination and was comfortable living in my own creative world, so I was content to keep to myself for awhile. It was only under the care of some skillful and empathetic teachers that my voice began to develop and I was able to more confidently share my thoughts and ideas. I knew I wanted to be the kind of teacher who could nurture all students, whether gregarious extroverts or humble introverts.

Fast forward to today. As part of my role as English-Language Arts Curriculum Coordinator, I provide mentorship to the faculty. Mentorship is a very special relationship that requires a great deal of empathy. I have learned over the years to slow myself down, truly be present, and listen without judgment. I know that by doing so, I will be able to help my colleagues move closer to their goals.

My efforts don’t go unnoticed by my introverted colleagues. They seek me out for advice, and we have built a foundation of mutual trust and respect. To do my job effectively, I’ve had to fly out of my protective nest—as Dorothy Tannahill-Moran describes in the October Field Notes: When Flying under the Radar Doesn’t Work. As a coordinator, I had to find ways to quietly reveal my leadership style and to demonstrate the power of bottom up leadership.

One simple technique I have used this year to connect to teachers and to extend our conversations on teaching and learning is to write “This is just to say…” notes, the title of which is taken from the wonderful William Carlos Williams poem. Each week, after I have observed and collaborated with teachers, I send them personal “This is just to say…” emails detailing specific strategies, techniques, and actions I saw during my class visits. My goal is for teachers to feel valued and respected, opening the door to further collaboration and learning.

When I started writing these notes, I knew that teachers would enjoy the positive feedback, but I didn’t realize how effective the notes would be in deepening my relationship with teachers, especially teachers who were not always open to change. This simple task, which takes me about two minutes to write, has had such a powerful impact on the way I carry out my job that I had to share it. As Mother Teresa said, “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

Thank you for Quiet Revolution and Quiet Leadership—you help me find my voice and my strength!

Field Notes brings you first-hand workplace experiences written by contributors who share their own stories, the lessons they’ve learned, and the unique benefits of a quiet approach to life in the office. Whether you’re an introvert looking to make the most of your strengths or an extrovert/ambivert who wants to learn how your quiet colleagues tick, Field Notes offers real-world insights about taking a walk on the quiet side. Submit your own story and watch this space for more perspectives from your colleagues.