The Importance of Differences
After I graduated college, I joined the Teach for America (TFA) corps. In TFA, you spend your summer days focusing on leadership development, having conversations about educational inequities, and growing your teaching practice. You teach summer school alongside a partnered corps member so you can lean on each other for support as you will soon become the leader of your own classroom.
I remember the day we came in and sat down at our respective tables. Our facilitator told us, “you are looking at your team for the summer!” which meant I was sitting with the third grade writing team for the various school sites. I observed everyone at the table, taking particular notice of one girl. I told myself, “I am happy to be partnered with anyone but her.” Throughout the first weeks she had been asking tons of questions in all types of settings and spaces, her communication style was very direct and eloquent, and she was consistently taking notes of what every person said on her laptop. She intimidated me greatly, and it was very clear to me that we were extremely different.
“Which one of you is Dayna?” she said abruptly after the facilitator told us to check the google drive for our partners. I froze. What I thought was my hope of having a fun, relaxed teaching partner for the summer had been thrown out the window. After some time passed and with fear, I slowly raised my hand and said, “I am Dayna.” We spent the night before our first day in the classroom rehearsing the script they wrote out for us. I knew we wouldn’t use it at all, but I knew that it was what she needed to feel prepared. I began to gather bits and pieces of what I had observed from her to think of how I could strategically make this summer work for us both. Using my knowledge from one of my most impactful leadership courses and the Linda Berens framework, I gathered some observations about her temperament and communication style. I could tell that she was someone who valued rules, structure and tradition. She was also extremely direct in how she would communicate and had no fear in initiating conversations with others. Meanwhile, I am someone who fears initiating conversations in new social spaces, and I prefer to work “behind the scenes” in all that I do. I am an idealist who searches for the greater meaning in all that I do, which often means challenging the rules. Our differences terrified me, but I was determined to make it work.
Throughout the summer, we began to grow more comfortable with each other. I grew less and less intimidated and started to learn more about her and the strengths she brought to our duo. Our mentors began calling us “the DREAM team” because of the profound impact we were having on students. It became more evident to me how strong of a pair we were because of our distinct differences. Her strengths were my weaknesses, and my strengths were hers. We were the perfect balance, and the perfect pair.
I had the privilege of teaching alongside her once again this past school year. We were the DREAM team back in action! It amazes me to reflect back on our origin story and to see where we are now. We know each other inside and out, and create magic together. She is incredible at creating a strong classroom structure and routines, advocating for our students, and having hard conversations. These are still my areas of growth. But more than that, we have fostered the most incredible personal friendship. My favorite things about her are her ability to listen, approach with curiosity, and ask powerful questions. All of these things being the very same things that once pushed me away years ago.
Being a leader means being willing to grow. Growth happens when we step outside of our comfort zones and honor our differences. Our relationship is one of the most treasured stories that I have. It stretched me in ways I didn’t even know were imaginable. Looking back today, I thank my lucky stars that we were paired together because she allowed me to become more open and accepting of others.
Do you want to understand more about yourself as a leader? Form even more connections with your team and learn how to work better together? Contact us today to learn more about our program series, “Understanding the ME in TEAM”
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