Like many of the readers of this blog, my family (which at this stage of life has various definitions and extended members) spent parts of this holiday season together. Annual family gatherings are often filled with both joy and sadness, tragedy and triumph, reflection and action, fear and hope as one year ends and another begins.
In some sense, our family gatherings represent the same feelings and emotions that we experience in our professional families as well. If you are a teacher, your students are part of your school "family" and your colleagues are part of that family too. If you are a coach your team is part of your school "family" and your fellow coaches will spend more time with you during the season than your "at home" family. If your are a school administrator or district leader, your "family" widens as you steward the members of the school community as well. It becomes a pretty big family to be part of and to understand.
So, as we were ending our family vacation time on January 1st, we sat around the TV, and began a 45 minute slideshow "walk" through the pictures of our time together, taken by various "keepers" of the camera. As we sat in the living room, and watched the pictures flow by, it was interesting to observe family member reactions. The first 10 minutes of our slideshow was mostly pictures that looked like this:
You know, the very nice scenic views that when you get home you say, "I took 122 pictures of that?" Maybe two would have been sufficient. The reaction around the room was polite, but a bit bored. Then a picture of our two daughters playing xbox 360 skiing (part of a family competition) with legs flailing in the air and arms spread out using imaginary poles, heads knocking together and both of them laughing hysterically - caused a major eruption of laughter, pointing and energy from our gathering. (Note: I cannot supply the picture here as I have yet to secure permission from our two daughters!)
I found myself wondering, what is it about our pictures that as soon as people (especially the members of our extended families) show up in them, a level of new energy and emotion is released? It occurred to me, that our life, our work, our family, is rarely if ever about the place as much as it is about the people - and our experiences with those people, both good and bad. It is the people that make the place have purpose and meaning, passion and emotion, joy and heartache. Without the people - the place becomes empty space.
I first remember experiencing this feeling during my early days as a high school basketball coach at West Chicago Community High School. We had just lost a close home game with a conference rival, and I was a bit distraught over the loss. Once the team members (one of my many families) had gone home, and the coaches too, I decided to walk back into the gym, and just stand in the middle of the gym floor. I wasn't sure it would make me feel any better, but I wanted to capture a picture in my mind of the emotion displayed by 1000+ people just an hour ago: The heartache and the joy of participating in something.
I was struck by the emptiness of the space. The building in the dark, was just that - a nice facility, a nice place - but no emotion no energy. The building, that gym, needed people for it to matter. It needed people that cared about their team, that cared about risk and success. That understood how wins and losses matter only briefly as a measure of success, but real success would reveal itself in whom all of those young men and women would become.
In 12 years of coaching I had taken a picture of every team that was part of my school family. In every case, the years and the records (even the good years) just sort of blend together. But I can always tell you about the year my players asked me to design a "Fibonacci" defense for them (I was a math teacher and we also had the Euclid zone press). Or the year that I dubbed one of our players the X-factor. Or the year that several of my players had significant tragedy in their lives - including the house burning to the ground for one player during the season. And it was our family reaction and response to these events that made the season a success. It is and will always be about the people in our "families" and the relationships built around them.
When I became director of mathematics and science at Stevenson, every fall (at open house) I would insist that we all "dress up" and get together in the commons area for a "team picture". As we grew the picture had quite a few teachers in it (up to 85 at one point) but I loved placing the team picture on my office door every year. As the years unfolded, of course our "family" members changed in the picture. New additions and departures for many different reasons, would impact the picture. No matter, the "Commons" isn't what made the picture work for me, it was the energy of the great people in the picture that mattered. People that just like me, were trying very hard every day to help their student family - to become positive community members.
So, as we enter in 2012, as you celebrate the ending of one semester, and the beginning of another, please keep in mind it is the community members that matter. Celebrate their triumphs, embrace their tragedies, help them grow. Take pictures of them, post those pictures everywhere you can. And then watch the years flow by. Because in a blink, it will be 2013, and you will have to ask, "How did I do in 2012? How did I serve and lead the members of my home and professional families?"
And only you can measure your success as a family member in 2012.