I think I may have told this story before, but it resonated with me so heavily, it bears witness again.
Years ago I was part of a consortium of parent-teacher cooperatives in San Francisco. I was 28, directing Playmates Cooperative Preschool in the outer Sunset, mom of of preschooler and an infant. I was struggling big-time with a few parents in the program that were in leadership positions and had different ideas for the direction of the program than I did. I was so earnest and so eager and desperate to be THE BEST EDUCATOR I could possibly be and I was immature. I had a huge ego, and I didn’t know how to let other people have “wins” without feeling insecure and comparing myself to them. It makes me sad and glad to admit this. Glad because I’m not her anymore. Sad because I missed out on some great relationships. The parent in particular that I struggled with was intense, male, direct, and large. I am many of those things myself.
As I reflect on this 20 years later, I realize that he and I were incredibly similar. We both wanted our particular vision to come to fruition, and we really wanted others to have ownership, but we wanted to win. It was pretty hard. I won’t lie. Other people struggled with the one-sided vision, too, but as the leader it was my responsibility to handle that relationship and model for others how we could work effectively together.
I needed to check my ego. And I didn’t.
During this time I participated in a collaborative program with other preschool directors where we discovered what it was like at each other’s programs by visiting them every month or so. I will never forget sitting in a room with the grande dame of all of the parent-teacher co-ops in San Francisco, the elder and the one in her position the longest. She sat on her wooden chair and let others come to her. She had a beautiful creased face from years of smiling and grey hair. I told her of my struggles with some of the parents. I asked her what she did to handle that, how she maintained the direction of the school while also letting parents have ownership over the program and bringing their unique voices. How did she handle this change?
She just looked at me kindly, with littles climbing on her, and said something like this:
It’s theirs. I let them do what they need to do. It’s none of my business if it works or not. That’s theirs to learn.
I have so so much to learn. I want to grow into the wise woman sitting on a wooden chair letting others take their own path and knowing that it won’t affect me. That I can have my own beliefs and truths and they don’t change just because someone else’s is different.
Oh my do I have much to learn.