Never Underestimate Your Impact on Others
I will never forget watching an Oprah show many years ago, featuring the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison, and hearing her comment that it’s interesting to see what happens when a child enters a room. She asked,
Does your face light up?
I remember thinking about that question deeply. I wondered, did my face light up when my children came into the room? I knew I wanted it to. I wanted my children to know how delightful they were to me. I wanted them to know that I truly saw them every time they were in my presence and that they had my full attention. I wanted them to know how intensely and unconditionally they were loved.
It also made me think of the children I taught. Did they feel acknowledged when they stepped into my classroom? Were they aware of how much I appreciated them and valued their uniqueness and individuality. Did they know I was thrilled to be their teacher?
From that day forward, I made a conscious effort to demonstrate my love and gratitude for all of the children in my life through my face. I greeted them with a big smile. I made my eyes dance and sparkle with excitement.
Years after that episode, Toni Morrison was on the Oprah show again. She reflected on the impact she’d made on millions of viewers that day just by asking what she thought was a simple question. It hadn’t even occurred to her that what she was saying was anything special. Yet, to this day, it remains one of the most profound moments in my life that truly changed my relationship with my own children and that of my young students.
There have been many times in my life when something I’ve said has come back to me in a beautiful way. Someone has remarked that a story I’ve shared, a suggestion I’ve made, or even an off-handed remark I’ve mentioned, has changed their perspective. I’ve often been surprised by what has unknowingly made an impact on the life of someone else.
This, of course, can also go agonizingly awry.
Words and actions are very powerful means of communication. What we say, how we say what we say, what we do, what we choose not to do . . . all say something about who we are and how we navigate the world. We are always making an impact on others through big and small ways with positive and negative consequences.
This is particularly true of teachers. We are always in the spotlight.
Our students, their parents, our colleagues, and even the greater community, are often closely observing and assessing everything we say and do. This is even more acute as students head back to the physical or virtual classroom after a significant break from school. Expectations for a safe and successful year are exceedingly high with many wants and needs by various stakeholders . Teachers are being looked at to do well by everyone.
While we rarely have control over how others will receive our words or actions, we do have control over our intentions. I often ask myself, “What is my intention in this moment?” With my students, my intention has always been for them to know I see them, I hear them, and that they matter to me. I then make sure my face lights up so they believe me.
As the conversation with Oprah continued, Toni Morrison said, “Let your face speak what’s in your heart."
We can never underestimate our potential for impact.
P.S. If you have to wear a mask all day to teach you can still light up through your eyes and voice. You may also wish to wear (or display) a photo of yourself without a mask smiling.
Traci L. Scheepstra, Ph.D., is the CEO/Founder of Embodied Learnings. Want to know more about her work in education? Read here!