Leader in Me – “A Lesson from Konner”
Author: Amy Mikesell
August 26, 2020
March 13, 2020
Remember that day, March 13th?
That was the last time we had students in our classrooms at school.
It was a Friday, and we had just found out less than 24 hours before that we would not be returning to school for at least six weeks – maybe more. Personally, I had gone from thinking this whole COVID-19 thing was way overblown on Monday of that week to getting really concerned, confused, and scared by that Friday.
The day started with my emotions on edge. I was feeling a jumble of everything: confusion, fear, worry, frustration, anxiety, and a bit of excitement at all that was going on. The students tumbled into the room. As usual, many of them wanted to share everything that was on their mind. They were also confused, worried, and anxious. Their parents had told them some things, but not everything. Parents didn’t know what to tell their children and what not to tell them. Some students were withdrawn and quieter than normal; the uncertainty had caused them to pull inward. I remember that I fought back tears (but I am quick to cry, so that is no surprise) as I tried to manage all of my emotions and listen patiently to them. Of course, they wanted to talk about IT as soon as they got to school, but somehow I managed to get them into the routine of the day and we started.
“Morning meeting” has become a critical, special time in our class. We start most every day with this time, all together at the carpet, checking in with each other and reminding ourselves of WHY – our mission statement – we are at school. Then I give the class a quick update or rundown of the day and maybe a funny story before we dive in. When I sat in front of 20+ anxious faces that morning, I was struggling to not lose my composure in front of them. I was not only trying to not cry, but my whole brain was screaming every second. “What about????” “How am I supposed to????” “Am I allowed to???” “How long will????” I was very aware that I was the only adult in the room and that I had to hold it together. I said a silent prayer and addressed them.
Very carefully, I tried to explain the basics of the current situation, separate some obvious fact from fiction, and clearly outline what we did and did not know at that point. Of course, most of the time, I kept saying, “Nobody knows the answer to that question right now.” Every time I repeated that truth, I came closer and closer to tears of frustration because there were so few answers.
And then Konner raised his hand.
Dear, sweet, quiet, thoughtful Konner.
“Mrs. Mikesell,” he said, big eyes wide on my face, “Isn’t this kind of like the Circle of Control? You know, things we can and cannot control.”
I remember that there were other kids talking at the time, but I felt as if the whole world had come to a screeching halt. I was unable to prevent tears from slipping down my cheeks.
“Yes, Konner” I practically shouted in joyful realization, “yes!”
I sat, crying like a fool, speechless for a minute, and the rest of the class slowly realized I was not talking. An eerie silence fell over them. “Oh, Konner, that is the most amazing thing to say right now. You are exactly right! I’m so proud of you! Can you explain what you mean to everyone while I draw our Circle of Control?”
Konner explained while I drew two clumsy circles on the chart paper next to me. We talked about how we couldn’t control COVID-19, school decisions, or how other people reacted, but we COULD control our attitude, our actions, and how we treated other people. That moment changed the entire day for me. I was able to turn away from all the things that were tying me up in knots – the endless list of things I couldn’t control – and turn to the things I could control.
Fast forward to late July, when I walked back into my room to start whatever preparation I could do for this school year. The monster of anxiety had become sort of a semi-resident in the pit of my stomach over the last few months. I’ve had good days and bad days of dealing with the stress of living during a pandemic. When I unlocked my classroom door, my eyes landed on the chart paper with two circles and I was taken back to the last time I had students in this room, over 4 months ago. I remembered Konner’s wisdom and the Circle of Control. Oh, how I need this reminder as we navigate the days in front of us. I think I may laminate this page and keep it forever as a silent reminder of the power of this lesson.
I share this with you in case you need to be reminded of the Circle of Control like I did. As I look at the year ahead of me, I wonder if I will have time for Leader in Me and all the other things that compose our school life. Then I remember this story, and I realize that perhaps The 7 Habits are what we need now more than ever. Yes, intervention, guided reading, hand washing, leadership notebooks, conferences, group projects, social distancing, gifted instruction, and everything else is important. But without the life skills that The 7 Habits teach, all of it is much less valuable.
Our students know The 7 Habits. We have done an amazing job. Konner knew that truth because his kindergarten, first, second, and third grade teachers taught him about it. His special teachers and educational assistants used the language of leadership and implemented the Habits into regular life. Our school environment supported the Habits by embracing a culture of student leadership, enabling students by allowing them to have a voice in their classroom leadership roles, leadership clubs, and even on a community Leadership Day. I don’t know what Leader in Me will look like this year at KES. I do believe, with all my heart, that we all need those 7 Habits. We need to be reminded of the basics: Be proactive, set goals, Put first things first, be kind to others, and take care of ourselves. Let’s help them and ourselves by continuing to integrate and use those Habits to help us navigate the days ahead. In the meantime, if you see me drawing circle diagrams all over the place, don’t panic: I’m just reminding myself.