This is the time of year within schools (ten weeks left to make a difference!) that it is important to draw inspiration from any life experience that reminds us of our collective potential. In the summer of 2011, I was lucky and crazy enough to take part in the production of a low budget film. There are so many parallels I can find from living this experience that also apply to our mission to develop the best humans that we can. We are both in the business of storytelling. District leaders pass along a story to principals that relates to our mission to serve students. Principals pass along a version of the story that connects with their school. In turn, teachers and related staff tell the story to the students and hopefully, in the end, our students have a positive story to tell about their educational experience. Since schools exist in local communities then we would be remiss not to invite the community in as we create and live out the story. My story below illustrates what schools can learn from other industries. In this case, I share my learnings from one crazy, but inspirational summer in the movie making industry.
I took on a volunteer role on the set of a movie. Not just any movie- my husband’s movie. My job was craft services and caterer. When I signed up for this position I had no idea about its importance. I just knew I could shop, cook and rally some friends and family to help. As the link describes, food (especially on a low budget movie set) is a BIG deal. The actors and film crew are very good at what they do, paid very little, work long hours, and so they expect to eat well. Sound familiar? Well, maybe not the expect to eat well part! However, the currency for those of us who choose education often comes in the form of personal recognition, recommendation to take part in teacher-leader roles, etc… Those of you in a supervisory position, don’t you forget that! Build capacity.
Filming can occur at any hour of the day or night. Even though teachers work with a contract that specifies work hours, we all know that the lines can often be blurred. I remember a particular morning on set when I was feeling tired and it took all of my energy just to set out breakfast for this crew of twenty. I was up at the crack of dawn and had things ready as the crew rolled in so I congratulated myself and left to catch a few extra winks. On my way home, I received a call from the director, my husband, that the cast and crew were grumbling that I didn’t provide a proper breakfast. In other words, there was not a hot meal. This was feedback that could be taken one of two ways. And I won’t lie. The dialogue in my head went something like this:
“Don’t they know how hard I am working?”
“I don’t get paid enough to do this!”
“Okay, rant over. I’m part of this story. Others are too. Now what?”
“I think I have tons of bacon on hand. Who doesn’t love bacon?!”
“Heat up the quiche. That will save the day.”
Roadblocks similar to this one happen all the time in our school systems. We have a choice in how we respond to them and how prepared we are to think creatively. If this doesn’t bring about a change in mindset then consider another lesson learned on the set.
At the beginning of every day on set, this crew of twenty or so gathered together, defined the work of the day much like the morning meetings in our classrooms. The difference was in the passion each member brought to the meeting. They all felt fortunate to be earning a living, for at least twenty days, because this is all they ever wanted to do. Most educators I talk to often refer to innately knowing that teaching is all they ever wanted to do. To illustrate the passion behind their words these meetings often ended with everyone saying, “We are making an f-ing movie!” What if staff at our schools gathered at the beginning of every month, defined our specific mission, and yelled, “We are making the best (insert word of choice) human beings ever!” Still not convinced? Read on…
Problems came up daily on set. After all, sleep deprived human beings were involved [insert teacher up late to care for sick child], a car that was integral to the story wouldn’t run [insert technology fail in the classroom] , or an actor showed up late and threw the schedule off [insert teaching partner didn’t deliver on shared responsibilities]. Educators have to troubleshoot all day long. Again, the difference is in the response to the identified problem. One day I remember vividly was when the car broke down and it was a key player in the shot list that day. We didn’t have much money to get this car running and couldn’t afford to have a mechanic on set. What happened next was one of the most inspirational collective solution seeking that I’ve ever witnessed. While actors and those on the periphery took a well needed break, the key players met this roadblock like a creative challenge. Pieces of shot lists from other days were reassembled on the fly and the group was up and running again within the hour! They were energized, not defeated, at the chance to develop a solution. A mechanic that we had built a relationship with in the community came to our rescue, did just enough to get the car ready for the next day and was thrilled to be a part of the solution. This type of solution seeking requires that we are all on the same page and that we all believe in the moving parts-literally in this case! This, you might say, is unrealistic within a school district. Don’t underestimate your naysayers. Not all players will be your cheerleaders. Some will follow and that’s greatly needed. Some will stand back and critique and that’s needed. Some will not appear to respond at all. On the day now fondly referred to as “The Day the Car Died”, I went to seek solace from a quiet observer of this crazy endeavor we were undertaking. I shared the news reluctantly thinking that they would have something negative to say. This naysayer might not have believed in the mission to make a movie, but they cared about the people involved. They stepped up to the plate in their own way of their own choosing. Sometimes that is enough.
As I approach the high stakes testing season I will remember the lessons learned during this high stakes movie making experience.
You are only as good as the story you tell.
Feedback helps us deliver the story better.
Know your part in the story and play it with passion.
All great stories involve ups and downs. It’s our response to them that matters.
Every great story should have an antagonist.
The community is your story’s setting. Partner with them.
Cheers to your story! Now go tell it! Now go live it!