We may not always feel as though we have much influence on what is happening around us. The impact of our efforts is not always immediately apparent. We may occasionally feel more like the object of others’ influence rather than the source of influence in our environment.
Yet, when we reflect, it becomes obvious that we have multiple areas of potential influence available, if we choose to claim them. Some areas of influence may have a reach that includes the entire system. Others may intensely influence one or a small group of students. Regardless, the extent and impact of our influence are heavily dependent on our awareness of how and where we can make an impact, and our willingness to invest. Let’s explore four of these areas of influence, how we can make a positive difference, and how we can more fully appreciate our impact.
We might think that participating in committees and work groups at the school and school district level should not be a high priority for our time. Yet, decisions made at the level of the organization and school often create conditions that can benefit or disadvantage the work we do. Decisions about curriculum, schedules, supervision and evaluation protocols and other system level activities often include opportunities for input. We can use our experience and expertise through these opportunities to influence the context within which we work and even the tools and materials provided. The philosophy and approach presented in instructional and supplemental materials can have a profound impact on our work with students. The purposes and processes underlying activities such as supervision, professional responsibilities, and professional learning can make a significant difference in the levels of success and satisfaction we experience.
Each week we design and plan activities for students to stimulate, engage, and extend their learning. The richness, depth, and variety of these activities will, in large part, determine the learning experiences of our students. This level of influence holds the greatest potential to determine learning outcomes and build learning skills. However, our potential influence goes beyond whether students meet the content standards and skill expectations of our lessons. While unit tests and standardized assessments may focus on whether academic content and skills were developed, our long term and most importance influence will be determined by whether we nurture the skills and motivation within our students to become learners for life. Our students benefit little if they master the curriculum, but lose their sense of wonder, curiosity, and commitment to continue to learn.
Our commitment to develop relationships with students and colleagues is crucial to the informal influence we possess. When we form strong relationships with students, we nurture in them a sense of belonging and being valued. We also open the door to influencing the ways in which they respond to our expectations and instruction. Students who may not naturally be drawn to the content we teach can change their perspective for no reason other than the relationship they have with us. Our relationships with students represent a crucial element of the context within which they experience learning. Our relationships with colleagues also offer important opportunities to influence. The values we live, the priorities we establish, and the commitment we demonstrate to our professional work and students can offer powerful modeling for colleagues. Our willingness to collaborate and share our expertise and insights can make a pervasive difference in how colleagues view their work and the confidence they have in their ability to be successful.
Our ability to advocate may be the area of influence that is least appreciated, but in some ways is the most powerful of all. Many students already have natural advocates. They may be successful learners. They may have strong, positive relationships with staff and other students. They may participate in activities and win awards. However, there are also students within our schools who have few, if any, advocates. Unfortunately, these are often students who need someone willing pay attention to their needs the most. These are students who may seem invisible. They may be students who act out and are quick to push back on authority. They may be students who are living troubled lives outside of school and find it difficult to connect with life in school. When we choose to listen, understand, and accept these students we can have a powerful, lifelong influence. We may be the one person in their lives who pays attention to how they see the world. We may be the only adult to stand up for them when they need someone in their corner. Our willingness to care and be an advocate may change the direct and trajectory of these students’ lives. An act that might be taken for granted by students who are doing well in school can be a highly prized gift to the student who doesn’t have others like us in their lives.
It’s important for us remember that every time we make a comment, take a step to assist, or “lift up” someone around us, we are having an influence. Our impact is not always readily apparent. Years may pass before we become aware of our influence. We may never learn of some ways we have influenced others. What is most important is that we understand and appreciate the difference we can and do make every day—and be grateful for the opportunity.