During his remarks before yesterday’s opening session, our president Brian asked us all to get up and and find a person we’d never met. He rightly assumed we likely found and sat with a friend. I was already sitting next to someone I’d only met moments before, so I didn’t have to move, but most of the room stood up to find a new face to sit next to. Everyone moved with a smile on his or her face — there was no grumbling — but we still all needed the prodding from our president to move beyond our comfort zone.
Today, I tried to take Brian’s lead and attend sessions I might not typically choose to attend. I wanted to move beyond my own comfort zone and learn something new. I admit that I am a bit of a policy nut; I can’t resist a good nuts and bolts presentation. My sometimes overly-concrete mind loves solving a snarly compliance conundrum. So, instead of making my way to the 8:15 AM Verification session, I instead chose to attend Heather McDonnell’s session on what makes a good leader. The feds lost out again in the 9:30 slot; I eschewed Greg Martin’s “What FAAs Must Know About 150% Direct Subsidized Loan Limits” presentation in favor of Catherine Boscher-Murphy’s discussion about the importance of ethics and potential pitfalls of prejudices in PJs. Then I ended my morning with an enlightening session on how the overturning of DOMA will impact our students and their families.
What I took away from these sessions is that even if I can distill all of the regulations, laws, and policies governing our profession into a Puerto Rican rum punch cocktail of compliance perfection, I still have to successfully navigate my relationships with my colleagues and my students. I have to know how to come together with the people surrounding me. If I want to be a leader, I have to know how to empower others. If I want to be an advocate for my students, I need to understand the ways in which my prejudices and preconceived notions can trap me into making poor choices. If I want to help families educate their children, I have to understand the nuances of their lives — most especially if their experiences and background are very different from my own.
To be a truly effective aid administrator, these skills are just as important as any technical knowledge I can amass along the way.