How school leaders and hospice patients may be more alike than you think


My work has two parts. In my “day job” I serve as a “thinking partner” to school leaders and leadership teams as they seek to continuously improve the quality of leadership, teaching, learning, and relationships in schools.

My second “job” is that of a hospice volunteer, a role that is at least as rewarding as my paid employment. As a volunteer I have two primary responsibilities—supporting hospice patients and their families as a “personal historian” so that they can capture and preserve their life stories on video, and facilitating grief-support groups for those who have lost loved ones.

While my professional and hospice responsibilities may seem quite different, they have important similarities:

Both offer possibility and expand human potential. As a thinking partner I enable educators and students to learn and perform in ways that they may previously have thought impossible. As a hospice volunteer I support patients and their families in experiencing their remaining time together in the highest-quality way possible.

Both involve systems that are often severely stressed. Outside forces such as state and federal policies and declining resources can stress the systems in which educators work and their relationships with one another. Likewise, hospice patients and their families are often stressed in understanding and meeting insurance requirements, managing doctors’ appointments, and addressing family relationship issues, among other challenges.

Both require that those involved experience the inevitability of change, whether or not they choose it. Impermanence is not an abstraction to educators and to hospice patients and their families as they grapple with the choices they have been given to find the best possible path forward.

Both remind me of the wisdom of Theodore Roosevelt’s counsel: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” While there are times to challenge the “givens” and to advocate for new ways, sometimes the realities of situations require that we accept, as the Serenity Prayer reminds us, the things we cannot change, at least for the time being.

4 Responses to “How school leaders and hospice patients may be more alike than you think”

  1. 1 robert garmston September 5, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Love your comments and service, Dennis.

    Bob Garmston

  2. 3 Fran Prolman September 5, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Dennis-this is brilliant. Being a Thought leader myself, and having nursed my mother to her death through a hospice support system, I would say you nailed the connection. You have a huge heart and are a great thinker.
    Fran Prolman

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