Posts Tagged 'hospice volunteer'

Why it’s important for leaders to maintain a “learner’s mind”

Over the past decade as a hospice volunteer I have supported dozens of patients in telling their life stories and preserving them for future generations.

More often than not, patients were energized by the process of reviewing their lives. In addition, as they reflected on their experiences they often discovered an overarching sense of purpose that was previously invisible to them. 

And almost always they would tell stories that were meaningful to me, such as this one I offered in an April 2015 post.

When leaders’ egos grow too tall

“There’s an ego looking for a place to inflate,” my table mate at a Washington, DC meeting of high-level officials whispered to me as a prominent member of the education establishment entered the room, a prophecy that unfortunately soon proved itself to be true.

I was reminded of that meeting when Jean, a patient I was visiting in my role as a hospice volunteer, shared with me a simple but profound poem she had recently written:

“The long, dark corridor of life narrows at the end./And those whose ego grew too tall will have to learn to bend.” 

While Jean was describing the “long, dark corridor” of her own life as it narrowed in her 90s, her warning regarding egos that grow too tall without learning to bend also obviously applies to education leaders.

Signs that a leader’s ego has grown too tall include:

• Enjoying hearing himself or herself talk, usually at great length, rather than listening to others.

• Believing that he or she generally knows more than others, including being the only one with the wisdom to understand problems and how to solve them.

Ways in which leaders can learn to bend:

• Maintaining a “learner’s mind.” Leaders with such mindsets assume that they may not know what they don’t know.

• Recognizing that the perspectives of others are essential in identifying and solving problems.That means that they seek first to understand by spending far more time listening than speaking.

• Remembering that while leaders have unique roles and responsibilities, those who are successful cultivate a community of equals rather than one of  privilege and hierarchy.

What have I missed?

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.

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