Sometimes we fail
While I think Yeshiva University’s most recent overture to the YU Pride Alliance Club is shameless and embarrassing, the goal of this blog is to surface personal truths, and therefore my best contribution to the conversation is to invite readers into my own narrative, some of which will resonate, others that won’t. Regardless, the act of sharing and listening to people’s lived experiences helps us develop the capacity to be good to and for each other.
People visualize “coming out” as a singular moment of action while remaining inside invokes the image of someone passively hiding in the dark, behind a closet door. That’s not really how it works. I was exhausted from actively being inside, my mind and body constantly in a state of frenetic motion, assessing and scrutinizing every word, every vocal inflection, and every hand motion. I was convinced that the music I listened to, the movies I watched, and the clothing I wore would eventually betray me. My nightly rituals included severe acts of self-scansion, where I evaluated my structures and rhythms, critically replaying every one of my stressed and unstressed syllables. There’s nothing dormant about it, and in my case, it turned out to be an unsustainable art.
Simultaneously, there are many reasons why I left the principalship when I did. Mostly, as my personal life began to dip into distress, the constant bifurcation and compartmentalization became overwhelming and unwieldy. Yes, the ideal learning environment allows for students to holistically integrate themselves into their experiences, thereby ensuring that school is relevant and engaging. But when it came to me, especially given the complex nature of my work, I never once considered going down that rabbit hole.
At some point, despite all of the pain that naturally comes with change and loss, I needed to rest. The journey is new and forces me to straddle confusing lines between turbulence and stability, belonging and loneliness, but I continue to identify ways to bridge the gaps. That’s why I was excited about a proposal that I submitted to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) this past summer for their annual winter conference.
At the heart of my session rested the intersectionality between my personal and professional lives. In it, I had mentioned that I had been married for 20 years and had been an educational leader in Jewish day schools for just as long. Then, I came out. Writing this, even to NAIS, made me anxious, concerned that my personal life would define, overshadow, and potentially negate my professional contributions. Still, because I’ve had a decades-long front-row seat to hiding, it has, in the last 18 months, felt critical to speak, knowing that doing so, despite the risks, will make me an even better parent and educator. I feel vulnerable and exposed all the time, but among the many things that have kept me moving forward are the responses that I’ve received, especially from my students, past and present.
The 21st century presents incredible opportunities and destabilizing challenges for school leaders who have to navigate the conflicting needs, wants and desires of an extremely diverse constituency. To become beacons in the storm, school leaders must embrace their own authenticities, whatever they may be. Only once we identify and communicate who we are and what we value, can we create safe, healthy, and cohesive learning environments.
Without meaningful self-reflection, leaders cannot motivate their communities towards development and growth. Unfortunately, people too often find themselves in the operational weeds and are, therefore, left with little time to consider how to maintain the balance between management from the top and leadership from behind. The former is quick and efficient. The latter is slow and murky, but it is also brave and inspiring. Both adults and children alike are a little lost these days, but when done correctly, leaders who lead with honesty and integrity project stability. They build confident, more inclusive learning communities and know how to guide them, even in uncertain times. The goal of my workshop was to help leaders engage in self-inquiry and reflection. They would work on discovering who they are as people, and this would help them communicate their values in order to tackle their challenges.
Last Friday, four months after submitting the proposal, it was rejected. The “we regret to inform you” email came just about 10 minutes before candle-lighting. Even though there were still things I had to get done, I allowed the rejection to set up residency and entered Friday night with a pinch in my face. In moments like these, my teenagers have a way of asking what’s wrong while effectively signaling that they don’t really care. It’s more like, “What’s your problem?” Given that I did, in fact, have a problem, I filled them in on my NAIS woes, that I just had a professional setback that also felt like a personal failure. To them, this wasn’t such a big deal. Turns out, the boys have had a few failures of their own this week, mostly in the form of physics exams and history assignments.
We pivoted from my setbacks to theirs, commiserated and considered, for not too long – nobody wants to eat cold soup – what we’ve learned and what we might do better next time. For now, that’s the best we can do.