We Are In This Together

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I stand in line at the copy machine behind a secretary. He turns to me and says. "Oh, Dr. de Vinck, I didn't see you. Here. Let me give you the machine." I say, "Jim! Of course not. We are in this together. I can wait."

A staff member enters my office and says, "Chris, I wonder if it is okay to leave early? My daughter is in a small play at her school." I am startled that my teachers think of me as their boss. "Donna! Of course you can go, and I would love to see pictures of your daughter from her play."

A teacher from another department steps into my office and asks politely, "Chris can I use your phone? The one in the faculty room doesn't work." And I say to him, as I say to everyone, "You never have to ask to use my phone, my stapler, my desk. Just step in and use what you need. We are in this together."

I learned about leadership many years ago in my management courses in education administration at Columbia University. True leadership, they said, stems from our ability to express a vision and articulate that vision so that others follow. It is easy to call each other a team, a labor pool, or employees. I call my teachers people whom I love. In many ways, they are as important as my brothers or sisters, as important as my parents, wife, or children. Whether we build cars together, teach children together, or work in an office together, it seems that the best work is accomplished by people who love each other.

If we love the people next to us, we wish them well, we help them through difficult times, we collaborate to find solutions and celebrate successes and joys. When people have a mutual bond, they will find the best way to teach children in a school, to build an airplane, to create a new product, to perform any service.

I manage 33 people in one of the largest high schools in New Jersey. I give them the best tools I can find to help them teach. I give them the most professional autonomy possible, so they can do their jobs. I am not afraid to compliment them. I try to be bold and kind in making suggestions for our improvement. My staff knows that I not only respect their abilities as teachers, but I truly love them as people. They tease me often, calling me "boss" because they know how much I dislike the term and the false assumptions such a word creates.

I am not their boss. I am part of their lives, placed in a position of trust, placed in their lives to celebrate their professional talents, to listen to their concerns, to share the good news of their weddings, babies, and birthdays, to mourn with them in their losses.

At one of my department meetings a few years ago, I blurted out that my mother had lung cancer and she was going into the hospital to have a portion of her lung removed. My teachers were concerned, asked about her health, asked about my own strength, and then one of my teachers in the back of the room spoke out softly, "Chris, we are in this together."