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The ongoing pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges as we dig into new depths within ourselves to persevere. Personally, my experience teaching chemistry and physics at Teach for America (TFA) has helped me overcome these newer obstacles at every turn.
My students have faced formidable socio-economic challenges that are among the greatest barriers to academic achievement. It wouldn't be enough to dig them into the basics of the periodic table and expect the rest to take care of themselves.
I've learned firsthand how printing can actually turn coal into diamonds: course completion rates rose to over 80%, compared to a district average of 53%.
But what these numbers don't capture is how much I've learned from them.
Adversity taught me to improve my communication skills, adapt to changing circumstances, and act quickly. These traits have proven essential to managing the massive disruption that COVID-19 has caused, in addition to the seismic paradigm shift in the automotive industry where I now lead marketing and investor relations for the world's first Cybertech Tier automotive supplier.
Here are three things this educator was taught along the way that can help any leader overcome the challenges of these still troubled times.
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Lesson 1: Pass
Many students did not always have a bed and others had stories of abuse. For some, the inherent challenges of high school have been compounded by the difficulties associated with new immigrants, including adapting to a new culture or doing full-time jobs on the side to support their families. The adversity they faced made it even more amazing that they came to school almost every day. These children were determined to learn.
When doing business became difficult during the pandemic, I thought of the persistence my students embodied. They may not always have the resources they needed, but they made due with what was available. They were determined to graduate, despite what was stacked against them.
Working in Israel, which led the world during the lockdown, has been challenging. But my students have taught me not to deal with the hurdles we face and instead to think creatively about how we can overcome them.
Lesson 2: Prioritize
I've been working late into the night preparing a schedule and creating the curriculum for the next day just to see my plans fall apart in front of my eyes.
(The pandemic only appears to have added to the workload through a recent Microban 24 survey of 1,000+ teachers that found that the average educator currently spends an additional eight-hour workday each week preparing their classes.)
Instead of fixed plans, I relied on a fixed mindset driven by my motivation to master the skill that would save me: prioritization.
Successful prioritization starts with the ultimate goal. When each plan has a clear goal, you can simply work backwards from there – switch gears amid unexpected obstacles and adapt your approach on a journey where each step is less of a priority than the goal.
The pandemic has removed the appearance of a “normal work day” and blurred the lines between wake and work hours, but if I could spontaneously prioritize in a classroom full of teenagers, even if my hair was on fire (yes, that actually happens), me had no doubt that I could prioritize action points for my team and keep investors informed.
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Lesson 3: empathize
There may be times when it pays to be uncompromising, but as an educator, I quickly learned that compassionate, understanding dialogue is most effective in communicating with my students.
Too often in business people are taught that a displacement approach is the right way to get ahead and that any inkling of vulnerability should be avoided at all costs. However, I have found that introducing a culture of empathy creates a sense of oneness, generates creative solutions, increases productivity, and empowers us to achieve greater things.
My mentors at TFA always told me that years later, students would never remember exactly what I said but how I made them feel. This applies not only to the teachers who run a classroom, but also to the leading teams in organizations of all sizes.
By teaching I've learned to be grateful, knowing that it can always get worse, and when you feel like you've reached your lowest point, try to learn as much as you can.
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