Circle of Influence

by Katie Kinder

“It’s easier to tame lions than it is to goose geese!”  -Jeff Hemm, Number 22

When I was a kid, I was usually fussing about something.  Soccer.  Romance.  Friends.  Parents.  Siblings.  You name it, I fussed about it.  My dad would say, “What is in your circle of influence?”  It meant: What can you control?  Mostly, my dad wanted me to know that I was the only one who could control my attitude about life.  It became a mantra, one I needed to be reminded of a lot.  In later years, when I started fussing, he would just hold up his hands and create a circle with them.  He didn’t even have to say anything; this stood for ‘circle of influence.’   

My dad was an elite athlete, drafted into the MLB out of high school, and an All-American catcher at the University of Arkansas.  He is mentally and physically tough.  He had a lot of other ‘dad’ phrases as we grew.  One of my favorites is, “It is easier to tame lions than it is to goose geese.”  Of course, meaning, you’d rather have a feisty, boundary-pushing, strong person on your side than a meek and mild, compliant one.     

Tip for Principals:

Find your Lions, employ them, get behind them, and wrangle them into the best possible teacher you can get because if I was a betting person (I am), I’m betting the classroom teachers turned principals are Lions themselves.  They believed in the calling so much that they didn’t want to just affect a single classroom culture, but an entire school community culture.   

As educators, we have to come to grips that we are working inside of a broken system.  We have lawmakers making laws about education who have never taught a day in their lives.  We are blamed for the downfall of society at times; we are told we only partake in this mission because we get summers off.  We get beat up in the news, on social media, and social spheres.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Our schools are poor.  We have broken desks, perhaps as many as forty students smooshed into a classroom that was built for no more than 25 kids.  We don’t get paid the way we should.  Our technology may or may not be working that day.  The air conditioning or heat may or may not be on that day.  We plan into the night, grade in the wee hours of the morning, and toss and turn about our students, and how they are doing.  We often feel the weight of the world on our shoulders.  We get used to a certain administration, flowing like water, and then the district changes our entire admin team, and we feel utterly hopeless and scared.  We lose baby teachers at an alarming rate; they change our standards every other year.  They force high stakes testing on us and our students while government and district leaders use data against us as we teach our asses off sometimes in the middle of a global pandemic! The pendulum in education swings left to right, from up to down, and to the moon and back.  

“We want you to do this program.”  

“Nevermind, that program doesn’t work.” 

“Now, we want you to do this program.” 

“Wait, wait!”  

The state department of education says, “Now, we want you to fill out this form, add these pages of data, and implement this new three year program, and learn a new set of evaluation standards. At the same time, maintain impeccable classroom management and demonstrate daily innovative teaching.  Also, we will slash your funding every year until you feel like you are bleeding out.  Don’t forget to strive for a balanced life, maintain a healthy family, enjoy personal friendships, and practice self-care!” 

How about a nervous FREAKING BREAKDOWN?  Whew!  

“Circle of influence, Katie.” Circle of influence.  I can hear my dad repeating this mantra to me.  “What can I control?”    

Meditation is new to me.  I recommend it.  I feel a bit silly when I take part, but I’m starting to really enjoy it.  I try to take ten minutes a day to meditate.  Sometimes it happens; sometimes it doesn’t.  I’m busy.  My own children are living their best lives and I’m their Uber driver.  As a professional development leader and instructional coach, I teach my new teachers about the circle of influence.  If you don’t focus on what you CAN control, you will burn out in this career, and quickly.  I’m an empath.  I feel others’ pain, and I want to fix it.  I have wanted to fix broken things, people, and systems from the time I came out of the womb.  

I regularly remind myself of the following:  I can control my attitude.  I know in my heart that this career is my calling, and I must stay and fight the good fight.  #kidsdeserveit  I can control my classroom, and the energy, passion and enthusiasm I have for my subject and my students.  I can decide to put the grading away, and be a mom.  I can put the planning aside, and be a wife, friend, daughter, sister, and human being.  If my classroom doesn’t have what I believe it should, I can apply for grants.  I can keep my body healthy, so I can continue to move the way that I want.  I can also stuff myself with pizza and go to sleep at 8:30 p.m. on a Friday night.  If a colleague is mad at me or upset, I can choose kindness over anger, grace over the desire to be right.  I can pursue professional development that uplifts me and helps me to hone my teaching craft.  I can relentlessly promote the positive on my campus.  I can, and you can too!  

“Circle of Influence.”     

Katie Kinder

Author & Speaker

Katie Kinder has been an educator since 2006. She believes that life is fun, and learning should most definitely be fun. A teacher of the year, top five district finalist, OKC Rotary Teacher of the Month, professional development leader, and a top 100 educator in Oklahoma on Twitter, Katie has learned a trick or two in the classroom.

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How do we engage 21st century learners? How do we reach our underserved populations? How do we keep up with an evolving education sphere? Come on in, have some fun, and hook your students from day one. Learn engagement strategies, classroom management, delve into relationships and rapport in a digital world. Lean into relevant content; we cannot and should not teach the way we did even ten years ago. 

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