Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Making Connections

This past week my friend Karen and I had the privilege of attending the Conscious Discipline Summer Institute (#CD1B2014) in Orlando, FL.  We were supposed to be a 3 member party, but our friend Rhonda couldn't attend because she's currently doing chemotherapy.   In her place she sent "Flat Rhonda" and we spent the week taking pictures to document Flat Rhonda's adventures.  

Since I've been back I've had numerous family members and friends ask me about the trip.  All I seem to be able to say is that it was truly an amazing and life-changing experience.  There are so many things I could share, but I wanted to start with one of my big "a-ha"s of the week - the power of connection. 

I've known for some time that it's important to build connections with my students, their parents, and other staff members, but several things happened in the past week that really drove home the importance of connecting to members of the community.  The conference itself took place the at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista, and the schedule and location allowed for us to walk across the street to Downtown Disney each day for lunch and dinner.  Our CD family enjoyed exploring different restaurants at dinner, but typically ate lunch at the Wolfgang Puck Express because we could get in and out fairly quickly.  On Wednesday we made a point to connect with our waiter, Omar - we verbally noticed the ways he helped us and thanked him by name.  We noticed that Omar kept returning to our table, offering to refill our drinks (despite it being a self-serve situation), agreeing to take a group picture for us, and in general making sure we enjoyed our meal. 

Two days later we returned to the same restaurant for lunch.  Shortly after we were seated Omar came over and told us that he was actually working a section on the other side of the restaurant, but that he was glad to see us again.  Here's the kicker - because we'd built that connection Omar repeatedly came over to our table (which was, you'll remember, not in his section) to check on us, refill our drinks, etc.  We never even knew who our actual server was that day, but Omar made sure we still had a pleasant meal.  And that day before we left we took one more picture - this time with Omar holding Flat Rhonda and right in the center of the group!

We thought it was a cool experience, but maybe just proof that Omar was a great guy, until we had another similar experience.  Five of us had gone to Portobello (delicious Italian food!) on Tuesday night.  The restaurant was packed, so we were told that we could wait an hour for a table or go see if we could find room at the bar.  After asking a couple if they'd be willing to scoot over so we could sit together we found ourselves lining one side of the bar, ordering water, and glancing over our menus.  To say that the bartender, Kat, was swamped is an understatement.  And yet we still made a point to practice our noticing skills and connect with her. 

Four days later on the last night of the conference we found ourselves back at Portobello.  We had no problems getting a table and were trying to decide on what to try for our second meal there when we heard, "Hey, I remember you guys!"  We looked up and there stood our waitress for the evening, Kat!  Not only did she remember us, but she could tell us what each of us had ordered on Tuesday night and made recommendations on what to order and how to alter it ("the lasagna is my favorite, but I like to ask them add the pulled pork from the gnocchi on top of it").  Again, we took our picture with Kat that evening before we left.  

I could stop my story here, but you know that 3 is the magic number and I have one more connection to share with you.  Saturday afternoon my friend Karen and I had plenty of opportunity to practice our composure as we waited for a cab to take us to the airport, felt that our lives were at risk as the cab driver tried to text on his phone while he went 50mph around terminal A twice despite the fact that we needed to be at terminal B, and all together worried about missing our 2:25pm flight home.  After finally making it into the airport we learned the flight was delayed, which was a blessing since it then took us 30 minutes to get through security and over to our gate.  

When we finally boarded the plane we were tired and yet excited from all we'd learned that week.  We'd been settled a few minutes when someone rushed onto the plane, wedged her carry-on bag into the overhead compartment, and slipped into the seat beside me.  Upon glancing her way we realized that I was sitting beside June Atkinson, the NC State Superintendent of Public Schools.  She was very gracious to us (even though I'm sure we seemed like two crazy teachers who were way to excited about her sitting next to us).  When she asked what we'd been doing in Florida we shared a little bit about Conscious Discipline.  Then we asked if she'd be willing to take a picture with Flat Rhonda.  A few pictures and an explanation about Flat Rhonda later, and Dr. Atkinson asked us for Rhonda's address.  

Today Rhonda left a message on my voicemail. She'd checked her mail and found a note from Dr. Atkinson, encouraging her in her fight against cancer and thanking her for her service to her students. 

It's all about the power of connection.

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