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A child’s first steps, precarious, hesitant, are utterly remarkable to behold.  I try to puzzle out the expression on my daughter’s face as she waddles toward me–secure in the belief I will pick her up when she falls, but with a hint of the kamikaze implied by the twinkle in her eye.  At least, this is what I imagine she might be thinking.  Perhaps she’s as stunned as we are that she is already capable of this feat.

Despite celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary last Monday, I feel as though our family (my wife and I, and our two daughters) is in its infant stages. We are blessed with incredibly strong ties to the families from which we’ve come, and these relationships inform who we are every second of the day, but I’m also desirous of a familial identity that is ours–is unique to the four of us.

What defines us and characterizes us as a family is undoubtedly still evolving, and in a state of constant flux.  The emotional climate in our home, the physical environment we affect and improve, and the joys and sadnesses we share impact us as individuals and as a family unit.  In our routines, our recreational time, and even our slumber, we are intimately connected to each other in ways that far exceed all other interactions we enjoy.  Of these truths, I am convinced, and thus, I value these relationships above all else.

I often contemplate how well my wife and children are convinced (at their varying levels of understanding) of my commitment, not only to their well-being, but to the overall enrichment of the life we share.  I have much to learn about how to do this well.

I can be certain that on Sunday evening, our family took one baby step forward…together!  Even though our 11-month-old daughter has been toddling around furniture and crawling at the speed of light for some time now, it’s difficult to escape the excitement resulting from the first time it happens unaided–without something to hold onto or offer support (however real or imagined).  Following her beloved bath time, and her ritual shrugging-off of the towel, she broke form and walked across her room and into my arms. Our home literally erupted with triumphant praise!  The cheers prompted a repeat performance, and our appreciation did not wane at second viewing. Smiles. Laughter.  Joy.  Pride.

In that moment, a truth long-held was reiterated and spotlighted for me once again: a strong family shares and participates in the successes of its members.  Like most (I’d imagine) I am better at recalling memorable moments than listing qualities that define our family, but I would be thrilled for this to become our signature trait.  I know that Shannah did not take those steps ‘unaided’; she was supported and encouraged the instant we apprehended her willingness to take the risk.  We didn’t strategize or discuss amongst ourselves the best way to incite positive results, but reacted naturally and in unity because we love her.  Our 3-year-old, who often seems perplexed by our celebration of her sister’s tiniest advancements, was ecstatic before our own responses conveyed to her that she should be.  Truly, family at its finest!

As I anticipate joining the staff and students of a new school in the fall, I wonder if there is any application for such a principle in our academic communities.  Awards assemblies and ‘job well done’ stickers aside, what could our school communities accomplish if we were more deliberate about seeking to uncover the passions held by others and championing these pursuits?  Is it fair to suggest that any time we are living in community, we would do well to share and participate in the successes of its members?  Of course, it may come naturally to cheer on a baby taking her first steps, but as an educator and a parent, I worry about the times when I withhold my praise because the ‘success’ isn’t quite what had envisioned.  Perhaps there are even more times when I don’t recognize the success at all!

In the past year, I’ve discovered that the Personal Learning Network (PLN) model, made possible by social networks like Twitter, succeeds mightily in this regard.  Many active participants in these online communities are genuinely interested in connecting with others on a personal level–where encouragement and the sharing of experiences can have the highest impact on personal growth.  (If you are an educator and you have yet to begin establishing a PLN of your own, I would definitely suggest that you seek out available resources about how to get started!)  The result is that we are strengthened collectively as an educational community through the spreading of ideas, healthy discussion/debate about best practices, and ongoing support for challenges faced inside and outside of the classroom.  I believe we are drawn to these relationships because they fulfill a powerful (dare I say, familial?) role in our professional lives. Educators at their ‘finest’?

As my family grows and matures, I trust that we will encounter many more transcendent moments where we operate as one–as a family should.  A few of these will seem as effortless as the one we shared last Sunday evening; many more will be the result of focused attempts to support and love each other, to succeed together.  The latter will be no less beautiful.

Find out what those around you are passionate about, and how you can participate in their success, then purpose to do so.  I guarantee that the community/family of which you are a part will be better for it.