I arrived to school earlier than usual to shake the nerves and calm my mind. My end of the year evaluation was minutes away with my new-to-me principal. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement. As usual, to prepare for my evaluation, I submitted evidence of my performance that were written in detail and thoroughly reflective of my professional self. Every year during evaluation time, I feel as if I am trying to prove myself, to show that I am worthy of an acceptable rating, almost like that piece of paper is my only merit of professional validation.

This year was no exception. Not only did all educational professionals have the added stress the pandemic placed on our shoulders and in our classrooms, but I had also decided to transfer back to the elementary setting after eleven years at the secondary level. The last time I taught elementary, I was a fresh college graduate trying to figure out my art teacher identity, and this transfer again had me feeling like it all over again because my art teacher identity had evolved over nearly two decades in the classroom.

For me, this meant that I bid farewell to the school family I had dedicated over a decade of my career, left one large classroom of my own to instead traveling to three schools teaching art from a cart, and more than quadrupled my total roster size. Despite the timing of the pandemic and how it impacted my role as an educator, I was desperate for a change. I knew in my heart that I needed to be surrounded and welcomed by artists who truly wanted to create for the sake of creating. Switching to elementary was my answer.

My principal logged into the virtual meeting, and my gut instincts kicked in, ready to make my case for approval. I was prepared to give my elevator pitch about Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) and how that philosophy, paired with Choice-Based Art Education (CBAE), was different from what may have previously been established. I was ready to refer back to my evidence to demonstrate how my approach met all of the standards. To my surprise, my principal began the conversation unlike any other evaluation from my past. She shared how much she had been looking forward to this meeting. I’m sure that the confusion on my smiling face was apparent. For a moment I wondered if she thought I was actually someone else even though we were the only ones on the computer screen.

Without going into too much detail, my principal, in a short period of time, cracked my code. She saw within me the potential I had only recognized for myself a few months prior to that moment. Some of her comments made me cry tears of joy. Joy for my hard work being recognized, joy that someone actually felt inspired by what I was doing, joy of feeling humbled, and most importantly, joy because I felt validation for an emergent approach to education that has become my personal passion.

I left that meeting with the momentum I needed to begin lighting my life on fire. Since then, my mind has been flooded with creative thoughts and ideas, but I no longer allow them to simply stay for a while, then disappear in a fleeting moment’s notice. Instead, when those ideas enter, I take action and bring them to life.

Validating someone’s personal ideas is powerful. As educational leaders, whether in your classroom, school, district, community or home, I challenge you to leverage your role as administrator, principal, teacher, support staff, department leader, colleague, or friend to lift overs up and make space for others to feel acceptance.

How does validation happen? Try these ideas to support others through validation:

  • Live by the motto Lift others up, don’t put them down. I’m pretty certain that I heard Michelle Obama say this, and it has stuck. Shine positivity on those around you and keep the negativity from entering the situation.
  • Truly listen to those you lead. Your words and actions make a difference. Invite conversations that will show how much you value their thoughts and ideas.
  • Notice the strengths of others, and then take action to empower them. A simple statement such as, “I knew I had the right person for this job. Your work looks outstanding, thank you” can go a long way.
  • Reaffirm others’ ideas by incorporating them into the routine or structure of the learning environment. If you notice strong leadership skills in your learner, ask them to take charge of a responsibility that applies their ideas, and then show them gratitude for adding to value to the overall work of the team.
  • Ask for feedback regarding learning activities, projects, a new school wide program, etc. Read it. If revisions need to be made to improve, take time to implement the revisions, and overtly share the suggestions provided and how you will integrate those ideas into the revised plan. Be sure to thank those who gave feedback and describe how it will help moving forward.

Validation comes in all shapes and sizes. It must be personalized for everyone you lead. Validation can build a positive culture of learning and working, especially when immersed in a learner-centered classroom. When you practice validation, those you lead will want to be a part of your team, serving others with their unique gifts because they feel a sense of value, purpose, and that their ideas matter.

How are you practicing the act of validation in your daily life or workplace? What small changes could you make to begin validating others to cultivate a purpose-driven environment?