As I am contemplating about everything I have done over the first six months of the Bush Fellowship, I am reminded of the unthinkable blessing and gratitude. Until a year ago, even the thought of being recognized as a Bush Fellow almost intimidated me. This was because I came to this country dreaming of nothing more than a safe place to call home. Life before America, as illegal alien and refugee, was difficult. Amidst the difficulty, life has taught me about the value and beauty of uncertainties. Not knowing what tomorrow will bring or if I will live to see tomorrow, I am certain to live fully in the present. Realizing that if I am to live to the fullest, I cannot live alone. Living among people and working with others make life much merrier. We are social beings and we need one another to survive. I never thought of being a positional leader, because growing up the concept of positional leadership was tainted with negative images and bad experiences.
Then, in my late teen I had the opportunity to resettle, to come and live in Minnesota, a place I now called home for the past 17 years or so. Here, in this region, dreams are encouraged to grow and a journey toward effective leadership is supported by many people and community organizations. When I was young, in a crowded refugee camp, opportunities were scared. Moreover, it's extremely rare for a group of people or organizations to provide financial support for individual leadership development without being closely affiliated with them. It's devastating for individuals who aspired to develop their leadership capacity. But the experience of applying to a Bush Fellowship reassured me that, in this culture, individual leadership potential is embraced and promoted, even if we are not closely affiliated with the organization or foundation. But the sheer numbers of application and the nature of its competitiveness could be dreadful. Most people were defeated and gave up long before they could begin the process. I was a little intimidated, but I tried to gather every ounce of confident before I made the decision of applying. I am glad I set aside the thought of being defeated before I submitted the application. I believe being our own authentic self is the best recipe for sharing our story. Everyone's journey is unique and although we can emulate others, but no amount of fabrication can substitute our worth. One of the things I have learned as being part of the Bush Fellow is to be our own authentic self. To be recognized as one of the Bush Fellows brought overwhelming joy to my family and community. I now have the opportunity to continue be a role model to countless people from refugee and non-refugee communities.
During the Fellowship retreat in April, it was very helpful to meet other Bush Fellows, aspired leaders in our region, and to be inspired by their unique journey. One of the key concepts that I got away from this retreat was related to the concept of self-care and self-reflection. Leadership is a long journey, not a sprint. Therefore, we shouldn't exhaust ourselves to the point where there's nothing left in store or in reserve. The idea of self-care shouldn't be minimized. Especially as we are working in this diverse and conflicting political and social landscape, where we are demanded to give our all, taking the time away for self rejuvenation is an important process to maintain leadership effectiveness. In addition, having the time for self reflection and create a solitude space is equally important. In the past ten years or so I have worked tirelessly for my immediate refugee community without considering taking a pause. Many times, without realizing it, I dragged myself just to gain an inch and at that point I became ineffective. Self-care and self-reflection are intertwined. By caring our physical and emotional beings, we give ourselves to regain strength and a new opportunity to soar.
Since the beginning of the fellowship, I have completed three classes that count toward my education leadership program. Every class, although the title might be different, the core concept is linked back to the foundation of being a servant leadership. My ultimate goal is to someday become an educator and education leader in our urban public schools setting. One of the concepts I learned thus far is the importance of authentic and sincere listening. To be effective in leading a complex school community/environment, we need to equip with non-violent communication skills and a desire to be an authentic listener. We cannot lead effectively if we don't understand or see the whole picture of the issues/problems. Likewise, to understand or see things clearly, we need to employ authentic listening skills. Listen to understand, not merely showing a gesture of listening and let the words passed through. This bring me to the concept of nonviolence communication. The practice requires two ways communication, sender and receiver. Once we have discovered our feelings and needs, it’s important to use a clear language and expression to communicate to others. Likewise, it is equally important to listen to the feelings and needs of other people. As the education landscape has become increasingly diverse with conflicting needs, the importance of a clear communication cannot be minimized. School leaders have the opportunities and challenges to tackle both personal and community needs through a clear and direct communication. Nonviolence communication is not limited only to the realm of education; rather it is the concept that can be used in every area of our personal and professional life.
To be effective school leaders, having a passion may be a prerequisite to success, but it alone is not enough. Passion or heart needs to be combined with skills or head. Another area of learning that I enjoy immensely is in the realm of school laws or legal issues in school. I have learned that school leaders are dealing with various entities and lawsuit can be costly. Moreover, it can create chaos, uncertainty and reduce the confident of the school community. To prevent unwanted lawsuit to occur, understanding the legal issues, local, state and federal laws is vital. By understanding the foundation of school laws, school leaders have more opportunity to create a welcoming school environment that prepare children to be successful adults. If unpreventable incident to occur, school leaders are equipped with the skills to resolve or normalize the situation. In our city and in our school district, a large percentage of families and students are former refugees and immigrants. I hope by taking these classes and acquiring this new knowledge will prepare me to be effective advocate for our community in my future leadership journey.
Thinking ahead to my dissertation, I am ever more convinced that I want to do a research on Student with Limited and Interrupted Education (SLIFE). If we are to succeed together as a community, we need to learn more about how to support SLIFE students in their educational journey. SLIFE students today will be adults tomorrow and for the sake of our future, we need to work together.
Bush Fellowship has provided me with financial resources and mentorship support that I can grow to become an effective leader. Because of the financial support, I have one thing less to worry as I am embarking on my educational leadership journey. In addition, the mentorship is really helpful as it challenges me to think and plan my future course strategically. Lastly, I will have the opportunity to take an education/learning trip to Burma/Myanmar and Thailand to meet with education leaders, community advocate and students to hear their stories. I am looking forward to share my stories with them and hopefully to inspire and be inspired by this upcoming trip. This will mark my first trip back to Burma/Thailand since I left the country 17 years ago.