The Heart

I had the honor to have Dr. Leighangela Brady – Superintendent at National School District to launch PilialohaNow – Building Sustainability Podcast Youth Indicators Series in May of 2020. It is a continued honor to have her assist with the weblogs a year later, and a book series coming soon in 2023. 

At the beginning of the interview, I wanted to know the state of National School District coming out of 2020 into 2021 distant learning, the challenges, successes, and concerns.

I consider Dr. Brady not only a mentor and supporter of City In Design – Youth Indicators™, but it confirms my belief mentors choose each other.

Right away, we discussed potential ways in which youth voices are heard, the ‘voice climate’ today, and what it looks like moving forward.

We talked about her experience with students leading the ban of straws in K – 12 schools while removing spork packets in districts. As students continually show, if we give them the tools, they can achieve insurmountable leadership skills with positive change, locally and globally, in the most substantive years, to carry on for their lifetimes and society’s future.

Of course, we discussed how sustainability efforts are reverting back, such as straws and spork packets, because of hygiene concerns in schools, but that will be new challenges students will have to face confidently because of their innovative minds.

But still, both of us were shaking our heads, more so, about how it is more expensive to have a spork packet without a straw.

I continuously research the history of business supply chains and foresight built without sustainability, social sciences, mental health, youth voices, and in this instance, during a pandemic, you can say heart. ‘Value Supply Chain’ and ‘Sustainable Supply Chain,’ much like mental wellness in a learner society, youth voices and leadership with heart, is the way of the future. I quickly, after our interview, started researching about the spork packet and straws. Due to my growing knowledge of societies value supply chains, lacking indicators, lends itself to inabilities of successful sustainability. Can it be repaired after the fact?

I compare it to how ‘the most’ unhealthy substances (such as corn syrup) are subsidized, especially foods and substances harmful to children’s health. With long-term bioaccumulation threats. Often subsidies lack the real ‘value supply chain’ we need to adequately represent the current and future generation of public health.

Shifting back on course, my question then was, what role do students play within distant learning and in moving forward to foster their voice, leadership, and growth?

The youth typically are the resilient ones, especially in climates such as a pandemic, and they teach us. So how do we ensure we continue to provide them the tools they need to thrive, while they teach us the manners in which they best lead in today’s sustainable environment and in the future. Which most importantly includes innovation.

Dr. Brady and I hashed out the ability of youth voice and leadership, how to incorporate more platforms within our communities and schools. We proceeded to collaborate on ideas of youth and sustainability. Brainstorming thoughts on how communities and education can prioritize youth voices and what can be done at different grade levels. She reiterated student-led leadership projects, particularly the importance of being developed specifically for 6th grade.

I mean, think of when you were in 6th grade? Student leadership projects were essential, maybe often lacking? Projects fostered at an age where youth are continually discovering their potential, challenging their leadership. But with continued guidance from mentors becomes the dream scenario for encouraging their essential voice.

But is it too hard to accomplish? Small sub-leadership groups within our schools. I believe a successful scenario is easily attainable if we listen to one another, learn from each other, and teach together.

Dr. Brady reinforced the key in the current pandemic climate is to “become flexible and address surrounding needs.” Districts and cities have strategic and long-range sustainability plans, but we must “learn in each new environment and access new tools, while in motion to grow in innovation.”

As I think of all the ways students and teachers are having to adapt and learn, I am not only enamored by Dr. Brady’s annual ‘themes for her district,’ but how she has used them to inspire, motivate, educate and execute her vision of “Exceptionally Prepared Learners, Innovative and Compassionate World Citizens.”

Without more prolonging, I know many readers would like to learn more about Dr. Brady’s current theme. Well, she put the “heart’ at the center of it all,” which is a resounding theme by the district, and I am confident to say if by sheer force of nature in my opinion nationally and globally.

Make sure you listen to Dr. Brady’s Launch Episode 1 of PilialohaNow – Building Sustainability, City In Design – Youth Indicators™ Series to learn about her themes such as ‘BE EXCEPTIONAL, RE, and WE! If you want to know the ‘power of themes’ in education, you definitely want to listen to this episode!

We continued to talk about the powerful impact themes can have on schools, and examples of the positive role they play in her district, especially with information sharing, collaboration, healthy peer competition, and student innovation. Particularly how it ties to storytelling, another deep thread in our conversation, which includes my first two podcast series, as it naturally continues on with every guest. I kept thinking how amazing it was Dr. Brady helped pave that in her school district and also in launching my podcast. A blessing for our collaboration and hopefully helpful to our listeners.

What Dr. Brady said next was not only the catch phase to put my brain into a frenzy of happiness, but she stated the “best leaders are able to tell the story and help individuals see themselves within the story.” Which we know is so powerful and a servant leader characteristic.

Dr. Brady in her welcome back message to the district for 2020/2021 school year, expressed the challenges. “The health concerns of the coronavirus, racial injustices, and social isolation, to name a few.” She also highlighted the good things such as “more quality time with loved ones,” in addition, slowing “commercialism made us more appreciative of the things we have.”

She reiterated, “this year, more than ever, we’ll be focused on staying safe amidst the pandemic while fostering a welcoming and inclusive school district.” The biggest takeaway for me in learning about her theme this year’ THE HEART’ and knowing its core is “taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally, starting with our hearts.”

The heart really is symbolic. Not just because it is February! But it ties into the timing of this weblog launch, just as PilialohaNow and NSDNow did, and most especially our passion for youth leadership and voices inspirationally aligning with sustainability.
While I continued to have goosebumps on my arms, she discussed personal and professional insight into how “The Heart” came to light, expressing her message how “to be heart-centered, we must build from our strengths. We know how to BE EXCEPTIONAL! We must be respectful, resilient, and responsive. We know “Relationships Matter.” Being heart-centered is more than just connecting individuals, it’s about connecting hearts.”

Dr. Brady is not only passionate in her life work for youth, leadership, and sustainability, but to see her efforts as actual proof, you know it is all ‘heart’ when the root of it all is to “show our students just how much we care about them.”

Her vision of “Exceptionally Prepared Learners, Innovative and Compassionate World Citizens,” is based on her reiteration of our first podcast episode ‘to act local, think global’ while building on world sustainability goals and ensuring youth voice and leadership.

She quotes, “this year, we will be putting our hearts at the center of it all, and they say that hindsight is 20/20!” And no doubt, we will look back one day while seeing this year as collective hearts carrying us through a very challenging time.

What impressed me then, as it does now, is how Dr. Brady takes a look at the physical/emotional part of our hearts and then, with the innovation of virtual, combines them.

When I asked her what has been the most important thing this past year to reflect on, she mentions how educators have had to rethink, and in an expedited manner, shifting education and teaching processes, to accommodate the students and families.

You have to take a step back, stop and rethink—basically, one of her core concepts to INNOVATE. Teachers are having to figure out new concepts and often learn with the students.

She mentioned the big question, which is a constant: “how to get students to stay focused and engaged?”

She referred back again to ‘small groups and innovation.’ This is honestly how youth in schools and even adults in organizations are actual evidenced-based proof that collaboration in small groups is really where innovation is.

In my thoughts, small groups allow for more listening of each idea, learning, and brainstorming in effective ways while executing innovation more readily.

Dr. Brady points out that this is especially important in virtual environments to continue “Exceptionally Prepared Learners and Compassionate World Citizens,” especially during a pandemic and while having access to innovative technology. She has seen small groups’ effectiveness within the classroom, assisting with virtual learning’s enhanced success.

We discussed the impact of the pandemic on education, from parent unemployment, internet, and device access, to multiple kids in the same household at various grade levels all online, in addition to parent supervision discretion.

My question: what does it take from everyone, from the student to the family, to the parent, to the classroom, to the teacher, to the administrator, and to government support?
Dr. Brady resonates “compassion!”

Not just compassion but sympathy and empathy, and she messages that “compassion is empathy, but having the drive to do something about it!”

This then presented the global goal lens as front and center!

Dr. Brady expressed that ‘the heart’ is not a tagline; it is a feeling, a feeling that symbolizes health.

We then discussed the necessity of inclusion and equity and how BLM opened up many inequities, gender, and socioeconomics. And how the heart is synonymous with the heart of self, and the heart of others.

“We really are having to grasp becoming welcoming citizens with love and heart.”

This aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 17, and with caring, loving, quality education where youth can thrive in voice and leadership, all the goals are aligned.

My question, of course, is the role of themes in education?
Dr. Brady expressed theme is all about drive!

She also discussed the challenges to achieving global sustainable development goals, and how covid-19 creates poverty situations curbing attainability.

I retouched on our podcast launch episode, how in the wake of covid, she had devices ready for every student, and a preparedness plan that had already been in place, as well as, internet access in partnerships with Verizon.

The fact National School District was prepared, my thoughts went straight to how many districts in San Diego and the Nation weren’t fortunate enough to be prepared? What did that statistic look like? Definitely a case study in waiting for upcoming doctorate students.

A key point Dr. Brady mentions, was how everything took twice as long, and how pace can create undo stress.

Meanwhile, as she discussed this hurdle in education, I kept thinking about how slowing down, and appreciation with family was a key root of today’s conversation, and how the pandemic slowed us down, but we need to speed up and revamp our response systems in health, environment, education, and politics.

Dr. Brady read my mind and explained eb and flow, and from her role, it is about knowing when to push and when to wait.

Since the beginning of time, the eb and flow, the yin and yang, the flow of society and life, and the fact we are all interconnected. This is why supply chains are often faulty and incomplete. They don’t consider the interconnectedness on a multitude of ‘sciences.’

Dr. Brady lastly expressed the importance of timelines, projects, and keeping up with change during covid.

Her concern is consistently figuring out how to reach the UN Sustainable Development goals. Again, coming back to how global, national and local partnerships work, and if broken down into smaller individualized working/collaboration groups, as referring to the Be Exceptional campaign, a healthy competitive nature, and personalized incentives for expectations, can hopefully provide the tools needed.

That combines thoughts of individualism vs. partnerships. Which is a ‘Change in Culture.’ Which is a whole other conversation when leading into my new series coming out soon, ‘Culture of Repair.’

My closing thoughts were healthy competition and its existence in capitalist individualism vs. sustainable, innovative small groups/partnerships!

Is it possible?

Lastly, we closed up with the importance of ‘mental health’ in everything!

Mental health, youth voices in leadership, will be a common thread in the PilialohaNow – Building Sustainability, City In Design – Youth Indicators™ guest episode ‘weblog’ series. The discussion of themes and the power of storytelling is very important in the current and future series ahead.

A personal thank you to Dr. Brady’s insight, passion, and mentoring youth and others, including myself, reinvigorating innovation in our youth, spreading ‘compassion’, and, most importantly, ‘heart.’

Not only is it an honor, but I cannot believe I was able to interview Dr. Brady and learn the inner depth of her heart theme, including personal paths, while being able to release it in February of 2021.

Here’s to small groups and innovation for 2021, collaboration, learning, youth voices, and leadership, while really listening to each other, as well as our’ hearts,’ while achieving sustainable goals for current and future generations as we are all interconnected!

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