This is going to sound way more boring than it was, but here goes:
Over the summer, in an effort to better understand my role in the grants office, I read books including “Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager” and “Meeting Design.”
In those books, I learned some valuable tips, like this one:
- The most important job of the project manager is to make sure the team is clear on ROLES and GOALS. The rhyme makes it easy to remember.
And this one:
- We can roll our eyes at the thought of another staff meeting, but what if we approached our routine meetings as opportunities to build better relationships — a way to change the culture and model the value of lifelong learning?
Too boring? OK, maybe. But here’s the twist:
One of the best books I read about project management was really a book about … Hollywood.
In high school, I dreamed of becoming a film director … without a true understanding of what this meant. I’ve always been fascinated by their process, even more so after I’ve worked in organizations full of creative people with their own ideas. How do these leaders galvanize so many talented people to work together toward a common vision?
So I read “The Director’s Journey: The Creative Collaboration Between Directors, Writers & Actors” by Mark Travis.
The more I learn about what film directors do, the more I realize I can actually be one … just without the Hollywood part.
Very much echoing that project management tip about ROLES and GOALS, Travis explains that the director has only two roles.
They should: (1) Formulate a vision of the film and (2) constantly communicate the vision.
Travis explains: “The director is a communicator, an inspirer, a visionary. The main thing we do as directors is we talk and we talk and we talk. Consequently the most important skill for a director to develop is the art of communication.” (7)
Ultimately, the director must constantly communicate and rely on her relationships with the creative team to complete the project — ergo, collaboration.
We always hear about the importance of collaboration — in fact, it’s one of Virginia Western’s institutional goals — but do we truly understand what that means?
Travis defines collaboration NOT as unquestioning support; instead, it’s “a journey wherein the team members share a vision, but are willing to challenge and be challenged with the keen awareness that the end result can far exceed the efforts of any one individual.” (134)
Now here’s where it gets interesting.
The author’s first two rules for working with the screenwriter are these:
- Express genuine enthusiasm.
- Identify the key relationships in the script. Travis explains: “Relationships are at the core of every story. Without relationships we have no story, and in every script there are key relationships that are the foundation of the story.” (47)
Huh. Now where have I heard about the importance of relationships before? 🙂
But going back to that first rule: Express genuine enthusiasm.
Travis says directors must establish mutual respect and trust with the writer from the beginning, where no one dominates. “It must be a relationship based on the notion that through shared mutual interest, passion, desire, and collaboration, you will be able to achieve a result that surpasses either of your individual abilities. This relationship needs to be initiated and maintained by you, the director.” (44)
I think the last part is key: Maintaining the relationship is the director’s role — her responsibility.
I think a lot about taking responsibility with my own daily interactions. I make a conscious effort to greet my daughter, my husband, and my spoiled chihuahuas with genuine enthusiasm. Same with contractors and delivery drivers who visit our home … I just try not to be too weird about it (I also overtip).
I’m trying to mimic the feeling I had every time Ms. Shopper, my first-grade teacher, welcomed me into her classroom 35 years ago. Or when my daughter’s first-grade teacher hosted one of her first pandemic Zoom sessions, a year ago this month, when our worlds were falling apart. I quietly cried in the next room as her familiar, cheerful voice soothed the kids … and this anxious mommy.
Which brings us right back to our own realm: the classroom.
In “The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion,” Sarah Rose Cavanagh discusses the phenomenon of emotional contagion. She quotes Haim Ginott, a teacher and psychologist, who wrote in 1972:
“I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather.” (48)
We can each take responsibility for the “weather” in our classrooms, in our Zoom rooms, wherever we gather.
Mark Travis, the film director who works with actors — those masters of emotion — writes:
“Your energy is always infectious. If you are down and depressed and feeling negative, the actors will pick up on it and it will affect them. If you are up and bubbly, then they will have a tendency to become lighter as well. Your attitude is one of the greatest directorial tools you have.” (251)
No matter our role — instructor, supervisor, teammate, parent — our attitude, our emotions, our ENTHUSIASM — can make a difference, especially during a time of crisis and uncertainty.
We each have the power to make the weather.
What’s in our forecast?
— Stephanie Ogilvie Seagle, March 2021