Sheena Howard is on an international mission to promote Love-Led Leadership in nursing. She is also a Canadian school nurse who works in a small private school. We first met through The International Network of Nurse Leaders, when we were both part of a groundbreaking summit called “Not Just a Nurse Day.” Her enthusiasm, creativity, and infectious positivity caught my attention. Sheena is disrupting the status quo in nursing and I am honored to share her story on this week’s Relentless School Nurse blog!
Here in Ontario, Canada, our elementary and secondary school teachers are rotating strikes. I work as a Mental Health and Primary Care nurse at a private school and while our students are still in class, my boys will be out of class for another two days this week. Personally, I must admit I am feeling really bloody tired of it and want my children back in class. Professionally, I am stressed because I need to find childcare and if I can’t, I will need to stay home. This doesn’t look great and I have students who rely on me to support them. I felt frustrated with the teachers because it’s affecting my life and my kids’ education. I wanted to write a few snarky social media rants. When I get like that it’s my cue to stop and go back to my lens of love-led leadership. Nurses AND teachers work in systems that prize efficiency over humanity and equate love to weakness and it suffocates our ability to shine in our vocation and do our best for the humans we care for. Here is what I came to.
Authenticity promotes dignity
Nurses are required to respect and promote the authentic expression of every patient. They come to us seeking validation for their felt differences and if we told a patient that the core of who they are does not fall within the range of normal, their ability to live with dignity would be compromised and thus, their health. Teachers live to support students to engage the world as their authentic self and build lessons around supporting and validating this self-discovery. If teachers denied students the chance to engage authentically, the students’ dignity would be trampled on. Nurses and teachers are the biggest protectors of dignity.
Passion sparks creativity
Sweet Jesus – if you want to see a passionate group of humans look no further than nurses and teachers! We all got into our professions because we are wildly devoted and dedicated to helping, guiding and leading. When nurses’ passion is ignited and encouraged we use our creativity to problem-solve with our patients and find solutions to complex problems and our patients are healthier and safer. In my experience, when a teacher’s passion is celebrated my sons’ have thrived in their classes and I have thrived in their classes. I became a better problem solver and critical thinker and am helping others to be healthier because of teachers. I wouldn’t be a nurse if it wasn’t for teachers.
Vulnerability is courage
Shutting down our vulnerability to take risks, learning new things and experiment to support our patients and our students comes from being exposed to fear-based or shame-based leadership. Nurses are courageous when they risk their job or their status on a team in this kind of work place culture by advocating for patient safety or for a patient’s need. Or when they strike. Teachers are brave when they advocate for smaller class sizes, face-to-face teaching and a cost-of-living adjustment. They are vulnerable when they strike to protect our children’s education. Nurses and teachers make themselves vulnerable to vitriol and that is courage.
Humility creates quality
Humility requires a great deal of self-reflection and loads of deep breathing to remember it’s not about you. When nurses are humble, we hear our patients and their caregivers better and we learn from them about their lived expertise and become active in supporting patients to be involved in their own care. This leads to quality patient and provider experience and safer patient care. When teachers are humble and listen and learn from their students and parents their students feel seen and heard and believed and teachers work hard to incorporate these learning to provide a quality, diversified learning environment. Student and patients realize that professionals can learn from them and that creates empowerment unmatched in other environments.
Accountability prevents fear
I don’t know all of the ways that teachers are expected to hold themselves accountable for their personal and professional leadership style but I suspect that it’s like nurses. Nurses are expected to lead at the bedside and in the boardrooms of healthcare and to understand how to hold ourselves accountable for our own personal growth and the College’s regulatory standards. When we understand why we do what we do and the leadership lens we use, we can better hold ourselves accountable for our personal and professional decisions. This removes the fear and guilt from choosing actions that don’t align with our values. It keeps us from making decisions that are based in fear. I am a love-led leader and I know many teachers and nurses who are too. This lens holds us accountable to maintaining others dignity and provides patients and students with a safe place to heal and learn.
Empathy supports freedom
Nurses and teachers have a remarkable ability to understand and share the feelings of our patients and students; it is our biggest asset. I do not believe that it is weak to be empathic. Empathy supports a patient’s freedom to be honest about their situation, hopes and fears. This freedom allows a better picture of a patient’s life and can radically improve the patient-provider relationship and the patients care. Empathy supports students’ freedom to express their worries, joys and fears about learning and life and this in turn creates more freedom to attempt new learning and to thrive.
I love my work. I love my patients, my colleagues and many of my teachers. I know teachers love their work, their students, their colleagues and their nurses. We share love in common too. I feel guilty that I missed these connections when I was caught up in my personal and professional frustrations. When I see our teachers standing in the freezing cold this week choosing to strike with authenticity, passion, vulnerability, humility, accountability and empathy – I’m going to honk, wave and smile with love; we have more in common then I ever thought and this nurse sees you. You are love-led leaders too.
Sheena Howard, RN, BNSc, MA
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Bio: Sheena is frustrated with workplace cultures and systems that keep nurses and teachers from working in ways that align with their values. Sheena has seen this misalignment cause burnout and has watched love-led leadership reverse it. She believes that when love-led leaders find one another they will ignite change.