Why We Tribe – A Parable of the Aspens

While I grew up in Kansas, I have had the good fortune to spend most of my career in the Great American West, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Montana. Sojourning in the woods is one of my passions. With places like Glacier, Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks just off my porch, I have had numerous opportunities to relax and reflect in some amazingly beautiful places. And I have taken advantage of opportunities to learn from some brilliant people.

One of the first lessons learned upon moving to Colorado was about the role of aspen trees. That lesson has played a vital role in my career, and it is Why I Tribe.

For those of you who don’t know, you never see an aspen alone. They are always in a community, bound together by huge, incredible root systems. They collaborate through these root connections and work as a grove to sustain a healthy community.

The spirit of the aspen grove has become my Professional Learning Community and the Compelled Tribe.

Aspens survive and thrive. When disturbances happen, aspens weather the changes. Even when all above ground is wiped out by fire or mudslides, aspens spring to life when all is clear. Older trees will die, yet the root system supports younger saplings that will grow in strength.

Aspens have a fundamental approach to thriving and surviving over the long term. I have internalized it as the Aspen Rules:

1. Patience Cultivates Growth. Like aspens, we connect to expand our knowledge, collaborate to create.

2. Connections create a foundation which leads to support. We collaborate through connections in interactive, problem-solving relationships.

3. Spur Purpose. Aspens benefit more than just themselves and the grove. One example is their bark, it serves many medicinal purposes. Like them, our efforts ultimately serve our communities outside the four walls of our schools.

4. Convert to Thrive. The quaking of the aspen leaves allows each leaf to collect more sunlight for photosynthesis in our sometimes harsh climate and always short growing season. Unlike other species, the aspen bark also contributes to photosynthesis well into the fall. The process of photosynthesis in aspen goes beyond mere survival, it fosters growth and expansion. At a time when so much information is available along with ways to learn extensively about ourselves and our work, there is a danger in being buried under paralysis by analysis. A key skill we all have is our ability to convert. Learning all you can about our work and ourselves will exponentially and positively enhance our leadership when we take the next step to convert ideas and knowledge into tangible results.

I cannot thank enough my next door neighbor in Monte Vista, Colorado, a forest service employee, who enlightened me about aspens. He will never fully appreciate the impact his conversations had on the career on this converted flat-lander.

If you are looking for a conversation starter for your school culture, give some thought to the Aspen Rules.

And so it goes…

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