11 09, 2020

Remembering the Fallen

2020-09-11T15:33:50+00:00September 11th, 2020|

“What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met (Levithan).” We all remember that day; where we were, what we were doing, who we were with, what we were feeling. It is a day that will eternally be etched into the minds of all Americans. Nineteen years have now passed since that tragic Tuesday morning, yet it feels only like yesterday when America was changed forever. This upcoming year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans will not have the opportunity to congregate in honor of those lost during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The ceremony honoring the nearly 3,000 victims will be held this year without live readings from the family of the victims. Instead, in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, name reading recordings from the 9/11 Memorial & Museum will be played. This does not mean, however, that we cannot still pay tribute to all those who lost their lives that day.  For those wondering how they can personally honor and commemorate the fallen while also following safety protocols, here are a few ideas: Honoring through public service: Americans across the country are called to volunteer in the local communities in tribute to the individuals lost and injured in the attacks, first responders, and the many who have risen in service to defend our freedom. On September 4, 2002, President Bush proclaimed September 11, 2002, as the first Patriot Day and requested the observance of the day as an annually recognized National Day of Service and Remembrance (Americans to Honor 9/11 Anniversary with Volunteer Service, 2019). “Volunteer service is woven into the fabric of our nation,” states Barbara Stewart, the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “The 9/11 Day of Service is an opportunity to rekindle the spirit of unity that swept the nation in the days following the tragic attacks. Each year, we rededicate ourselves to the ideals that define our country and unite us as one (Americans to Honor 9/11 Anniversary with Volunteer Service, 2019).” Simple activities such as donating to nonprofits, delivering meals and [...]

14 08, 2020

Chaos as a catalyst for Change

2020-08-14T20:37:11+00:00August 14th, 2020|

Seriously, take this Pandemic. The Covid-19 health crisis has brought chaos, upheaval, and a caustic level of transparency that has upended millions of lives. Yet, even in the middle of chaos, governments, industries, and individuals are taking a deep look at the way they operate and creatively finding solutions to complex problems so that they build the resiliency needed to emerge better. Going into the initial phase of lockdown, I thought that I would be fine. In fact, in February I erroneously prided myself on how far I had come with my anxiety. I had not had an episode or reverted to tics in years; that thought should have been a recognizable red flag. As the months dragged, seemingly only punctuated by difficult events, the lockdown and the forced stillness required to protect the most vulnerable has laid me bare. I found myself becoming hesitant, stressed, and anxious to the point of paralysis. Those tics, yeah, those came back. Blessedly, my second current rotation was with a department dedicated to learning. Every team meeting left space to address the major themes affecting the organization, employees, and the communities we serve. Leadership particularly set the tone by publicly communicating concern and vulnerability. Months of consistently communicating care, concern and alignment with the Department’s mission and values eventually created a community. That community made it easier to navigate the disruptiveness of 2020. With the public and professional aspects of my life comfortably settled. I felt it necessary to address the personal. For me, this meant: - Tapping into the frequently mentioned health resources provided by the Commonwealth - Reading (Newport’s Deep Work, Dr. Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow) - Acknowledging that this is bigger than any single event and rewriting the underlying systemic issues In essence, I am taking a page out of my Department’s playbook, intentionally addressing the issues and transforming the way I operate. It is uncertain what the future will hold or what progress I will make, but identifying that there is a problem and working towards fixing it can only improve the present situation. I can confidently assume that [...]

7 08, 2020

When the Office Comes Home: Adapting to Telework

2020-08-07T19:37:42+00:00August 7th, 2020|

My first teleworking experience came in late March of this year as I, along with many state employees, transitioned to full-time remote work. Back in March I was not too worried about this transition. In the early days of the pandemic, the initial shock and uncertainty of everything unfolding was more than enough to worry about. Besides, once you have your state laptop and Internet connection set up what is there left to figure out? As it turns out, there are many things to consider. Those first few weeks of settling in posed several questions that I had not prepared for: Where should I set up my home office? How will teleworking impact my relationships with my roommates? How do I avoid cabin fever as my personal and professional lives now take place under the same roof? The answers to these questions will certainly vary from person to person. In my short experience with full-time teleworking, the best way to address these questions is through a continuous process of trial and error. Below are several tips I wish I knew back in March: Change Your Workspace if it’s Not Right for You For many of us, our apartments and homes were simply not designed to accommodate full-time at-home work. This is especially challenging for those of us who live with other full-time teleworkers. As you try different spaces out, accept that there will be trade-offs. The sunlight and fresh air of my porch were energizing, but the birds were too loud for conference calls. My kitchen table has plenty of surface area and decent chairs, but communal spaces tend to invite distraction. After trying a few different spaces, I found my basement to be the best long-term option for productivity and comfort (I still need to improve the lighting situation down here though). Set “Work-Mode” Boundaries When you live with someone (or two or three others) who also telework, it can be jarring to a see a new side of a person when they are “in the zone” with their job. Adjusting to teleworking will undoubtedly affect your relationships with the people you live with. Sometimes [...]

31 07, 2020

Promoting Psychological Health: The Need for Green During Quarantine

2020-07-31T12:56:33+00:00July 31st, 2020|

Aristotle says that “man is by nature a social animal.” Driven to engage with others, humans tend to thrive in environments where they are capable of interacting with their surroundings. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, humans have been removed from their typical day-to-day interactions—whether it be the office, running group, family visits, or gym crowd—and replaced them with isolation. Although we are limited to these virtual gatherings and communications, we are still deprived of the engagement that we would otherwise experience in these public spaces. With the compounding stressors of working from home and being at risk of burning out, we need something to stimulate the brain that is not a constant news binge or a new Netflix special; we need something that can keep us psychologically healthy while in isolation. One activity, in particular, that has several positive effects on our mental health is venturing out into the great outdoors. Going outside can mean a hike you have been wanting to go on, walking your dog in the local park, or riding your bike along a new trail you found. Research studies suggest that interacting with nature can: relieves stress, improves mood, supports recovery from fatigue, and promotes prosocial behavior. Relieves Stress: From the learning curve of using these new practices and technology to taking on more projects to being confined to the same area for work and personal life, stress can compound. In comparing the environments of urban centers to parks and wooded areas, a study revealed that short term visits to these parks and areas had a much more positive effect on relieving stress than visits made to city centers. Improves Mood: Not being able to see our loved ones, close friends, or our favorite coworkers can be hard. One study found that individuals who walked in the outdoors had showed both a reduction in anxiety and more positive emotion than before walking. Supports Recovery from Fatigue: In another study, scientists assessed individuals who interacted in “green spaces.” The study concluded that while the individuals were in these spaces they had much less arousal, less frustration, and higher meditation. All of these results [...]

17 07, 2020

Building Safety in Organizations – a How-To

2020-07-17T16:51:12+00:00July 17th, 2020|

Hello all – congrats on  making it through another week. We at VMF are privileged enough to participate in the Virginia Public Sector Leaders course (VPSL), a leadership development certificate program through the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs. In response to COVID-19, we’re doing some certificate work remotely, including our discussion of Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code. In it, Coyle seeks to address the question of what makes a great organizational culture, and how leaders can build and sustain it. One of the ideas presented is that successful cultures are ones that build belonging; how safe and connected individuals feel to one another is the primary, if not only, determinant of group performance.   Coyle provides many delightful and humorous examples of this, ranging from the professional - think Google, or the NBA’s Spurs - to kindergarteners in an MIT lab. In all of these examples, Coyle displays how the leaders in these groups build safety. They practice appreciative leadership, thanking followers for feedback and their contributions. They ensure everyone – literally everyone - has a voice. And they are humble, and model that humility. I like how the book articulates something I feel we all intuitively know: we all work best when we feel our work matters, and, more importantly, that we matter. Furthermore, Coyle gives practical ideas that leaders can use, a welcome change from some analysis of leadership. As my colleague John Cronin put it last week, 2020 has “opened our ears” to the many ways in which we decide who does and doesn’t feel safe in our community. As us Fellows reflect upon this, I would point to Coyle’s book as a tool we can use to inform our understanding of good, equitable organizational culture – and more importantly, how we need to keep “dialing in to the small, subtle moments” that are key in creating it. Grace Wheaton is a VMF Fellow currently serving at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

10 07, 2020

Part of a Community: How 2020 Should Open Our Ears

2020-07-10T15:49:04+00:00July 10th, 2020|

June 10th, 2019 was my first day working for the Commonwealth of Virginia. I, along with the rest of the cohort of Virginia Management Fellows, relocated to Richmond, entered our rotations with various state agencies, and began our careers with high hopes. A year later, we, like most everybody else on the planet, “celebrate” our anniversary in a different world. I cannot lie; there have been multiple times where I have felt extremely discouraged. Meetings are spent accidentally talking on mute; simple grocery store trips have given me Hunger Game vibes; and live entertainment options have me choosing between late night shows FaceTime monologues or podcasters playing ping pong. It is obviously not the same, and sometimes I have gotten really down wondering if it all will “go back to normal” like people keep saying. However as summer begins while in month four of this pandemic in America, I have realized how surface-level those concerns have been. My March, April, and May were spent worrying about the luxuries that are no longer at my fingertips, but at the end of the day, these concerns are nothing compared to what others are fighting for during this time. There is real pain in the hearts of many families throughout the nation. Loved ones have gotten sick, people have lost jobs, and the wounds of racism continue to fester as our collective society finally attempts to listen to the voices of the impacted. As someone who has not had to endure the same struggles, I cannot be blinded by my minor inconveniences. June has been a reckoning for me in this regard. My problems are not invalidated, but rather put into context with the problems of the community I live in. Before the pandemic, Richmond was a fun place where I could go eat, drink, and explore the sites with friends or family. Now I see it as what I should have seen it from the start one year ago: my home. Being a part of a community goes beyond enjoying the amenities. It means caring for the people around you, and more importantly listening to their struggles. Now [...]

26 06, 2020

Public Servants as Wielders of Influence: Using Your Expertise as a Tool for Change

2020-06-26T17:30:59+00:00June 26th, 2020|

*The views espoused belong solely to the author and should not be attributed to the Virginia Management Fellows program, nor the Commonwealth. A second disclaimer follows the initial disclaimer provided directly above (is it obvious that I have a law degree?), though this one has no legal bearing—the “topic” of this post is not what I anticipated to write about when this blog initiative first started. Instead, I had planned to delve into the critical work that public servants engage in within the various health & human services agencies. But that now seems like a “safe” choice. In addition to the obviousness of the proposition that would have been espoused—of course we need more funds for those crucial resources!—I don’t believe I would have made much of a statement or persuaded many minds with that piece.  So, what exactly does this blog consist of? First, I should explain why I changed topics. I don’t mean to mislead – nothing “new” has occurred. Yet again, the world hears the wails of individuals who, for the course of history, have consistently been marginalized, deprived of liberty, neglected in the formulation of policies and laws—simultaneously relegated & targeted with the aim of oppression. Although I cannot, as a public employee, engage in lobbying in my position, I can still act as an advocate for issues I care about (such as dismantling oppressive systems), and so can you, regardless of your advocacy preferences. For example, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence writes: Advocacy just means “speaking up.” Anyone, including people employed by state and local governments, can be an advocate. Advocacy includes such activities as: educating the public; providing information and resources to individuals in need of help; going into court; commenting on regulations; and helping individuals get benefits or services to which they are entitled. Public employees may not engage in lobbying while at their jobs or using public resources (unless they were hired to do government relations). But public employees do not give up their rights as citizens when they take a public job. During their personal time, everyone has the right to speak up or express [...]

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