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In this contributed piece, Ashley Morena asks important questions necessary to lead school food crews, including a reflective pause of: “What just happened?”

Viewpoint: Helping school food crews find their “why”

Looking back at all K-12 operations have accomplished in the past year while dreaming big enough to create a better future all starts with your mindset. And your team’s mindset as well. Here’s how to influence and inspire that.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Food Management.

In this contributed piece, Ashley Morena asks important questions necessary to lead school food crews, including a reflective pause of: “What just happened?”

Wow, what just happened? Reflecting back over the past twelve months, I sit here thinking, “Did that actually just happen?” Did we really execute a plan overnight to serve scholars across the nation with no preparations in place? Heck yes, we did, and we did it with honor and gratitude. Over the course of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to interview school nutrition professionals across the country, as the co-host of the School Nutrition Masterminds Facebook Group. 

The conversations near the beginning of the pandemic all had the same theme. School nutrition professionals were nervous yet excited to be essential workers. This was the first time where school nutrition professionals started to be recognized for the service they provide. School nutrition even made the front cover of Time Magazine! 

ashley_morena_portrait.pngPhoto: Ashley Morena

Then I started noticing a shift in thoughts over the course of time. 

When I ask colleagues, “How are you?” or “What goals do you have this coming year?” The most frequent responses are, “I’m tired…I’m surviving, Ashley, my goal is just to survive.” What I’ve come to realize is that not only have school nutrition professionals been undervalued for so long, we have said yes so many times over the past year that we’ve forgotten to say yes to ourselves. SN professionals have worked more days and hours than ever before, leaving little energy to think about goal setting or self-care.

But first, I want to talk about reframing our thinking. Why is this important? When I start to feel overwhelmed by the work we have ahead of us, or the challenges we are faced with today, I take a pause and ask myself, “How is this situation happening for us, not against us?” How can we make the most of this situation and turn it into a teaching moment? 

This year has left many of us thinking, why is this happening? I’m not sure that any one of us can explain this past year, but the one thing I know we can do is seize the moment and the opportunities that present themselves. Setting goals is one way to stay focused when the difficult times approach us. 

I’ve been thinking about the goals I set for myself and how I can keep pushing forward without the energy and hype of the new year. It starts with my “Why.” Why is this important to me? Why do I want to achieve this goal? I encourage you to write down your why and three goals that have your why at the center focus. 

Don’t forget to dream big in the process. Oftentimes we set goals that are too attainable that we end up limiting ourselves from what’s possible. I challenge you to have a dream session with your team and write down everyone’s dream for the program. Take the top three common dreams and start crafting goals around them. Having a common vision that everyone works toward will keep the team motivated and moving forward. 

And moving forward can sometimes benefit from a bit of a look back. Take time to review your calendar from last year. What are things you committed yourself to that didn’t fit your why? Start scheduling self-care time for yourself. I’ve had to do this to make sure I follow through otherwise I will find an excuse and reasons why I’m too busy. My goal this year is to focus on my team’s overall wellness. When I say dream big and set goals, that doesn’t mean you can’t start simple. At this moment I know that my team's overall health and wellness is what’s needed in order to achieve the dream. The time is now to believe in yourself and to believe in your team. I believe in you!

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