In this month’s issue of Educational Leadership, the theme of relationships threads through all of the articles. Relationships, particularly between faculty and students, are the hinge, the lever, the glue to the whole enterprise of school. On a single page at the end of the magazine titled, “The Fourth R: Relationships,” especially meaningful quotes were pulled from various articles.
“The most urgent questions students ask as they begin a new school year are, Am I safe? and, Do I belong?” (Rick Wormeli)
“I realized very early in my career that to successfully and thoughtfully teach my students, I needed to imagine life through their eyes.” (Cherish R. Skinker)
“Care is in the eyes of the receiver; care doesn’t exist unless those being cared for truly experience it.” (Elizabeth Bandy and Elyse Hambacher)
This past week at my school – and at many other schools – students and faculty were visibly upset about the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, NC. While there have been too many other disturbing incidents across the country prior to this one, because it was local, this particular instance sparked an uproar and response unlike any I have seen since moving to Charlotte over 13 years ago.
Scott was killed on Tuesday afternoon. The following Wednesday morning, I headed to school with a heavy heart and a lot of confusion over what had happened, why, and what would happen next. Front and center in my mind, however, was wondering how our students were feeling, and what I could do to help. While I didn’t know what I would find, I knew what I wanted to make clear: that all of our kids need to know that they are safe, that they belong, and that the adults in their lives want to see things through their eyes.
That afternoon, I saw a somewhat diverse group of students who were gathered together and clearly distraught in the student center. I asked if I could sit with them for a bit, and they said yes. I told them, “I want to tell you that I see you. I want you to know that I care about you, and I’m here to listen.” From there, I listened and listened more. When I spoke, which wasn’t often, I told them that I cared about their feelings and I affirmed their confusion. I told them that I have been confused and upset in my life, too, and was upset by Tuesday’s events as well.
The next day, Thursday, was our all-school convocation and the celebration of the school’s 75th birthday. The day could have been strange at best and upsetting at worst for students and faculty still reeling from the news of Scott’s death. Surprisingly, it wasn’t either thing. Over 2,500 of us sat in the bleachers at the football stadium, the American flag waving above us. At first it was raining and the mood was somber, but then the rain slowed and finally stopped. The speeches began and we heard many wise and thoughtful words from school leaders, past and present, as well as from three phenomenal student leaders.
As I listened to our student body president boldly challenge us to be courageous and honorable, I began to relax. And as I listened to a fourth grade girl talk about what she appreciates about her school and the hopes and dreams she has for her future, I found myself smiling.
I felt myself being stitched back together by the strength and resiliency of young people, and the importance and power of relationships. When people take the time to listen to and understand one another, when the fourth R is privileged, not just learning but healing happens.