- Carl Jung
Each year at the MEMSPA Annual Conference I eagerly await Friday morning’s closing session. I draw on the speaker to inspire me and to awaken within me what I need to learn, reflect on, or think about to change my leadership to improve and get better. This year, my inspiration came from Brian Partin, President of NAESP. His reflection sharing was particularly poignant and shook me to my core, not to mention bringing on a few tears.
Brian started by telling about his younger years in elementary school. He and his brother were raised by their single parent mom who was working two jobs to ensure the boys had what they needed. At school, she took advantage of the free and reduced lunch program to assist the family in having money to put toward other necessities. At Brian’s school, those who paid for lunch got a green ticket and those who had free and reduced lunch got an orange ticket. Brian and his brother were embarrassed and didn’t want to be made fun of so they chose not to eat and get in the orange ticket line! When the school called home to tell their mom that the boys weren’t eating and why, she made a decision that spoke to me. She decided to get a third job to be able to pay the $4 per week extra so that Brian and his brother could get a green ticket and most importantly, eat! What sacrifice, what dedication, what love for her boys!
My principal brain thought thank goodness we don’t put kids in orange ticket and green ticket lines anymore. But then I remembered a recent story where a kid who wasn’t up to date on his lunch account had to get out of line and was given a sack with a sandwich and an apple and not allowed to eat the hot lunch provided for others. I thought about the schools that I visit and my own school when I was a principal. How are we still segregating children? As learners? As human beings? Who is getting an orange ticket? Who is getting a green ticket?
The second story that Brian told, brought me to tears as well as many in the room. He shared that his youngest daughter was born with Down’s Syndrome. They realized quickly that her eyesight was poor and fitted her with glasses early on that eventually she discarded either through sensory issues or she just plain wouldn’t wear them. She is getting close to teen years now and she was recently fitted with glasses that has brought new vision to her life- she can see clearly and in focus! One of the first things she said to Brian was, “Daddy, can you see me?” Brian told us that of course she was literally connecting her ability to see with the question but he pushed us to think deeper. What if what she was asking was, “Do you see me? Do you understand me? Do you know me? Do you get me?” Brian had us reflect and think about our own students and who might be out there asking the same question? “Can you see me?”
Daniel Goleman in his focus on Emotional Intelligence tells of children out in the seats that have developed such a propensity to compensate for the difficulties happening in their lives that we don’t see them. We just think they are doing fine and they really aren’t. Hattie in his analysis of adult language of questioning and interactions with children tells about students wearing microphones to record what they hear each day. The recordings are analyzed and data collected regarding what is shared with students? What level of questioning do they hear? What interactions do they have? This stunned me, but he shared that some kids spent their whole day at school and not a single person talked to them at all! “Can you see me?”
After this well deserved holiday break and rest, I challenge you to sit down and do some reflection and thinking. As you look at your school, the systems, the way kids are treated, segregation of learning, discipline procedures, etc. Who is getting an orange ticket? Who is getting a green ticket? As you think about your students and your staff. Who is asking, “Can you see me?”