“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”—Alexander Pope
Before Oprah went off the air with her show, I always hoped that she would do one with educators who could invite their first class of students that they taught, now all grown up. This would provide an opportunity for teachers to relieve the guilt harbored for years and apologize to them. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know what I was doing! But, my heart and my passion with doing what I thought was right was sincere! Will you forgive me?”
Likewise, as a principal I often dream about meeting the little ones who were challenging. Those I worked with and cared for just about every day and every hour. I want to find out how they are doing now as adults. It would give me the opportunity to tell them that I didn’t know everything going on with them, but I loved them and did the very best I knew how to do.
All of these kids come with names and I pray each and every day that they will forgive me and in their hearts know that I did everything I could and thought was right at the time. Just last Sunday, I learned something new and yes it was a 60 Minutes segment with Oprah! She highlighted trauma sensitivity and organizations that are doing training for health providers and educators. One of the simple strategies shared was instead of asking a child, “What’s wrong?’ Ask them “What happened?” This shift of not labeling the child through our language, assuming something is wrong, was enough for many kids to open up and actually share what was happening to them.
Goleman has shared with us that so many children present themselves in the classroom as if everything is alright. They look like they are listening, paying attention, and engaged. They know how to look like a learner, when in fact, the insides tell us a different story. Trauma, worry, a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness prevail.
Debbie and I in our Leadership Matters class and other sessions have shared a short film from the Cleveland Clinic called “Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care,” that asks health care professionals to walk in the shoes of patients as they experience their hospital stay. At last month’s Leadership Matters session, Debbie shared information about empathy vs sympathy and how we need to be empathic as we truly learn, “what happened” to each of the children before us. The video “Under the Surface,” asks educators to walk in the shoes of their students as they experience school. The insight that each of us in an organization comes to school with a story, is powerful. It helps us shape how we interact, how we understand, when actions don’t match past behaviors.
While legislators and outside interests keep focusing only on academic achievement as a measure for our success and blame us for failing children, we know we are saving their lives on a daily basis. What if, a child didn’t have a safe harbor? Food to eat? People surrounding them who love them, care for them and provide hope? While others keep hitting home the fact that schools are failing and that we have to get those darn test scores up, we know they are never going to go up unless we address the needs of our children, find out what happened, what their story is and how we can help. Our children are not a number, they are not a score, they are people with names.
My mission is to keep learning and applying what I have learned. Continue being a strong advocate for what educators do passionately each and every day as they change lives of children and make their future better and ever hopeful. I am ever hopeful, that as we learn new and better strategies to help us care for kids, we won’t have to think about those who keep us up at night in worry, knowing in our hearts that we did everything possible for them.
Cedric, Chandra, Tashumba, Betty, Shawn, Robert, Terronda, William, Ricky, Sabrina, Cooper, Matthew, just to name a few, will you forgive me?