This is part of a message that I shared with staff last Friday. It is not intended to be political in nature although I am certain some are ready to demand specific political actions. It is not to be intended to be dismissive of the enormous pain and suffering people are feeling both in Florida and around our country. It is not intended to direct blame at any specific entities or individuals. As someone who has a very real experience with intense pain and suffering, I would never try to minimize or exploit the hurt that recent events can and do have. This was just a personal reminder to myself, and I found it also spoke to others as we consider the urgent work that needs to be done with our students and in our schools. We must not shy away from our duty. We must truly lean in at the hardest times and unfortunately we are in those times.
The last few days have been challenging for many whether they are parents or not or educators or not. It is impossible to work at a school and not be torn by the images and stories out of Parkland. As those who work with and love young people, it evokes so much in us from heartache to fear. Many of us have felt the need to immerse ourselves in the particulars to seek answers to questions that start with “how…?” or “why…?” Others have had to withdraw to shield ourselves from the intense suffering that we know so many are going through. Many have reflected inwardly on how they would handle situations or students, while others have looked outwardly at students and families in need and many have reflected on practices and processes to try to make the unthinkable less likely. There are many reactions and emotions that swirl about simultaneously.
Yet day after day, we face our students who also struggle in ways we see and others we don’t see. I walked to the parking lot Wednesday evening feeling the enormity of the work we are engaged in. I was sad, tired and drained, but something quickly caught my attention. I heard a trumpet playing in the distance. It was energetic, clear and melodic. It echoed off the back side of our buildings on campus and seemed to circle the parking lot. It took a while for me to see where it was coming from, but eventually I spotted a student playing with enthusiasm for an audience of one. Passion was tangible and resonating with each note. The clarion called. I heard the trumpet sound, and I was transported to a place of hope, excitement and joy. I stood at my car and listened for several minutes. This young man wasn’t playing for me or for anyone else. He was playing for himself, but what came out of his trumpet was transformational because it came from his inner being and from a passionate pursuit of excellence. Later, I spoke to his mother, who teaches at our school and is one of my heroes for the way she works in the lives of students. She said her son fell in love with the instrument and largely taught himself how to play. Beyond what he learned in class, he set out to teach himself “pep” songs, music from the Star Wars films and “Trumpets” by Jason DeRulos. This young man is only 11 years old, but he has already learned to invest himself in discovery and passion. He was just the inspiration I needed, so thank you Satchel!
We all feel drained and down on occasion, but in his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul challenged with the words, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” That’s the trick isn’t it? Knowing when the harvest will come? If we knew that after the second conference with a struggling reader or writer or after the third phone call to a parent or the fifth conversation about the weekend or the seventeenth smile the harvest would come, we would gladly take all necessary steps to track the progress and ensure the harvest. But we obviously don’t know when the breakthrough will come. So we have to lean in, particularly at the tough times, with the challenging individuals, about the difficult topics. Avoidance doesn’t get the job done. Ignoring the problems don’t make them go away. Doing nothing only allows the status quo to continue or underlying issues to grow worse due to neglect. It’s leaning in that moves the needle. Leaning in puts us closer in proximity. Leaning in shows that we are present and care. Leaning in makes us connected.
In The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer writes, “As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, the heart is the loom on which the threads are tied, the tension is held, the shuttle flies, and the fabric is stretched tight. Small wonder, then, that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart – and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be. The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, require.” (p. 12)
It’s happening every day here at our school and yours. Wednesday dozens of teachers at our school got on a gym floor and for 90 seconds showed students they could have fun, be human and celebrate being connected by dancing briefly to the “Cupid Shuffle.” Also on Wednesday, staff members revealed their Secret Val Pals as a way to brighten the spirits of others with small gifts or baked goods. That same Wednesday, one of our counselors took the time to share the need and steps for self-care as educators as a necessary measure prior to meeting the needs of students around us. Each day, staff members are igniting passions, sharing smiles, connecting with students and modeling hope.
The work is challenging, but the need is great. It takes courage to keep our hearts open, but the connections are woven into the lives of our students and our communities. I hope we all take a moment to stop by the car and listen for our muse, our rallying cry or our trumpet call. When we hear the call, we must respond by leaning in. Our children, communities and nation demand and deserve it. Let’s not grow weary as we continue to do it for them.