Leadership is about keeping deeply held beliefs in alignment with our actions. It often requires pausing to reflect, diving deep into reflection, listening to our deepest voices, and generating the courage to admit that our behaviors and beliefs are out of alignment.
A core belief I hold tightly, is that: “Those Kids are Our Kids.” All of them. I believe it so deeply that I’ve laid stake to this reflective space, with it’s namesake. If a kid walks through our public school gates, we should see them, push them, care for them, support and believe in them as if they are our own.
This is easy to say. In some cases, it can be trying to live out.
With one of our 430 students, I’m finding it particularly challenging to maintain this posture.
- When elopement extends throughout the school day, and we can’t get the student back to class, it’s frustrating.
- When she indiscriminately kicks kids on the playground, my patience runs out.
- When I hear that she said, “Whoever invented homework, needs to be murdered,” I chuckle and then feel disturbed.
- When an entire first grade class has to be reassured that they are safe, despite her threats, I step into the space and take a side.
- When I spend large chunks of days following this student around campus to keep students safe, I think about the other work awaiting me and take deep breaths.
- When I can’t get parents to pick her up on a day she is deemed dangerous to herself and others, I know we need outside help.
- When I look into the eyes of my teachers, doing everything they’ve learned to be effective to no avail, I reassure them.
This student is ours. She is smart and bright and kind. But she is struggling mightily at a comprehensive elementary school. The childhood trauma and developmental breaks are interfering too much. Despite her intentions, she’s not able to calm herself, trust adults, or participate in the learning with any consistency.
So we activated a referral for a different school placement. They assessed. They observed. They agreed. So she will likely transition into a more supportive, restrictive environment.
If I’m honest, I feel some relief. She will get the support she needs. Perhaps we won’t have to lock the school down for a while. She may gain skills that will give her power over the raging internal storms. She will get back to learning. She will have a new school.
But then it hits me: She is still ours.
She was ours in kindergarten when she showed up with uber excitement and brand new shoes to begin a formal education at our site. She was ours when learning got challenging. She was ours when she created a Van Gough replica that wow-ed the entire school building. She was ours when she hit the sub on the leg, with increasing force, testing the limits of acceptable classroom interactions. She was ours when she shared how hard learning was, when she didn’t have a consistent home to live in.
Lest I forget what I deeply believe and communicate a conflicting message to this student, her family, or my staff. I will remind myself again and again: This child is ours. Because this child is ours, we will call out this reality. From afar, we will cheer her on. We will check on her progress. We will take good care of her siblings. And we will celebrate her return to our school, in a few months or in a year or more.
When we help this child thrive, academically and social-emotionally, we will be reminded of the deep-seated beliefs that motor our work. All kids can learn. We know how to teach them. Together we have what it takes. And all kids at our sites are “ours.”
Even this one.
Photo by Pete Prodoehl via Flickr