By Leigh Barnes, IPLI Mentor and Principal of John Simatovich Elementary
Returning this year has not exactly been what we all had planned or hoped for; nonetheless, we continue to rely on our servant leadership, endless empathy, and great fortitude to make this year a success for everyone in our buildings. Through reflective conversations, it is only natural to look back at the last two years and discuss the challenges we went through and how we have been shaped as a result. As building leaders, we each know OUR personal story, and our teachers know their story, too. But what about our students: Do we know THEIR story?
In addition to our servant leadership, endless empathy, and great fortitude, this year, we add the responsibility to remember that each of our students has their own unique story, both at school and home. Some of our students were virtual all of last year, home-schooled or absent for multiple weeks, and many had challenges learning through all of the distractions. Each story is different. Each story is new. Each story is a journey none of us have personally experienced. When we are presented with a child who is struggling academically, socially, emotionally, or behaviorally, this is when we hold the responsibility to find out their story and have empathy. Our commitment is to understand where they are right now in their struggle and help move them forward.
Think about this story:
Two years ago, a kindergarten child was excited about his first schooling experience. He did not attend preschool, but he is thrilled about meeting his teacher and making new friends. School just started to feel like home, and then quarantine hit. The child tried virtual learning with very little success and essentially missed the second half of the school year. First grade came last year, and he learned virtually through an online school, but it still never felt like it did when he first started school. This year he is in a brand new school. He is struggling socially and emotionally, essentially shutting down. The teacher is tired, frustrated, and working for answers. Stories like these exist all around Indiana. As leaders, it is our responsibility to be the moral and structural support for our teachers and staff in understanding THEIR students’ stories. This is where a tale brings endless empathy.
This picture is reality; moreover, it is the bigger picture of where we are as students learning, teachers instructing, and principals leading. We ask why we are still struggling two months into school…this is why. Knowing and sharing their story is our responsibility, and it starts with listening.
Take the time out of your day to listen to your students, teachers, and parents. Understand their struggle and that each of their stories is unique. It is only when we know each “story” can we then begin to help.
Stay positive, and know that as leaders, you are more valuable now than ever!