As I sit down to write this post I am sitting on a plane and I realized the last time I wrote a post, not co-authoring, I was sitting on a plane. I have sat down several times to write a post, this post and its content in particular, however if I'm being transparent there are parts of this post that are hard to share about, reach dark places for me personally and for my colleagues so I have many times hesitated to write or publish this. But honestly, I always encourage others to get into these pits and push things out so I guess I have to follow my own advice on this one, so here it goes.
One of my favorite things to talk about and something I am super passionate about is relationships. I firmly believe that they are the root of all things especially in education. Growing up in a close-knit family and a small town where roots are deep and the connections are deeper a sense of community is something that is just naturally a part of who I am and a strong foundation of my philosophical beliefs. So, it is no surprise that community with a strong sense of authentic relationships is a huge part of the culture that I believe should be built in a school. It is also the root and single-most important thing that I believe makes a successful school.
Initially when I was going to write this piece months ago I intended to talk all about relationships, how important they are, and the process of how we built that in the school I am so fortunate to be a part of But as time has progressed and I finally did begin to author this piece I don't know if that is quite what I feel called to put out there right now (who knows, maybe that is a future post right?) but instead I want to share a little about the WHY. Although, anyone who knows me knows I'm pretty impulsive and I'm about action so often I don't care about the why something works I just want to know what to do and go and play with it and figure out how to make it work. (Look at that, my ADHD and squirrel moments even make it into my writing!)
During the 2015-2016 school year our school began a lot of work with making sure the efforts we were making were brain friendly and as we started our school year out with attending days one and two of the Brain Friendly Teaching by Kagan Cooperative Learning (and were we ever lucky, we got the training from Dr. Spencer Kagan himself). In doing that, partnered with a book study of Jensen's Teaching With Poverty in Mind a focus on relationships became a focal point. As that work began in classrooms it had to be modeled if it were going to be effective. So, the team building, the Silly Sports and Goofy Games, etc. became a part of our collaboration work for collaboration
days and PLC"s, professional development, and even snuck into our staff social events (Side Story: Our Staff Holiday Party was conjoined this year with one of our administrator's husband's company that contracts school finance. Silly Sports and Goofy Games were a part of that party. A room full of educators and accountants doing team building and playing games enhanced with adult beverages make me wish a camera crew had been around). Over the past two school years those things became a part of culture and the bonds between students with each other, students and staff, staff with staff all became so strong and a true community bond began to take shape.
In the world we live in, it is the sense of community and the relationships that take you through the hard times and for my school this year this is what carried us and that is why relationships are key. Just a few weeks into the 2016-2017 school year tragedy after tragedy involving children began to happen in Albuquerque. In nearly 20 years that my mentor has been an administrator she shared that the circumstances we dealt with as a team this year were many things she had never had to. Shortly after the school year began an innocent young girl's life was cut short in a very tragic manner. As a new administrator this was my first experience in this role as part of a crisis response team dealing with the death of a child and trying to help and support a school community go through something so unthinkable. It was eye opening and it made me really appreciate the culture at my own school site as we had built such a solid community. It made me appreciate the work we were doing and the relationships that had formed. Unfortunately that wasn't my last experience supporting another school through tragedy as it happened again just a few short weeks later and yet again a few weeks after that. Again those experiences made us reflective and gracious at my school, while also grieving and dealing with tragedy as a whole community of the city. Little did we know what was coming to our own school.
At our school we are pretty solid in our work through teams. We have a very solid bond as a whole but it doesn't come from staff meetings to relay information. We meet as a staff as a whole for three reasons: Back to School Staff Meeting, Celebrations, and in the event of a emergency. By this point of the year three neighboring schools had called staff meetings to inform staff of the unthinkable. Shortly before Winter Break we had to call that staff meeting at our own school. Sadly, another school called that same staff meeting one more time to share such news about multiple of their students who were a family.
Not only did our school face such devastation with the loss of a student, we faced hardship and loss on personal levels as staff this school year. Several of us lost family members for various reasons, myself included with the loss of my grandmother. The day of my grandmother's funeral, two of my colleagues were sat in a room within twenty minutes of each other to be told their husbands were both dead. Our hardships did not end there this school year but also our school was faced with two of our staff members battling cancer.
I do not share any of this as a woe is me or our school. But rather to share and shine light on the fact that our school was still a happy, successful learning environment and a place where people wanted to be. Where when we were faced with so many challenges and the unthinkable that we were able to rise and stand strong because we have authentic relationships with one another. We take the time to learn about our kids, families, and colleagues. We form bonds. And because of that we were able to handle the curve balls that life threw at us.
Our school may not have the fanciest bells or whistles. We don't have the highest test scores or reading levels. We don't have an "A" letter grade issued by the Public Education Department in our state. What we do have though is a safe place, a school full of colleagues that genuinely get along, a strong support system, classrooms full of authentic engagement thanks to knowing what is best for kids or what they deserve or like or want, happy smiles, and a whole lot of love. All of this is WHY relationships matter.