Thursday, February 15, 2018

Tools to talk to kids about tragedy

The school tragedy in Florida makes most of my week’s activities seem trivial. I know what I do and what I talk about will be important, but it pales when considering the events in Florida.

Today, I want to be in my school district, walking the halls, reassuring teachers, saying hello to students, calming parents.

Doing that would calm me.

But more must be done. Our students need us - the adults - to help them process the news. However, we - the adults - have a hard time processing tragedies like this as well.

Here are two resources that might help.

We need to do more. Pass legislation. Reform existing laws. Support mental health initiatives. But those actions can wait for another day.

Today and tomorrow, and in the days to come, let’s make sure we can help our children talk about and reflect upon another day of terrible news. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

When the kids are swearing at me

"You should be mad," they said to me.

"I would never let kids talk to me like that," they said.

"These kids should be punished. They were very disrespectful," they said.

What did I do that made all of these kids mad?

I didn't call a snow day.

When we were in school most of us loved snow days. The unexpected day off. The sweet bliss of ignoring homework, staying up late, sleeping in. The interruption of the routine.

As the Superintendent the actual snow day is fun. Getting to the snow day - not so much.

I happen to believe that school matters. I know that learning can take place anywhere and that learning certainly is not confined to the hours of the school day.

But school potentially provides an enriching environment. Students lives are enriched when they feel safe, when they have positive peer interactions, when they have some structure and discipline to their day, when they experience new things, when they are challenged to think in ways that they have not thought before.

Being in school provides those experiences.

More importantly, students lives are enriched when they have positive interactions with adults who are not their parents. Students lives are enriched when school teachers and administrators and counselors and secretaries know students' names, ask about their lives, push, mentor, guide, and support them.

Those things happen in schools every single day.

So not being in school is a big thing to me.

But on occasion, it is not safe to be in school. A power outage, a water main break - there are a host of things that can make school not a safe place.

In Michigan, during the winter, snow is the thing. Getting to school. Getting home from school. Making sure teachers and students can arrive on time and safely is of utmost importance.

This year, on Super Bowl Sunday, it started to snow. But it was during the day. Our maintenance crew was on it, getting the plows out early. Our city sent their plows out. And, in the end, we received only about 4 - 5 inches of snow. The vast majority of it before night fell.

I was confident that we could have school.

But some schools were not so confident. They had buses that traveled over dirt roads, their city services may not have been as good, and so on. And those schools closed.

And the students in my district were mad. They took personal offense that I did not close our schools. I was not alone. Other schools around us were open. But that did not matter. Our schools were open and they wanted them closed.

And some of them took to Twitter and other social media outlets and let me have it.

Most of it was good fun.

And I enjoy the banter with the students. I joke with them. They joke with me. They create memes of me. I laugh. They laugh.

But some of it crossed the line. It became personal. Inappropriate and vulgar language was used. Attempts were made to embarrass or humiliate me.

People actually felt sorry for me.

What's the appropriate reaction to mean-spiritedness like that? I believe it becomes a teachable moment.

We live in a world where there are many examples of people yelling and cursing to make their point. My students see adults every day calling other adults names, trying their best to humiliate, embarrass, or belittle. It appears that there is an intoxicating allure to making one's self feel powerful by swearing at or embarrassing another person.

Schools can help. Schools can model for our students how to poke fun in a positive way. Schools can help students reflect on appropriate ways to express frustration or anger or disappointment.  Schools can be places where kids and adults figure out together the power of social media to influence another person.

And that is what has happened in the schools in my district. Teachers have used this as a teachable moment. Teachers have had conversations with their students about how messages are sent and how messages are received. This event has opened doors and allowed meaningful dialogue about social media to take place.

And today a major storm is predicted - for tomorrow.

What will I do? And what messages will I receive?