Organizational climate and compassion are all… They are the standards by which the fair application of the rules and standards are measured. It is as important how the schools relate to parents, teachers and students as what they want to accomplish. The discord and rancor that appears in the school speaks directly to the need to reach out with compassion, especially to those with the school disagrees. When compassion is not an integral part of an organization’s culture, it can be mis-read or feared.
When I was a boy visiting my godmother in Tennessee we children scampered around like a scurry of chipmunks. When it came time for dinner, my godmother would call us all together, in her smooth Virginia drawl, “you all go and wash your paws for dinner.” It was comforting, caring and familiar. Sometime later in life as a deputy sheriff, I was charged with taking some pizza into the cell block of prisoners as a treat for good behavior. In an effort to convey the same sort of warmth, I tossed off my godmother’s familiar phrase. The reaction was instantaneously received as insult. Explanation was pointless, the context was lost.
Fast forward…When I was interviewing for a teaching position at a middle school recently, I was asked how I felt about six and seventh graders… I replied, “I love them, they’re so active, they’re like chipmunks raised by cats…” The principal took a deep breath, bordering on a gasp, and smiled. Not the reaction I was hoping for, and realized that, even though we continued to talk, the interview was over. When I conveyed the incident to my wife, a teacher for some forty years, she sighed with her face in her hands and observed, “how could you be so right and so wrong at the same time?”
It was a shame, really, because I felt, and feel, that the same sort of warmth (and perhaps familiarity) is somehow lost in the current climate in Stevensville; i.e. emotional distance, professionalism and personal connection are seen as incompatible. (See Social Emotional Learning for impact on socialization and emotions on learning.) The school is so caught up in discipline, lesson plans, metrics and state standards, that the object of our attention ceases to be the treasure they are meant to be: our children. I am struck, for instance, that the first thing many teachers report regarding a student is whether they were well behaved. Why wouldn’t children (and parents, staff and teachers) be seen and treated with the same warmth and acceptance in school as they might be as family, friends or neighbors? (I have taught in special needs and at-risk classrooms, so I know what the “treasures” are capable of.) Children learn what they see, and what they see may be adults not at their best. Schools are not just or only, the precursor to the work place, but the transition to the community which supports us: of family, friends and neighbors.
The school should be seen as the incubator for the future generation of vibrant and engaged neighbors. But, if the schools are, indeed, a reflection of our town, of distance and division, that would be sad, because we’re better than that.
Barry D. Mills