Sunday, when I woke up, I saw the news. There on the television screen, along the bottom, scrolled: 50 dead, 53 injured. As the morning progressed, more news came out about the venue, a nightclub in Orlando, a safe haven for people who are gay, bisexual, transgender.

A safe haven? Is there any such place? Not a nightclub. Not a marathon. Not a theater. Not a workplace. Not a church. Not a school.

The words of Zoe Weil rang in my ears: The world becomes what you teach. What is our role, as school administrators, raising children in a world that has no safe haven?

In his book “The Last Lecture,” Randy Pausch prophetically states: “Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have.” As I headed out to my garden plot Sunday, I thought about our use of time at school. How should we use time to explicitly work to make our world safe?

When I was a child, we used to go for Sunday drives. We would randomly stop visit friends to share a pie or drop off a loaf of homemade bread. Neighbors stopped in to visit us, too. Lives weren’t so full. There was time to visit. There was time to get to know our neighbors. I moved in to my new home in August, and 10 months later I have not visited a single neighbor.

As school administrators, that is one thing we can do differently. We can insist that our teachers know their students. We can make sure no one goes through our schools anonymously. We can prioritize relationships in the walls and in the halls of our buildings so children do not leave our schools feeling empty, alone, angry and alienated. And for those children who are difficult to bond with, we can create a plan to help them get what they need. Our job is to never look away from a child who needs help. Life is a journey meant to be shared. If our children are isolating, it’s a call for help.

We can teach kindness. Although we cannot always control how our students behave, we can always control the way we respond. Our response should always be kind, humane and respectful, always leaving students with their dignity. Children are watching. I can always tell, the minute I walk into a classroom, if the teacher models kind interactions, because in those classrooms, the children are also kind. Lead with kindness. Insist on kindness.

We should teach children to value life. All life. Those who connect to the earth are healthier, mind, body and soul. Today’s children can more readily identify the symbols of Target, McDonald’s and Sweet Frog than they can name dandelions, chickadees, blue jays and daffodils. When a child spots a spider making a web, teach them to slow down and admire the work of nature, rather than to thoughtlessly tear apart the web or kill the spider. Connect children to the natural beauty of the world. Find and notice and revere the beauty in all of it.

Our schools need to deliberately teach our students to look beyond the superficial and look more deeply into the value of human beings. We need to work very hard to find all of the ways every person can meaningfully contribute, and then honor those contributions. As teachers, every child should receive specific and thoughtful feedback that inspires and moves that child forward.

As our students watch and listen to the adults surrounding them, they should never hear a statement that devalues a contribution. To hear a slur from a coach that a male player needs to “pull up his skirt” or to hear a teacher say a student will “flip hamburgers for a living” is unconscionable. If a trusted adult is using phrases that devalue, we are in essence giving carte blanche permission for cruelty, bullying and prejudice. Words hurt. We need to use them carefully.

I often give graduates a book called “The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence,” by Gavin de Becker. Perhaps now is the time to actively teach our students to use the gift of their own intuition. Gavin de Becker teaches us: “You have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations.” So often, we talk ourselves “out” of the feeling when the “hair stands up on the back of our necks”. That feeling is our intuition, and as a nation, we need to start listening.

When a neighbor is acting strangely, when a shopper is behaving in an unusual manner, when we feel fear, we need to report. If we are wrong, we are wrong. But if we are right, we could save lives. Homeland Security, the local police, and the FBI have not been enough to keep innocent people safe. We all need to actively use our “gift” of fear.

In our schools, we are teaching children how to respond to fire drills, but we are also having lockdowns, lockouts, and hold-in-place drills. Even Fenway Park had an emergency drill before a game last week. We need to start preparing ourselves for the unthinkable.

In the words of Anne Frank, even on the eve of the horrific Orlando mass shootings, “…in spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.”

As school leaders, if we can ensure every child has an educational journey enshrined in kindness, acceptance, a connection with nature and a respect for life, and if we can promise every adult in our buildings is a positive and healthy role model who is committed to establishing meaningful relationships with students, we will have spent our time on the right things. moving our world to be what we want it to become.

Jennifer McGee is the principal of Atwood Primary School in Oakland. She wrote this for her administrative colleagues and staff following the shootings last weekend in Orlando.


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