At this time of year, predictions accompany resolutions and often, by the time the trees bud and the crocus pop through the frozen earth, both the predictions and the resolutions are forgotten. Now, there are predictions being made about the Common Core, eRate, high stakes standardized tests, teacher tenure and more. Resolutions are being made about behaviors that support good mental and physical health. But, we’d like to begin the New Year with a resolution that is more fundamental; let’s talk about improving our human condition by “seeing each other.”
We audaciously predict that a simple resolve to “see each other” and allowing others to “see us” would make a difference in schools and in the world community. What we mean by “seeing each other” is best explained in New York’s Police Commissioner William Bratton’s eulogy of Officer Rafael Ramos. Here it is in part:
Rafael Ramos was assassinated because he represented all of us. Even though, beneath the uniform, he was just a good man. And he was just your dad. And maybe that’s our challenge.
Maybe that’s the reason for the struggle we’re now in--as a city, as a nation. Maybe it’s because we’ve ALL come to see only what we represent, instead of who we are.
We don’t SEE each other.
The police, the people who are angry at the police, the people who support us but want us to be better, even a madman who assassinated two men because all he could see was two uniforms, even though they were so much more.
We don’t SEE each other. If we can...
If we can learn to SEE each other... to see that our cops are people like Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, to see that our communities are filled with people just like them too.
If we can learn to SEE each other, then WHEN we see each other, we’ll heal. We’ll heal as a Department. We’ll heal as a city. We’ll heal as a country.
What Does That Mean For Us As Educators?
It is difficult living in the environment in which mandates for our work are accompanied by ‘how to’ directions,ignoring our expertise, faithfulness to children and creativity. But it is our reality. Leaders know how it feels to be unseen. Even the most powerful among us has had that experience. But, how many times do we look into the faces of the children and wonder who is really seeing them? Or their parents and guardians?
There is a Personal Cost to Allowing Ourselves to be Seen and to Seeing Others
Once the curtain is down, the business suit removed, we become vulnerable. Without the insulation the role provides, can we relate to humanness of those who are growing up in our care? Asking a simple question...am I more comfortable as the leader or as a caring adult in the child’s life...tells the difference.
Some are naturally good at it, revealing their humanity and connecting to it in others. But in the rush of the day and the worry about accountability and responsilbities, it can be easy to shut down. A pressing deadline, demands of the board, an unnerving news report, students in trouble, teachers upset, budget conflicts are a part of many days. It can be easy to flip the switch that takes us into our heads and strategic thought.
But there is a cost. Without a whole-hearted transition, where the leaders translate the demands from outside of our schools to meaningful work within our schools, the work becomes burdened with our resentment. Seeing each other cannot occur through a resentment filter. It means we must walk in another’s shoes for a minute or two, even if they are new to us and uncomfortable. No matter how we perceive or experience the “other” seeing each other means looking past the experience we are having and into the humanity of the other person.
Familiar to most is when we deal with an upset parent who presents as angry. They come in with frantic anticipation that we have been unfair, their child treated poorly, and they want justice. Teachers and leaders alike have been confronted with parents like that...and most of us see past the behavior to a parent who desperately wants to defend their child and make sure we are fair and as invested in their child as they are. They want us to see them and act with a value of them.
Local Control Over Climate and Culture Resides in the Hands of the Leaders
The leader(s) are transformers of the message and mangers of the boundaries. No matter whether we are able to see the humanity in those who have imposed the changes upon us, it is important to retain the power of leadership to welcome the humanity of those who enter schools each day.
Policy makers are removed from our day-to-day students interactions, only hear from the vocal few or insiders, and they focus on statistical results. That is their job. Our job is to prevent disconnectedness from intruding into our schools and into the lives of children. Seeing the humanity in each other can cut through all of this to what we have in common. It can help us find the places where we are the same. This is not a new challenge. Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza wrote about it in the sixteen hundreds: “I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, not to hate them, but to understand them.”
So our suggestion for a 2015 New Year’s resolution is offered with a nod to Commissioner Bratton. Let’s resolve to see each other. Let the healing needed in our communities begin in our schools and let us grow a generation of children who can make this century one in which we moved forward as a people, in our humanity as well as our technology. Then, we will have done our part. We will all begin to heal.
The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.