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School Climate & Safety Opinion

We Need Leaders Strong Enough to Be ‘Humble and Kind’

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — November 06, 2016 5 min read
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Some of you may have watched the Country Music Awards last week. It offered a break from the incessant speculation that now serves as news. A new poll every day followed by a myriad of partisan interpretations. If there is one thing that might unite the nation right now, it is the desire for Tuesday to come. It was on the CMA’s that we heard a story and a song. The story was of a mom and the prayer she had for her children every day when they left for school. Tim McGraw heard it and it became the award winning song, “Humble and Kind”. In a fall where we have heard so much political vitriol, the song reminded us that we have a daily choice.

In Your Face Reality
This election cycle has brought language and behavior into our living rooms that most are unaccustomed to. The thick skin and committed courage (or unbounded ego) it takes to step up and run for office can be well understood after this election cycle. Mudslinging is not a new political concept but this campaign wins the award for worst in our lifetime. Trust is at a low and facts don’t matter. Foreign entities are playing with our democratic process and little attention is given to that. Soon we will see whether a traditional campaign strategy is our maneuvered by one relying on social media. Principles and policies of our candidates matter less than personality and star power. Though this dividedness may have been building for a long time in our nation, it is now an in-our-face reality.

It Will Arrive in Schools
School leaders might consider that the avalanche will be coming into schools. In explaining the Trump phenomenon, Michael Moore noted the degree of American frustration with the establishment. Many Americans have been struggling to find healthcare, a good job and a good living for their families for decades. We can understand how easily that morphs into resentment - the attention given immigrants and refugees. Those who feel they have not been seen or heard are angry. And, bear in mind, they are our parents and our voters and their children are in our schools. So, leaders, we bear a responsibility...or at least a wisdom... that inspires us to present an alternative for leaders of the establishment. We see and we listen and we deliver the best we have to all.

We are working with and for children. They are growing and watching and learning. We have both an opportunity and an obligation to model and offer children an environment in which they learn lifetime values. They can learn there is great strength to do good in the world and still be both humble and kind. They cannot learn that unless they are welcomed into an environment in which the adults are both. Much of the culture outside of school walls has become unkind. Those who are humble are few, often are dismissed as weak and are rarely famous. But we need schools to be places where good deeds are reinforced and service for the greater good is rewarded.

Humble and Kind
Leading a humble and kind environment is infrequently taught. It is silently expected, but rarely elevated into articulated expectation and supported with dollars. Reading comprehension, writing, literacy, STEM, assessment targets, social media, technology capture the attention and dollars .... until something bad happens. Once an unkind act results in a tragic event, focus turns. But, then, it is pulled back to the nuts and bolts of teaching and learning and scores. In the most extreme of cases, when there is an unkind act, like bullying on social media resulting in a break down of the victim, or worse, a suicide, attention is turned to teaching that bullying is wrong and what to do if a victim or a bystander. Important lessons all. But leading and teaching and learning in an environment that is humble and kind is simple, isn’t it?.

Stress often forces educators to focus on the demanding goal of improving teaching and learning and enriching the experience for all students. Rarely do folks’ minds turn to kindness and an essential educational tenet. But, at an intuitive level, don’t we know that children under stress can’t learn well? The stressors from outside and within take on a life of their own. We all know how much stress can be generated in our own minds.

The values of kindness and humility are developed in different ways by different people in different families and communities. But the effect is always notable. Author Jessica Lahey attributes this to character education in her article in The Atlantic:

Schools that teach character education report higher academic performance, improved attendance, reduced violence, fewer disciplinary issues, reduction in substance abuse, and less vandalism. At a time when parents and teachers are concerned about school violence, it is worth noting that students who attend character education schools report feeling safer because they know their fellow students value respect, responsibility, compassion and hard work. From a practical perspective, it’s simply easier to teach children who can exercise patience, self-control, and diligence, even when they would rather be playing outside - especially when they would rather be playing outside.

Our country has been assaulted by the lack of kindness and humility this season. The election cycle has been devoid of both. Everyday the news reports that people reveal that they are stressed, nervous, fearful and ‘can’t wait for it to be over’. Don’t think this doesn’t filter into the lives of children.

The Tipping Point is Here
So perhaps we seize the moment and allow this election cycle to become the tipping point for educators to re-commit to kindness and humility. If we could do that, then, regardless of who wins on Tuesday, we can capture something good from the process. There is no one way or 5 steps to accomplish this. But, there is a first step. Ask ourselves and observe ourselves. Are we strong enough to be humble and kind? Do we want to be responsible for youngsters growing up to be harsh, cruel,, rule breaking and selfish? Or will we be able to look back and know that the success of our students and their lives as adults were influenced by the environment created in the schools they attended and see them as adults who are kind and humble, happy and highly successful as well?

At the Country Music Awards, Tim McGraw sang “Humble and Kind” and actually it was that song that provoked us to write this piece. Perhaps you might want to watch the video. Perhaps we ask ourselves if that is how we live each day and ask our faculties as well.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

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