Schools exist for children. It is difficult enough to create environments in which five year olds can enter and feel welcomed and safe, where they can become excited learners. We do it in all of our schools . We create safe environments in which students can do the hard work of learning while growing up. It begins when a five year old first begins Kindergarten, they enter a large unfamiliar building, without parents, filled with students older and bigger than they are. It has new people, new sounds, and smells that are foreign to them. They are ushered down long hallways and finally arrive in the room in which they will spend 10 months learning, next to children they probably never met before, from a teacher who will become their touchstone for the next 10 months. Then a room change happens during the day. They are taken to art, music, gym, or library, or lunch in which another teacher leads them for less than an hour and then the class is led back to the main learning room to return to their touchstone teacher. All the while, the child is unaware of what is expected by her parents, and the rest of us - those teachers never take their eyes off of them, watch them, and are sure to keep them safe.
Teachers are the educators who work the closest with our children. It is they who continue to act as touchstones for our students. Now finally, after Newtown, Connecticut and Moore, Oklahoma, we hear the public talking about teachers as heroes. It has been a long time coming. Both tragedies put a spotlight on the extremes that a teacher will go to protect their students. That is fundamental. It is at their core. Keep the children safe. We acknowledge and applaud them for lifting the daily work in a crisis so that others can see a piece of who they are and what they will do. In those moments when they act with courage to protect the children, they are revealing a capacity for leadership. It is a courageous moment and it is a leadership moment.
Teachers have become recognized as the first responders in schools. They embrace the responsibility to keep our children safe. Simultaneously, they are teaching them how to maneuver in a large social networks, how to read and write, think like mathematicians, scientists, and historians, express themselves music, art and dance, and become athletes. They do it every day, and always with some sense that their first responsibility, to keep the children safe, is a given, that there will be no challenge to the safe environment in which we all have become accustomed to live.
As the school year comes to a close, we prepare for summer. Attention turns away after the crisis fades or the next one comes somewhere else. Still, we wonder about the children from Sandy Hook Elementary School who lost classmates, teachers, and a principal. What do we know about those teachers who lost colleagues and students, and their principal? How are the families of those who lost loved ones that December day? We hope summer brings continued healing. Sadly, they now have a lot in common with the people of Oklahoma. Teachers lost students at Plaza Towers Elementary School, ripped out from their space by one of the strongest forces in nature. The school building turned to rubble, everything gone. What did those teachers think as they heard the sirens and the deafening sound of the tornado as it destroyed their town and their school? We know what they did. As at Sandy Hook Elementary School, they protected the children.
But when the news moves its focus to something else, Newtown, Connecticut and Moore, Oklahoma will go on, struggling as communities of families who have suffered terrible, unthinkable loss. It will be summer now. The burden of putting lives back together will rest upon the shoulders of the families. In both communities, offers of social services, counseling will surely remain. Who among us is truly prepared to deal with tragedies such as these on our own? When the fall arrives, and children return to school, it is expected that the teachers will know how to handle it. Somehow school and district leaders will stand with their teachers and welcome everyone back. In these two places, the 2012-2013 school year will always be remembered. It is the year when the communities’ hearts broke open. It is also the year we saw teachers and leaders put their lives on the line to protect children. We salute those educators who work with children each and every day, prepared to put their own lives on the line, to protect the children. But that isn’t enough. Educators deserve ongoing respect and recognition. They are the people who, if danger arises, will give their lives to keep our children from harm. We need to take care of them so they can best take care of the children.
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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.