Everyone is always going through something.

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My lab Nittany passed away last week. Almost 12 years ago, I walked into Puppy Lovers in suburban Chicago and picked her out of a large litter of adorable little 5 week-old black lab pups. The pack was wild and crazy but she was easy going and snuggled up to me when I picked her up later falling asleep. I knew she was the one. I immediately became an overbearing father full of love for this gift that some people refer to as a pet.

Nittany, Mark & Me. October 2012.
Nittany, Mark & Me. October 2012.

During her life we ran together, slept together, relaxed together, ate together and went through good and tough times together. She tore her ACL back when she was 4 and it was so hard to see her off her feet for that period of time. You never wanted to see her suffer for anything. Nittany loved to lick, love and be with you every place you went. She was dependent on Lauren and me, but she was always my rock. She rarely barked, never once growled at anyone and licked strangers as if they were longtime friends.

After our son Mark was born, we saw new side of Nit. She was the protector, the playmate and Mark’s favorite toy. Mark was sometimes too rough with her but it was like she understood he was just a baby. She loved him and loved us.

Losing my best pal has been something very difficult for me to swallow and I’ve personally shed a great deal of tears away from my friends and family. This is something I’m going through, and I’m thankful for those in my life who have expressed their thoughts, shared some perspective or have just said “sorry buddy.”  This experience has made me think deeper about my own staff and how I can support their social, emotional needs better in the upcoming year. The teachers and staff in our organizations are going through tough times constantly. 

Whether one of our staff members loses a friend or family member, a pet, their child is sick or must have surgery, working at school that day is oftentimes not their number one priority. Many say that coming to work when something horrific is happening in life is easier because of the distraction, which might be true – but we’re all human and we need to check in on each other. Principals must have a finger on the pulse of their staffs, student and families. Teachers must do the same for their colleagues, students and families. If your school truly invests in relationships then you are encouraged to seek support, personally and professionally and “it’s OK to be human.” The day to day work of being an educator is tough, and the lines between work life and home life are often blurred. Treat people the way you’d like to be treated. Set goals for yourself and your school to discuss when your staff returns in a few weeks. We need to be stubborn in creating a culture that will withstand the toughest of times. They are inevitable.

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