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All of us have situations arise in our communities that affect our respective settings. Working in a large elementary building outside of Philadelphia, you have a good chance of having someone affiliated in some way with Penn State University (PSU). The University has over 20 campuses spread across the state of Pennsylvania. We have mothers of PSU students, friends, neighbors, current grad school students and a good deal of alumni at our building and in our parent population. Needless to say, there were a great deal of adults within our school’s learning community that had heard the horrific story, and watched painfully last night as the details and leadership decisions played out.
This morning, we had an 8:20AM grade level meeting scheduled to talk about some data from previous assessments and how we can teach it a little differently, and other resources that might be available to support our work.
We postponed the meeting to another morning next week, and instead, held an optional meeting for any staff connected to the Penn State situation who wanted to vent, talk openly or learn more about what was happening 193 miles away in State College, Pennsylvania.
The thirty-five minutes we spent together were full of passion, tears and an overall sense of concern for each other and for our alma mater, Penn State University. The feedback I would receive later allowed me to know these staff members left the room feeling heard, supported and that they could set some strong feelings aside for a few hours, and regain their focus on meeting the needs of the students they were about to teach.
The Penn State family, which I became a part of in 1995 as a freshman, brings a sense of belonging like I have never felt before. When you are a part of this family (others outside the group might say “academic cult”), you stick together at all costs and other “Penn Staters” as we call ourselves, understand and appreciate you. One teacher tearfully exclaimed, “I just want to be up there (State College) and be with my Penn State family.”
To say you are part of one big family as an alumnus is an understatement. Living graduate totals for PSU alumni across the world have grown to just under 500,000.
Although my building of 700 will never be quite as large as a University campus, the takeaway here is that leading a school is an unpredictable venture which calls for differentiated supervision according to the situation. Much like how we look at meeting the social-emotional needs of students, life events happen to teachers in their personal lives that can lessen their focus as educators within your school. If we do not ensure the social-emotional table is set for teachers and students alike, how can we expect the best teaching and learning to occur?
As leaders, we need to know our buildings and the staff who lay it on the line for us well enough to assess the situation and make decisions to allow for the necessary reflection and dialogue to satisfy the situation. The message goes along the lines of a book I read years ago entitled If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students: Guide to Success for Administrators and Teachers by Neila Conners.
Take the extra time to value those relationships in your own leadership setting. The investment will be worth the extra effort. Work to build your school’s culture to a place where residents value each other personally and professionally.
Penn State Class of 2000