Recently, I was asked what I thought were my highs and lows of this school year. Taking a moment, I realized for someone who is normally reflective and contemplative, I had not even given myself the chance this year to do either. It seems that this year was more like driving a bus at high speeds, on fire, with its wheels falling off. No time to stop and think. No time to breathe. It was truly the hardest year of my 18 years in education. I know I am not alone in this. Please. Hug a teacher and anyone who works in schools. Just ask the custodians about the side effects of this year. Flying carrots, bags and packaged food debris, and the amount of food waste, made for extra messy campuses. But I digress.
I was able to quickly find my low. It was the only time where I felt it. I internalized it all. It was the only moment that I knew I could do nothing to help my teachers and students. It was the week of the mask protests. What started as five to eight kids in the library, quickly started to gain momentum. My admin team, counselors and I were taking turns trying to provide students with the curriculum. We were talking to our parents, trying to not make enemies of our families. Many of those conversations were not pleasant, with so many people filled with emotion. Yet, this was not our fight. We only wanted what was best for all children, while following the direction of the state. By day three we had over 50 protestors and by day five a quarter of our school was showing up in the multi-purpose room, ready to join. A few were truly protesting, but as these things go, many saw it as a way to hang out with their friends and not go to class. There was little learning happening that week. It was truly the most frustrating and lowest moment of the year.
Nonetheless, I will always remember the highs. These are too many to list, for sure. I can assure you that most include my admin team and counselors, as does the one that stands at the forefront. My biggest success this year was standing at promotion and looking out at so many faces of kids who grew academically and emotionally this year. In August, we had a fight on the second day of school. The second day! And it didn’t stop there. From fighting, to “Devious Licks” vandalism, to foul language and bullying, there were a lot of students who sat in my office, along with my partner’s, and my principal’s office. A lot. There were a lot of parent meetings. A lot of meetings with students and teachers. A lot of counselor referrals. A lot of tears were shed, parents and students alike. My partner and I learned more about restorative practices this school year than I learned during the last five years. We were fixing those bus tires while the bus was on fire and still moving. We began to get very creative with our thinking. We had students work with our Functional Skills classes, gaining empathy and responsibility. We had students research the history of words and apologize to other students that were hurt. There were days and months of students watching videos, reflecting, responding, and apologizing. For many students, appropriate behavior became their most important subject in school.
Our teachers were putting in overtime, too. Working with students to build relationships, reteaching expectations, and simply not giving up on kids. I must add as well that we have two new, phenomenal counselors on my site. In my career, I have never seen two people work as hard as those counselors did this year. (I keep telling them that it isn’t always like this!) The efforts we made with students were immense. I am so proud of the work we put in, the creative thinking involved and the commitment my staff had to meet the needs of every student.
I am so grateful for the work this year and the knowledge that resulted from all that work. Of course, I am looking forward to a smoother year, a year where the bus is already in good shape, and we just need to add gas. Although, if the bus happens to break down, I am not concerned. We have the tools ready to work on it!