By Dorothy Byers, Head of School at St. Mildred's-Lightbourn School
Human beings are socialized creatures: we need social interaction to thrive. Working in education enables the development of deep relationships with the children, parents, and adults with whom we work. The impact of these relationships may take years to understand or come to fruition. Let me share one that is profoundly impactful in my life.
Flashback to the 1990s, a young Vice Principal's office, and a conversation she is having with a girl. Sadly, the conversation was the result of a fight at lunchtime in the back parking lot of this large high school. The girl participated in the fight and was the "third person in," a particularly negative situation.
The girl was upset, but not about her own situation – the fight was between her younger brother, Benjamin, and another student. The argument had been brewing and had finally became physical, and of course at lunchtime there were many onlookers encouraging the young combatants. One of onlookers ran to get the sister, who without thought joined in, and clocked her little brother's combatant with such force that he fell to the ground. Her fist was bloodied, but her little brother would have bruises and cuts that had to be cared for at the hospital. She was worried about Benjamin and about the response she would get at home as the gravity of the situation began to sink in.
The conversation in the young VP's office went something like this:
"So what happened out there?"
"I had to jump into the fight."
"He's my little brother and I had to protect him. I know it was wrong to fight and I know that my father will be furious, but I had to help."
So the young VP was left with a choice to make. A suspension from school for all those involved was clearly necessary. The girl clearly knew what she did was wrong, but her actions were driven by her instinct to protect her little brother. Her moral compass was well established.
The suspensions all occurred.
When the girl returned to school, at the re-entry meeting, the young VP set up support for her to navigate through not only school but also a tough family situation. Her dad was a tyrant who had little patience for a daughter who was involved in a fight, no matter what the reason. She completed school and graduated.
Flash forward to a spring day years later and a garden centre checkout kiosk. You know the type – little huts with a cash register. The VP is paying for little plants and her attention was on sorting them on the cart. It came time to pay. The girl in the kiosk looked at the credit card and then at the VP in her Saturday clothes.
"Hello Mrs. Byers, I'm Keisha."
"Hello! Great to see you. What are you doing now?"
"I'm completing my last year of nursing. I've paid for all of it myself. You are the reason that I've been successful because you believed in me when I got into trouble and when no one else did. You helped me understand that I was a good person and had a lot to give the world. I start working at the hospital emergency room next month."
As I retire from my position at St. Mildred's-Lightbourn, I have a few words to share with the educators I see around me. Never underestimate the impact that your actions and words – and your support – can have on the life of a child. Remember that in education we all influence the lives of the young people in our care.
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