Friday, June 1, 2018

How Can We Soften Schools?

Special Note - This is not a post about guns, safety, or security.  Furthermore, my thoughts and prayers continue to be with every parent and educator of every school shooting.

Today my heart is heavy.  Another tragedy has happened at a neighboring school.  Since Parkland and Santa Fe I have struggled with this question.  "What can we do to prevent this from happening at our school?"  I am certain that this is a common question among every educator, parent, law enforcement officer, and civic leader all over America.  And it should be.  This could happen in every school in America.

But I'd like to point out a problem that I have with my question.  I feel like the approach we are taking with prevention is predominantly from the standpoint of not allowing it to happen.  Now I agree that I and those I work with must do everything in our collective power to prevent a gunman from coming into the school, and believe me.  I am constantly thinking of what more we can do to be more prepared.

So What Are We Missing???
Yes, we can and should harden our schools more.  We can take more measures to ensure that gun violence never happens in our schools, and we better be doing more right now.  But I have to ask what we as leaders, parents, and communities are doing to soften the hearts of our children.  Honestly we can’t harden our schools unless we are making intentional efforts to soften the hearts of those inside the school. In this ever-connected world, compassion appears to be waning.  We seem to have kids more and more disconnected from significant adults and meaningful relationships with other kids.

As parents, we used to work together to raise our kids.  Now could we be afraid to work with one another when one of them is starting to fall through the cracks out of fear of confrontation or condemnation?  Authentic student to student relationships have been replaced with superficial likes, follows, and streaks, and all the while depression, promiscuity, downright meanness, and apathy are glorified every time they look into the palms of their hands.

Now let's get real.  This isn't a new problem.  Kids have always struggled to find their significance, but now with every passing year, we are starting to see their hopelessness transform into audacious acts of abhorrent behavior.  There are warning signs, and we have to start asking ourselves every day what we are doing to save the students who are silently crying out in painful desperation.

How Can We Soften our Schools???
The answer to our problems starts and ends with the hearts and minds of our kids.  We have to start talking about it with them.  That means we can't ignore how kids feel.  How they feel is ultimately how they will act out.  Being nice to one another is something that we must teach, model and expect both at home and at school.  How we resolve conflict must start with the heart and end with understanding and respecting all sides.   It means a little less selfishness and lot more selflessness.

Let’s get to work. Compassion needs a comeback, and that can't happen without connecting with kids in more powerful ways.   Reaching out to kids who are neglected or disconnected must become a core action of everyone within our schools and throughout our communities.  We can do this if we remember that our primary job is to educate the heart and mind of every student.

Finally, my heart is with everyone who has been devastated by these senseless acts both directly and indirectly.  My hope is that my thoughts today challenge us all to remember that we can harden schools but we can be more effective when we also work to soften the hearts and minds of the souls who are in those schools.

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