There is no course, no workshop or training that can adequately prepare a school leader for a tragedy. In the moment, even the crisis manual that sits readily upon the shelf is of little use. Instead, a leader relies on intuition, the attributes that comprise the human condition, and the collective capacity of the organization to provide guidance. In addition, she will open a space for the extended community – the people who live within proximity, the various local organizations, and the State wide ‘sister’ schools, and allow them to share in the process and give the strength necessary to navigate the uncharted waters.
School tragedies come in all shapes and sizes and no two are alike. Undoubtedly, they are all surreal, numbing and without rationale. Typically there are no words to describe these events or the magnitude of impact they may have on the school community and beyond; simply, to try would be a waste of precious energy.
It has been 60 days since I, as a leader, was overwhelmed by my first extremely horrific school tragedy. As we move forward as a school, it continues to have a place in our daily operations, from school level decision-making to classroom instructional practices, and most importantly, on students’ availability to learn.
My reflection of the hours and days that have passed along with my focus on those ahead, is not on making sense of the tragedy or revisiting and evaluating my decisions or actions, instead, I think about the attributes of an educator. I am reassured daily that the field is numbered by individuals who possess a unique commitment to serve – a call to action, and it is these attributes that collectively exercised, restore the learning community.
Our daily existence is not merely focused on leading, learning, teaching, counseling, or coaching, but on the well being of every student – the whole child, and when called up, their families and on the rare occasion, in the wake of tragedy – entire communities.
Our daily existence goes beyond the areas of expertise for which we were trained; it stretches into fields ranging from communications to psychology, from stage acting to mediation, from humorists to Houdini’s, and most importantly from situational analysts to care givers.
These roles all happen without hesitation or impact on oneself. We respond without clear directives or scripts. We continue to push beyond our zones of comfort and challenge our limitations. Our automaticity happens because these are our kids, and we love them.
Never are these attributes more apparent, than during a crisis; a time when every individual rises up. Faculty and staff members exercise courage and strength they never knew existed. The external community provides the support that fosters the internal capacity necessary to persevere – to continue to push through, despite emotional and physical exhaustion.
They have all contributed in ways you may already understand due to similar experiences, or you may not understand, because to date, you have been spared of a tragic school event; regardless, all you need to know it that you if you open yourself – your leadership, to the power of educators, then you have opened yourself to the minds, hands and hearts that not only power you to the top of the mountain, but to also ‘begin the climb’; that is to provide direction and hope for the future.