With a tenacity that astounded me, the bird flew at my office window, pecking the glass and flying back to the tree near the entrance to campus. A Yellow Breasted Chat (I looked it up) the bird announced it’s knocking on the glass with a throaty cry, acting as if it had something really important to tell me.
It didn’t. It was a bird.
But as I watched this collection of feathers and frustration come at my window (over and over and over again) I thought about the times I’ve seen equal determination in those around me, hellbent on giving the principal (or the school or the district) a message, but unable to make themselves clear.
Sometimes it’s language. Institutions speak the language of bureaucracy, and speak that with an English accent. As a principal I know how important it is that I take the time to avoid the acronyms of education and the obtuse vernacular of legal language. I recognize both the legal and moral obligations of communicating in the languages the families at my school speak, and saw in this bird a reminder of how frustrating it can be when I talk more like a principal than like a dad, or when I’m careless or hurried in my communication.
Sometimes it’s fear. Over a couple of decades working in schools, I’ve learned that an overwhelming majority of parents really respect education and educators. Some feel nervous or hesitant reporting information they know might be seen as bad news. In these cases it isn’t as much about miscommunication as it is silence. Inside these moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, uncles and aunts, the desire to cry out is held back by the fear of disappointment, or (at it’s worst) the potential of not being heard. As I watched that bird banging against my window, I jotted notes to myself to do more to reach out to the school community and invite every voice into the conversation.
Sometimes it’s that our message is misdirected. This has happened to me more than a few times when I was on the other end of the communication, with something I needed to say, looking for someone who could hear me. In those times I wanted so much for the person I identified as having a solution to be the right one; too often I realized later that I was wrong. Like that Yellow Breasted Chat, sometimes our hopes outweigh reality, and the message we want so much to deliver isn’t really meant for the one we had in mind.
I see great people come to my office with challenges that my role as principal does not provide me the ability to solve. I listen, genuinely, sharing when I can, and giving them whatever I’m able, even if it’s only compassion. Some leave lighter. Some leave as frustrated as the bird at my window, wanting beyond hope that I could do something more to fix/cure/solve the problem that brought them to my office.
Whatever the cause of our banging up against a window, our beaks and claws scratching for a hold on the thing we can see, but not reach, we do well when we regroup, perch on a nearby branch, and try to figure out how we might get our message across differently.
My assistant, who was watching this strange occurrence, looked at me and said: “You know, they say sometimes animals can sense things we can’t.”
The bird tipped its head when I got near, looking at me out of one shining black eye. “You’re going to get hurt,” I told it.
It chirped once, as if it couldn’t understand what I was saying, and flew away.