Summer is a season that invites reflection. Hiking through the woods, walking on the beach, watching a ballgame, in each of these is the time and inspiration to slow down and make connections. As a principal, July is a month with a bit more breathing room, a time when the emails don’t pile up quite so fast, and the decisions to be made have implications weeks away more often than in the moment. Summer means renewal, reflection, and (at its best) the improved perspective that only separation from the bustle of the school year can provide.
So, when I heard this exchange while sitting on a driftwood log on a beach in Lincoln City, I had the room to think: Our school is a little like the beach.
Mom: “People always look so happy when they’re at the beach.”
11 year old boy: “…except in Jaws.”
14 year old sister: “They’re being eaten.”
Our school is a little like the beach. Kids smile a lot, laughter and applause are common, and people seem happy …except when they’re not.
Because as magical as our school is—and don’t get me wrong, it is magical. I’ve been in this business for more than a quarter century and have never been at a place so creative, curious, and accepting—we’re still a part of the real world, a world with stress, struggle, and more than occasional challenge that tests our souls.
We cry a bit. We feel pressure. We need help, each other’s help.
I mean we’re not getting eaten by sharks, but….
The pre-teen and teenage years are tempestuous at best, both for the kids and the parents too. Few look back and say “I wish I could go back to middle school” and the angst that has been a part of high school since we’ve had high schools is as real today as ever. And we can add to that social media, the pressures of college admissions, navigating the sometimes stormy social waters, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.
It’s why it’s so important to support each other, be kind, help.
That’s not just students. Parents, who care so deeply, and teachers and school staff, who have made their profession working with kids feel those pressures too, need care too, and have the potential to be a part of the solution.
It’s easy to feel hopeless or useless when the pressure of the world closes in on us, when people around us (or even we ourselves) make decisions that aren’t the right ones, and when we’re surprised by all it takes to be human. When we aren’t able to change things as quickly as we’d like, or even feel like we may never be able to improve them, for me it helps to remember that line from Dickens: “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
The very real stress and challenges we face are opportunities to help and graciously accept the help of others. In the best of all worlds that help would come from family and those around us. It would be naive to believe it always does. And… though it may seem aspirational, I believe that is the ideal that should guide our work as a school community.
Being kind, checking in with one another, applauding when we see someone who needs applause, these are the building blocks of a foundation that can support our school.
We will all need that care and kindness at some point this year. We all have the capacity to provide that care and kindness to those in need.
So as we get ready to start school again my challenge to myself and my school community is to find ways to be that person who helps lighten the burden of others. We need each other and can make a profound and positive difference to one another. We need to. This is life. It’s not always a day at the beach.