“All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.” – Leonardo da Vinci
Most of us, at one time or another, have lived through a life-stopping experience. One that mentally brings the world around us to a screeching halt. And when it happens we find it difficult to watch others interacting around us without screaming, “Don’t you understand what happened?”
Yet, no passers-by recognize your situation.
And we, too, fail to recognize these moments as they descend upon others around us. The majority of us are products of our environment and find ourselves constantly caught up in the same movement, places to go, people to see, meetings to attend, children to pick up, move, move, move. Whether we want to admit it or not, each one of us is caught up in this daily movement until something, something powerful, stops you in your tracks.
Unfortunately, it is often something difficult or painful, that makes us want to scream at those bustling around us, “can’t you see?” “Don’t you know what just happened?” and we find ourselves astonished with wonder that everyone around us can keep moving on oblivious to what has just jarred the walls of our world.
These experiences are often life-changing, and very seldom do you come out unscathed, rather you just hope for everyone to come out the other side intact. These experiences leave an imprint, create a different perspective, and alter our own life for a time, until the daily hustle and bustle finally lulls us back to normal and auto-pilot once again takes over.
We recently had the walls of our world jarred, the kind of jarring that stops you in your tracks, in a painful and scary way. The culprit, an armed robbery. Fortunately everyone walked away intact, just not unscathed. A horrible experience that has had far-reaching effects on the lives of those involved, both directly and indirectly. The one thing that you walk away with from such an experience is a heightened focus towards the importance of living life fully with family and loved ones.
Throughout the aftermath, time seemed to slow while emotions ran high on so many levels. Anger, sadness, concern, worry, frustration swirling unchecked as more and more family members arrived at the scene. It was during this time that the officers in the room caught my attention, not so much for what they were doing, but what they weren’t doing. Yet no word came as we sat waiting for a word of hope or relief…that everything was being handled, that everyone was now safe and those responsible were now in custody or even the arbitrary, we are following up on some strong leads and doing everything possible at this time.
Rather, it was a quite the opposite. While one detective seemed intent on running the investigation, several other detectives and officers stood idly by laughing, joking, shooting the breeze. The daily lunch destination, rather than the work at hand, seemed to be the hot topic of conversation. It was the famed water-cooler in the office transpiring in the midst of this crime scene. Blood, broken glass, interspersed with conversations revolving around the weekend and family.
My initial response was of a wanting to scream to the officers, “Hello! Is anyone here doing anything? Do you need any help? Is anyone tracking down leads? Do you need another description of the car? Is anyone really working?!!!”
And that was the point. That was the perception rather, my perception of what was going on, whether accurate or not, that perception was shaping my reality and it was telling me that no one was doing anything! I was completely floored by the nonchalant attitude. It made me wonder if anyone was taking this serious? I wanted to get people moving. I wanted action. I wanted to know that things were being done.
The problem with perceptions is that they shape our reality. However, perceptions do not always give us the whole picture. They don’t always tell us what is happening behind the scenes. As were my perceptions on that day. I was not privy to the wheels that may have been set into motion, just what I saw before me. The nonchalant attitude from the officers served to further define my perceptions at the scene. And the nonchalant attitude before me, said “no one cares and nothing is getting done here” which further fed the frustration and anger.
Reflecting back, this serves as such a vivid example of why leaders need to display a strong level of emotional intelligence. High levels of emotional intelligence allow a leader to discern and understand, that while this is everyday for them in their job, when the person on the other line dials 911, it may be one of the most important and possibly devastating days in their entire life. It is necessary for leaders to have that level of reflection and empathy for those we serve and support.
And how often do these same examples occur in our schoolhouses each and every day. Like the officers, the everyday hustle, bustle and demands of leading a school can take its toll. Without that level of emotional intelligence we, too, can appear nonchalant to our parents, as if we don’t grasp the gravity of the situation.
That is why it is vital that we approach every situation with the appropriate level of professionalism that we remain perceptive to the fact that we are discussing a parents most valued and loved being on this earth, and that we display the empathy and understanding for their concerns, fears and frustrations as they walk through our doors.
While it may be true that you are sitting in on the third IEP meeting of the day, 911 was called for asthma attack, the lunches were an endless parade of discipline, or to put it mildly, it was a long and trying day, we STILL have to remember that the meeting we may be doing our best to just make it through is the most important meeting that the family sitting before you has ever experienced. The current and future success of their child is at stake at that moment. Their lives are being disrupted and jarred. And unfortunately we often do ourselves, our school, and our profession a disservice when we appear and purport a nonchalant stance towards the situation at hand.
When we lack the appropriate levels of emotional intelligence and find ourselves taking a nonchalant, business as usual attitude, we need to take a step back and reflect on the situation. How must the parents feel? How would I feel if I was in there shoes? Finding ways to relay to the parents that the wheels are in motion and there are supports and interventions employed goes a long way in these situations. Letting a family know that you have our personal attention and we will work together to ensure that your child is successful will further the process of building a strong and supportive partnership between home and school.
So the next time that you are tired and just wish you were anywhere else than this SST or IEP meeting, ask yourself if, “I am providing the right level of attention to the situation? Is this the level of attention that I would expect for my own child? How am I supporting these parents that are feeling a plethora of emotions?” Reflecting upon and employing an appropriate amount of understanding and empathy will go a long way in building a connection that supports and sustains relationships with the families in your schoolhouse.
For the families we serve, this may feel like one of those life-changing situations. The questions is: Are you moving too fast to recognize that concern? Or do the parents know that you understand the gravity of the situation and that you are there to support and guide them through this difficult time?
It is worth reflecting upon…
Great post. Empathy should be the number characteristic taught in schools to both children and adults.