I was a first year principal when Columbine happened (April 20, 1999). At that time, it seemed like it was part of a cluster of incidents related to Oklahoma City (April 19, 1995) and before that, Waco (April 19, 1994). It was the most momentous thing that anyone could remember happening in a school, and it never occurred to us that it would be one of a long string. Parkland is the 25th fatal school shooting since Columbine. Columbine is no longer even in the top ten of deadliest mass shootings in America.
Now that I’ve experienced so many of these tragedies-although none as closely as Columbine, which was 30 miles from my school-I recognize a pattern in the way I react to them. There’s the first “not another one” when I hear the news. Within a day or two it kind of hits me and I’m sad and teary. This time it was even harder because one of the victims looks so much like one of my sons that it was really shocking when the photograph on the front page of the newspaper caught my eye. And then over the next few weeks, I notice that there’s a bit of my mind that is occupied even though I am not conscious of it until I stop to think. But I know I’m not really myself because of all the mistakes I make-one time I ran a red light, another time I lost my keys, and this time I went to a workshop with a district without the folder that contained the name tents and my notes-and feeling tired, like I could be getting sick, and unhappy.
I am attaching a very useful document from Laura Jacobson at CCSU, who writes a letter to her student teachers very similar in intent to this Coaching Letter. She includes a host of valuable resources for coping with the aftermath of the Parkland shooting. In it, she makes the point that when bad things happen in schools, educators take responsibility for taking care of others. But these events also take a toll on us. As someone texted me, “It just sucks”. As Laura says, the lack of resources for support of educators is a significant gap.
I have learned to take care of myself-or at least, to do a better job of taking care of myself. Here’s what I do:
* I reach out to the people I care about and keep my kids close
* I treat myself as though I am getting sick even though I don’t think I am-I go to bed early, stay warm, and eat comfort food
* I pay more attention when I’m driving or crossing the street
* I say something nice to everyone I meet
* I just generally try to be more self-aware, more mindful, and move more slowly
I think one of the hardest things is to feel powerless in tragedy, because that leads to dismay. I choose instead to nurture my optimism and to act, and in fact I have lots of options for what to do. One of them is to reach out to you, to share my experience, to encourage you to practice self-care, to assure you that what you do matters, and to thank you for taking care of others, children and adults alike. I would also like to thank the group of principals I was with recently who made it safe for us to share our feelings about the recent shooting. It meant a lot to me.
If there is anything I can do for you, please let me know. Yours, Isobel
Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106