Thursday, November 3, 2011

Empathy, Impact & Perspective

A couple of years ago, we revised the curriculum in our principalship program. One of our many goals was to get our future leaders out of their comfort zones and broaden their perspective around issues like culture and poverty. We know many school people are "good at" school because it is a middle class endeavor. Among other things, requiring field-based internship experiences in a non-profit/social service setting seemed like a good way to begin broadening our future leaders' experiences.

Yesterday I read a reflection written by an excellent student, Tracy Kelly, an elementary teacher from Woodbine, IA  who had completed her non-profit internship experience at a food bank. She described how, the evening before, the furnace in their house had gone on the fritz and she had recently hit a deer (on the way home from class, of course). These frustrations added to the every day stress of a teacher, wife and mother.

She described a couple of teenage boys who seemed a little hesitant to allow her to help load their pickup.She didn't understand why until she saw their sleeping items under the truck's topper. The truck was their home. She wrote about the insight and perspective she found when it hit her:

          "...my boo-hoo is someone else's dream. I have the means to fix what's broken."

She went on to describe what she sees as the principal's role in understanding poverty in unexpected places and all its disguises. Se described how she intends to extend her school into becoming a community of support that is fully vested with donors, non-profit agencies, churches, and school clubs to pick up the slack and serve children and families. And how, as principal, she can make a difference.

We certainly could have required her to write a paper or produce a PowerPoint presentation on poverty in her community. But I'm willing to bet we hit the mark when she figured out why the two boys didn't want her looking in the back of the truck.

It is beyond gratifying to play a small part in providing future school leaders with learning experiences like these that stick...and that help expand their empathy and awareness outside the walls of school.