Posted by Vickie McCullough on Apr 20, 2018 11:33:13 AM
I had recently been given the opportunity to take part in the annual Idaho Prevention and Support Conference. Once there, I was instantly treated to numerous stories and seminars, task groups and educational leaders, all gathered to express and discuss the same goal: how do we, as members of the educational and youth community, strive do our utmost in keeping our children, teachers, and all the unsung cogs of our educational system motivated and informed.
After spending time with these hardworking and dedicated individuals, all striving towards these goals, there were several takeaways that I felt warranted special recognition and reflection.
Understanding Student Trauma
The first, how much I personally learned and how much my understanding grew on the subject of student trauma. As a longtime teacher and school leader, I have always been painfully aware that there are students out there who come from homes and backgrounds that have left them in far from ideal circumstances, in which they have been subjected to deeds no child should ever have to endure. What this conference reminded me of, however, was that not all signs of said abuse, not all evidence suggesting a troubled physical or mental state, are always going to be apparent.
Often times abuse leaves marks we as teachers will not see with a simple gaze, and that is our job -- to look for signs not always highlighted for all to see. We are to look for signs of disengagement or acts of personal isolationism, to look for signs of behavior that seem contextually out of place or otherwise extreme. Not to look for behavior that is representative of a misbehaving child, but signs representative of a child that is coping through struggle. We are too look for that struggle, find those invisible signs, and do our best to respond appropriately.
Empathizing with Parents of Students
The second thing I believe deserves a certain degree of recognition is the focus that this conference placed on understanding and empathizing with the parents of our students. We have to understand, must understand, that the parents of our students are endowed with information and experiencing a set of circumstances we as educators can only begin to fathom. They have an understanding and a set of experienced knowledge with their children only a parent can truly understand, and as we work with our students, it is respect and acknowledgment of that relationship that must drive a great deal of our thinking.
Particularly as it relates to parents of at-risk youth or children of an emotionally troubled background, we must remember at all times that it is the parent who is driving the point of contact between educational goals and the child’s needs. We must communicate with the parents in informed and meaningful ways, share with them information that is new to their perspectives, and above all, exercise a potent degree of respect and understanding for all that they are and all that they need.
Educators are Not Alone
And finally, the third thing that I grew instantly aware of at this conference was perhaps the most refreshingly hopeful; we, as educators, are not alone. We have tools to connect ourselves to a network, to a group of supportive and like-minded individuals who share in our goals and our drive. An educator is more prepared and better informed when an educator has the opportunity to reach out and work and consult with their professional peers. Conferences like this one brought into sharp reality that the community of educators is at their best when we are focused on networked connections and professional interconnectivity.
All of this taken together instilled within me a greater sense of passion and vigor for the missions that keep our realm of educators constantly striving forward. It was a conference that introduced me to more of the astounding men and women that make our community strong enough to tackle the challenges ahead, informed me on a range of new and important issues that deserve stalwart focus.
But perhaps most importantly, it was a conference that reminded me of the value and strength that comes with educators who are invested in their craft and concerned with their progress. These newfound perspectives will be invaluable to me as a school leader going forward, and I must express me deep and profound gratitude for all the people there that made the experience so meaningful.
Written by Vickie McCullough
Vickie McCullough is the Head of School at ICON - Idaho Connects Online School, serving 6-12 grade students throughout the state of Idaho.