Posted in Leadership

Lead with a torch – part two

I had high hopes for leading our students into this new year. It’s been just three
days and while some are quickly becoming good beta soldiers marching to the beat of tyrannical leaders, the real leaders are those whom I had a hunch about previously – our students, our children.

Next door to our school and across the country we are seeing a growing number of mask removals by students who are fed up with mixed messages, changing goal posts, and no accommodations for those that want a choice on a mask-free classroom. They just want the choice and are gaining support from many parents and leaders, yet they are being criticized by a few loud voices who think it’s terrible that these students have stood up to claim their freedom to BREATHE, and their right to a choice.

Mainstream doesn’t want to hear cries of “I can’t breathe.” Not from them. Leadership doesn’t care about their mental or emotional health. Not really. Not when authorities have clamped down harder even though we’ve known there’s been a horrific increase in suicide. Our children are dying to live and I think it’s high time we let them.

The narrative that touts its pharisaical phrases like “We’re all in this together”, means crap to the students who, by the way, cannot be fooled. Manipulated..? Yes, but not before they call your bluff. The real feeling of the students are that they are “all in this alone.” That’s exactly what I heard a student say while passing through the hall yesterday. I couldn’t identify the student and if I had I would have tried to talk to them but, I wouldn’t have sold them a line like we “need the masks to keep everyone safe” because… they themselves don’t feel safe. And the truth is they ARE alone. They aren’t being listened to or acknowledged. They get to be alone with their feelings, made to feel bad because they want a break in order to breathe or drink water. They are made to feel worse because they know they aren’t allowed to think differently. They know what is happening is counterintuitive and still they have no choice. They are not safe in their souls because they are not allowed to be seen or heard.

Last year I had a student tell me they wanted to cut themselves. Another told me they felt like everyone just wanted them to shut up. Some were made to feel “as uncomfortable as possible”. That was an actual stated goal to punish a couple of students who had shields instead of cloth masks. The same students had a doctors note but that didn’t matter. Our children, the ones we told to stay home because we wanted to be safe have become the most unsafe ones during this time.

And they’ve lost faith in us and our institutions. They’re in danger of losing hope. Until they know they matter and until they know they are heard, we cannot expect to “educate” them. We will see more walk outs, more suicides, and more dissent growing in communities whose leaders esteem governors as gods, and corona their king.

The verdict at this point on how we as educators are leading during this time will one day be made known to all. What I see are followers, not leaders and the kind that carry clipboards. (See my previous post “Lead with a torch” for clarity). I highly doubt we will be known as the ones that led with a torch.

For those obsessed with the group-think cult of death and still believe a mask can save your life, I truly feel sorry for you. I’m even sorrier for my students though because for a virus with a 99.9% survival rate in this age group, they get to mask up for 6.5 hours per day and unless you have been working 6.5 hours a day in a mask and have no mental health issues, then please stop criticizing the students that are standing up to be heard. Standing up to BREATHE. Viruses will never leave us. Our students are checking out though and I’ve had enough.

I’m disgusted. Our children’s faces are covered, authorities are taking harsher stances and history will judge us. WE are complicit! All of us.

I’m convinced even more so now that it will be our students, and the less obedient ones that will be our best torch bearers.

Lead with a torch. Not a clipboard. ~ LoriAnne Mullins

Lead with a torch. Photo: Dreamstime Royalty Free image

Lead with a Torch

In recent days, I had the honor of sitting on an interview committee tasked with scoring a candidate for a new position of leadership at one of our schools. It was a last minute task, but a much needed addition to the committee from the standpoint of representation from someone with an in-the-trenches perspective.

My day job is unique in that I work very closely with a few students and am part teacher, part tutor, part nurturer. I work not only with struggling readers but also with students who come with outside-the-box needs. There are days when I hear stories and personal details that some teachers are not privy to. There’s a delicate balance in my job where life experience and wisdom has taught me where my job ends and another begins. This past year during the lockdown, I renamed my official title as I sought to find one that was less formal sounding. My title signature at the end of all my emails used to read “Paraprofessional”.  Now, it reads “Paraprofessional/Learning Coach”.  

Even though this title impacts me and how I approach my job, the students don’t care what I call myself or how I brand myself. They do care, however, how “alongside” them I am and how I show up.  Now more than ever our students need the “alongside-ness” of educators and coaches so when I was scoring candidates for the new position, I asked myself if the next leader would lead in the way a coach leads. Why a coach? Because the word coach implies leading from the heart as a mentor. I imagined a leader who would carry a torch rather than a clipboard, light the way rather than keep score and engage with a bold presence rather than sit on the bench

One interviewee stood out to me and to all the other interviewers. This leader was not only a previous coach but one that was committed to putting students first. This is not an easy focus but it’s the right one. The challenge of making students a focus shows up everyday as we sift through trendy curriculum, standardized testing and doing what’s best for the classroom. How do we guard the hearts and minds of these precious ones while working within the confines of what the collective may be doing? These are questions that good leaders ask.  The sense I got from the preferred candidate was that he really cared about this answer. I care too because the collective is not my classroom. Student focus is a principle I choose to live by and it works. 

This past year I very much had a different experience as I taught a social emotional class to a group of 6th graders. Even though I believe in the freedoms of expression given to all of us, I also had to constantly remind my students that even though someone may not express the same things as they do, we all get to like what we like.  Oftentimes this approach went far in creating the kind of classroom culture that feels like all of us are created equal. It echoes what each student inherently has as a citizen of the United States. It created a sense of belonging too as we strove to make allowances for each other while still standing in solidarity in our love for freedom and individuality.  

This past year I’ve been challenged to cancel “cancel culture”, committing  to allow differences without insults and creating a place where one student at the end of the year offered her thanks when she said, 

“Miss LoriAnne, thank you for making this classroom a place where everyone is accepted and can feel safe.”  

I’ve lived long enough and travelled far away enough to know that feeling accepted and safe is not something to take for granted. While I received a huge compliment from this student, I believe it is our students who will be the ones that lead us with the best ideas. I look forward to September, when new leadership takes their place as the leader I’ve imagined for our youth.

Points to ponder: Great leaders lead with a torch; not a clipboard.

How will you lead?

Shalom, LoriAnne

Lead with a Torch