The Election Results: A Teachable Moment

This morning, fourteen school leaders gathered at UVEI for a bi-monthly session as a part of their year-long program to become certified administrators. The agenda for the day was school budgets, but after the long, surprising evening watching election results come in, these educators know that some time needs to be spent on what the election means for teachers, leaders and students. The conversation revealed that no has definitive answers, but these leaders are determined to lead with compassion.

An intern, Sarah, brought in a Huffington Post article about what to tell students about a Trump win.  Daniel, a current Vermont science teacher, was uncomfortable with the opening of the article: “Tell them, first, that we will protect them.”

“I have to assume,” he said, that “the majority [of Trump supporters] voted for him to protect their children,” and their perceptions of the dangers we face in this country are real. We need to root our work with our teachers, students, parents, and communities in empathy and understanding, regardless of where we stand.

A current assistant principal in a Vermont school agreed. She said, “Even if the outcome was different, kids would be struggling with difficult feelings. We have a lot of work to do.” She went on to acknowledge that fear and anxiety is harmful for our students, and if the election had gone the other way, some portion of our school communities would be processing complicated feelings. “Care-taking needs to happen in a sensitive way.”

But there is fear and anxiety in this room, and feelings of uncertainty about how to proceed. One teacher shared that her co-teacher was in tears this morning. “We’ve referred to Trump for so long as a bully. We have a [child who can be a] bully in our classroom,” and she wondered what she and her co-teacher could tell him now.

“We don’t have a lot of students of color, and we need to be sensitive to how isolated they might feel,” another intern shared, “but we do have 50% females. I’m the mother of strong-willed daughter, [and] she is flat-out devastated and terrified.” She noted that other girls must be wondering what this means for them. Wherever the fear comes from, and people in the room noted that it may be inflated by the media, it’s a real reaction our girls might be having.

The overwhelming sentiment in the room was one of awareness of how challenging it is to be a teacher in moments such as these, and the enormous weight and responsibility of leaders to attend to the needs of diverse communities.

Our executive director, Page Tompkins, weighed in. “All these tensions are real, and we don’t have any easy answers for you.” But he shared his own experience.. “There have been so many times that I have not been the leader I want to be, but when I am, I am leading from a place of compassion, human connection, and care for people’s growth. Evan saying that out loud, it seems a little trite right now,  ” he chuckled, “But it is the best I’ve got for you right now.”

It’s a good starting place.

Perhaps the principal at Marion Cross School in Norwich summed it up best in a letter to his school community. "Uncertainty can bring an odd clarity to what we really consider important. Recognizing that sometimes unexpected events and behavior happens, we should pursue our mission—and our commitment to the kids—together."