Today Matters » Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

March 22, 2019

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit my grandfather and grandmother. They are 96 and 95 years old and although they are in the same nursing home, they are in different areas due to their unique needs. My grandmother’s youngest brother is also in the same facility, so when we visit, there’s quite a bit of visiting to do. Although it’s hard to visit a nursing home, and a bit disconcerting to view the loneliness, fear, and depression of the residents, I learned several lessons about life: what’s important, how we should treat one another, and the value of paying close attention to all people — young and old.
It made me think of how all of our teachers and staff understand the value of getting to truly know each student — what seems like a small detail could be a most powerful connection in helping that child learn and grow.
After 75 years of marriage, and although nearly blind, my grandfather clumsily reached out his hand to hold the hand of my grandmother. Despite Alzheimer’s, she looked at him with a familiarity and readily took his hand. They sat quietly amidst the chaos I bring to the nursing home with my six children. I witnessed the gift of knowing at their core that there’s someone in this world, despite age and sickness and current conditions, that loves you for who you are, that loves you no matter what.
It made me think of how critically important it is that each child who walks through our doors each day knows that they are valued and cherished by our adults— just as they are — all growth comes from a solid core of care.
My Uncle, who is 88 and old in his own right, was not entirely aware that his sister, my grandmother, was also present in the room. Still, they wanted to have their wheel chairs by one another. When we were departing, and getting my grandparents back to their approved locations, my Uncle stated, “Where’s my sister?” He made the statement out of concern, as if he needed to know so that he could watch out for her. It was genuine, honest, chivalrous, and pure.
It made me think of how we try daily to instill and reinforce positive behavior in our students while developing a sense of social awareness and the importance of not only being responsible for themselves, but helpful to and caring of their fellow students.
I like to get close when I talk to my grandparents. Due to vision and hearing issues, I tend to want to look them in the eyes, eyeball to eyeball. I removed my baseball hat and got in close so that they could both see me and hear me. Despite the verbal jabs from them about my thinning hair… I love these people. I looked my grandmother, who again has Alzheimer’s and struggles to remember who we all are, directly in the eye. While locked in a gaze, I told her how much I loved her and how I longed to see her between visits. Her eyes lit up and then teared up. Although she no longer has the words to express what it means to her to hear those words, because I know her so well, I know she feels the same.
It made me think of how each and every child in District 142 is unique, particularly in their learning styles, and how powerful and important it is for our teachers and staff to lean in close and learn the ways each child takes in the world and how best to reach them — customizing their experience, with the goal of seeing their eyes light up.
This was the hardest post I’ve ever written, but it speaks to what the world needs more of… and in many ways, what our schools should be like. The questions that come to mind include: Are we giving our students a safe place to come and be themselves, caring for them for who they are, supporting them, encouraging them, telling them hard truths about life and learning, for their own benefit? Are we communicating with them, expecting nothing in return, in that same genuine, honest, and pure manner which caused my uncle to show concern for his aged sister? And maybe most importantly, have we created a learning environment where our students are known? Do we know our children well enough to care for them and to give them what we know they really need?
This is what education really means —to fulfill, care for, and show every child in our schools what’s really important in life — that they are important and the reason for all of our work!
These lessons were taught to me by my parents and grandparents, and they were so impactful. I think it’s important for us to teach our students these lessons of compassion, concern, and love as well. This is embedded in the education we provide here in District 142.