Nurturing the social and emotional wellbeing of children and young people during crises
As he walked into my office, I couldn’t help noticing he appeared to be a decent boy. Tall, broad shouldered, smartly turned out in his neat school uniform.
He didn’t look like one of the naughty twelfth graders, yet here he was, being marched into the Principal’s office for being absent without reason for over a week. Sometimes the innocent looking ones can be most notorious.
Anyways, he has to be given a tough talking to, I thought. After all, I take my future ambassadors very seriously.
And so, I dove right in, head first. Raising my voice to show anger, I began my lecture on responsibility, importance of attendance, setting an example etc. etc.
He started to get teary eyed. I figured my message was getting through. “I’m sorry, Sir”, he blurted “but it’s nothing like that”. I stopped, waiting for him to continue.
I wanted to see how creative an excuse he could come up with for his AWOL demerit. He went on to describe how his mother took seriously ill about ten days ago.
That his father was living and working overseas, and being the older of two children, he had to stay at the hospital and look after his mother.
He would come home in the morning to feed and send his sister to school, and return back to the hospital. Also, he had sent word through a classmate to the class teacher last week, orally. I asked him the name of the hospital and he answered without hesitation.
It was a hospital where the Chief doctor was a dear friend of mine. As he stood nervously, I dialled my doctor friend. This story needed confirming. It was pretty far fetched.
The minute I mentioned why I had called, the doctor informed me the mother had stage three cancer. It didn’t look good. He remarked how proud I must be of my student, who had been shouldering the entire responsibility in a dignified and mature manner. I was stunned into silence.
I looked up at the boy and felt smaller than an ant. I got up and hugged him and we both wept. I cried because we had failed him miserably. In his darkest hour, after having informed his class teacher, he did not mope or get angry. He went about handling his great responsibility like a man, a bigger man than me.
This experience changed the way we deal with all issues in the school. Each child has been specially and beautifully created by God, for a very special purpose. Our job is to care for each aspect of that child. It was a wake up call, as we were not practising what we were preaching.
In the Bible we are told of young Jesus Christ growing “in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52). This four fold growth involves the physical, the emotional, the spiritual and the social.
Promoting and ensuring this all-round growth must be the cornerstone of education and the goal of every educationist. Each child walks into school from a different background and a different morning experience. Some are happy, some sad, some nervous, some scared, some shy, some excited, some hurting… but each one longing for love and acceptance. Our very first word, first reaction can make or break them. So, choose that word and reaction with thought and care… It took a child to teach me this.
Effective Principals 2020 | Dr. Michael V Williams, Dean of Mount Carmel Schools
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