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This, unlike any other year in my memory, is truly one of the most unique and challenging experiences that educators and families face. Just a few short months ago, all of us were breathing a sigh of relief that perhaps the worst of the pandemic was behind us. Life seemed to be returning to normal. In what seemed like overnight, we became introduced to the Delta variant. And here we are several weeks later with the pandemic, again raging, only this time there are additional challenges that are affecting every school, every leader, every classroom and every teacher.

It is almost impossible to watch or see any news that does not have communities, families and school officials clashing over pandemic-related policies. We see videos of out-of-control school board meetings, protests, and in all too many cases, physical violence between those who hold opposite views on many issues. It would be easy to conclude that the support for school districts by families was crumbling and that civility, as we knew it, was dead or at least dying.

For many years, I have shared ideas with educators that might help to work with those that are angry or in some way combative toward school decisions and procedures. In a perfect world, decisions about the operation of school this fall would have been best made by families and schools together. But the situation we face with the Delta variant is about as far from perfect as one can get. What rings true is what research has told us for decades: families want to be engaged in decisions that directly affect their children and when they are not, disengagement, disillusionment and disgruntlement set in. This situation, the speed at which the problems resurfaced and further confounded with political ideologies, made engaging with families virtually impossible. And here we are.

I don’t know what the long-term solution is for this situation. I don’t have a crystal ball and I cannot predict the future. But I do know this: Anger is a mask for fear. In the workshops I conduct, I always make it a point to underscore this concept. From my vantage point, which is clearly not one of an educator who is presently in the arena, the percentage of families and community members who are acting in ways that are counterproductive to launching a successful school year is a far smaller number than the numbers of families we are not hearing from. What is important to remember is all of them are fearful.

As someone who sat in public meetings for many years often thinking the entire community was “up in arms” it was hard to maintain a perspective on reality. The present situation playing out around the country makes it very easy for us to potentially sour on our attitudes toward families or worse yet, draw sweeping conclusions about all families, when it is a smaller minority that seem to be the most vocal.

Every parent of every child is scared, fearful that their child will become ill or worse. While the impetus of that fear may be different for different people, the fear is the same, and very real. Likewise, teachers are scared, now not only having to worry about the safety of their own families but take on the responsibility of the safety of the students in their charge and try and work with families whose fear is manifesting itself as extreme hostility.

I cannot solve the problems we face, but if the next time you find yourself in a conversation or situation with someone who seems unreasonable or hostile in their expectations and demands, take a breath, and try to remember that anger is a mask for fear. And in this case, we know the root cause of the fear. It might help begin to resolve the tension between us.

What our world needs now, more than ever, is compassion and civility. That, we can be in control of and model for our students, our communities, and our world. Thank you for what you do each day. Thank you for believing in children. Thank you for dedicating your life to our future.

We need you. Hang in there. It will get better.

Deeper Learning…Deeper Leading.

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