Ledge Street Elementary is a school of opportunity. It has 450 intelligent and emotionally-resilient children. It has 70 staff members who excel at relationship-building and have unwavering faith in the children they instruct within Ledge classrooms. It has parents who view the school as a their extended home where a community of love and respect is fostered. I am the proud Principal of Ledge Street Elementary and it is a privilege to serve each student, parent, and staff member. I believe in Ledge Street Elementary and the positive impact our school has on the world.
These are words that I say to myself in some way, shape, or form each day I walk through the doors of our school to keep me positive and emotionally focused. Sometimes I use it as a mantra, repeating those words verbatim. And in other times it appears through a simple action, or interaction that starts my day with a student, parent, or staff member. Making sure I reaffirm my purpose in this manner every day has helped me keep a positive perspective as a leader during this time of great change, but reaffirming my purpose is not an end in-and-of-itself. It’s actually a means-to-an-end. Navigating times of significant change takes ’emotional bandwidth’. For those who are new to the idea of emotional bandwidth, it is the ability to productively handle your own emotions as well as those of others. The stress and effects of the pandemic have challenged and even narrowed our individual and collective emotional bandwidth. At Ledge we are not allowing this to happen, but instead, we are using these challenging times to come together to expand our emotional bandwidth.
During the pandemic, we have all felt the stress and pressure of isolation, change, illness, etc., from within ourselves and outwardly from those around us. We’ve been with people in our families or at our workplaces dealing with these same stressors. It is unfortunate, but one of the easiest and least productive ways to deal with our current stress is to suppress our emotions. That only serves to paralyze our creative thinking and stifle our positive thoughts, which can be toxic to a school culture. At Ledge, we actively work to push back against this not-so-productive survival instinct. Instead of ignoring our emotions which can lead to the impulse of seeing the world negatively, we are fostering a community where we are leaning into this discomfort by feeling more emotion, communicating more purposefully, and showing more vulnerability. Below are a few examples of what this looks like at Ledge Street Elementary:
- Go into every conversation, every interaction, assuming positive intent.
- Personalize. Take time to build a caring, trusting, relationship, with every person you encounter, adult or child. Get to know each other. Ask questions. Listen.
- Give kudos in the moment. Never let a positive thought go un-shared. It’s important to tell adults and children these thoughts in the moment, otherwise they can be easily forgotten in the chaos of a school day. And you never know, that could be the one moment that turns someone’s day around.
- Show vulnerability. For many, sharing our emotions is uncomfortable and anxiety inducing. At Ledge, students, staff, and parents are encouraged daily to share what they’re thinking and feeling in a non-threatening environment. This is the basis for building strong relationships through empathy and trust. It’s like a muscle, the more we do this, the easier it gets and the more comfortable we feel with the process. The morning meeting that we have in every classroom to start our day at Ledge Street Elementary where we get in a circle and talk about how we feel about our day, is a great example of formalizing a routine to talk about our feelings and practice showing vulnerability.
- Use ‘I’ statements. The simple action of beginning a sentence with “I” rather than “you” can make all the difference in the perception of what is being said.
Toward the end of WWII, Winston Churchill was quoted as saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” That idea is as applicable now as it was then. As we come toward the end of the COVID crisis (and yes, I do believe the end of this crisis will come sooner than we think), Ledge Street Elementary will come out the other side in a way that we not only survived, but thrived, during this difficult time. We will be more emotionally resilient, able to show greater empathy towards ourselves and others, and feel even closer as a school community. And for that, we can credit our consistent and dedicated focus on mindfulness, that like a compass, guided us through.