A letter to Dr. Gentry from Rebecca Leimkuehler,
Principal of Holiday Park School
For me, this is what I know. Children deserve better. They need champions that will not rest until the types of beings we are raising becomes as, if not more, important as the academic outcomes they possess. There is not one answer here. I have found that the work with you, the work from non-violent communication, work from restorative justice, and the work from Sandra Bloom’s Sanctuary, all held a piece of the puzzle for us. In fact, I would love to combine all of these principles into one format that could create a framework for schools to do this work. Certainly, I know this, standing alone, everything I just laid out to you, 1 through 9, does not move this work forward. I feel I could do more harm than good if talking to others. I might scare them away. I need to learn to incorporate the good stuff, like –
- We have had open and honest conversations at my school about our beliefs and bias’s regarding our students and families. In every situation, we become better people.
- The adults at the school understand, and believe, that relationships matter.
- I believe, thanks to the work we have done, that our staff has embraced the relationships they have with each other as well. During the teacher walk-out this year our staff met, every day, downtown and sat together sharing stories and hanging out. They were the only group of teachers, at least from our district, that met and stayed together each day. Other teachers went with friends or alone. Our school was the largest contingency from our school district.
- Teacher retention has improved at our school since beginning this work.
- We have story after story of kids that were tearing up their classroom weekly that can now regulate themselves enough to stay in the classroom and learn.
- I can hear, clearly, the teachers talking in the lounge during their lunch from my office. The conversations have changed. There is no sarcasm, no horrible stories, no laughing at kids. It has shifted, authentically 🙂
- We have committed to restore every relationship, the best we can, among everyone at Holiday Park. And we do!
- The last story is this – I have been a principal for years. I know what can happen on the last day of school. We ban backpacks, white t-shirts, and markers. In the past, I have strategically planned duty areas for teachers at dismissal to avoid students gathering and social dominance gaining momentum. I have been riding one of the buses at dismissal this year as the kids can be very challenging without my presence. So, of course I knew I needed to ride it the last day of school. This year I did not send out a massive email directing teachers and staff on dismissal. To my surprise, as I headed to the bus, I saw teachers and staff everywhere. The kids were all in bunches crying. The teachers and staff were hugging them goodbye and wiping their eyes. I got to the bus, and when we started the route, I was completely shocked. There was not a sound on the bus but children crying and whimpering. They were hugging and telling each other to be safe over the summer and how much they would be missed. I looked up and even the bus driver was crying! I would say that is visible evidence that we understand relationships matter.