Monday, January 23, 2017

It's About Respect

After the Women's March on Saturday, I read a post on Facebook about someone's frightening experience. It appears that a group of high school students went on a trip to the nation's capital to witness the inauguration. The next day as they tried to get to a museum, the students were taunted by some of the participants in the march. Apparently, some of the kids were wearing caps or hats they had purchased at the inauguration, and some of the adults in the crowd heckled them. The adult chaperone shared that they were frightened and had to hold hands tightly so they would not lose each other in the crowd.

I empathize with the kids; no adults should have treated them in that way. What could have been a turning point in their lives is now a frightful memory.

At the same time, however, I wondered how this could have happened. As an educator, a principal, and a parent, safety is always our major concern. We make sure that our students are safe, and when they go on field trips, we ensure there is adequate supervision. What were the adults thinking? Why did they allow those students to wear their souvenir caps? Surely the adults should have known that doing so would cause the students to be targets. How would their experience be different if they didn't have their souvenir caps on? How could their viewpoint of that weekend be influenced if they had experienced the event through the eyes of the marchers?

Something special happened on Saturday in Washington D.C. and cities and countries around the world. What started as a simple idea quickly grew into a major event where women and men - millions of them - marched for their rights and the rights of others. The Women's March could have been a great learning experience for these high school students. They would have witnessed "civil disobedience" first-hand, and they could have interviewed those in attendance about why they marched or why they traveled to Washington D.C. from all over the country to be part of this event.

I think it all can be traced back to respect . . . or more accurately, a lack of respect. As parents, we teach our children to be respectful, and in school, mutual respect is expected. "Treat others the way you would like to be treated."  As school leaders, we have a responsibility to lead with respect. We know that a positive school culture is essential for student learning. We want our staff, our parents, and our students to feel that they can make suggestions or share their ideas. We know that listening to different viewpoints can only make the discussion richer and ideas to flow more readily. We value diversity of opinions, and we want students to ask tough questions because that can lead to deeper learning. Listening and respecting other viewpoints, elements in a positive school culture,  are essential if we want our students to learn and grow as informed and contributing citizens of this world.

That is why I am having difficulty understanding how someone who showed so little respect for women and other minority or marginalized groups could now be leading our great nation. I can only hope that he comes to realize his past indiscretions and changes the way he treats others. Until then, I am optimistic that the women and men of our nation will continue to make our voices heard. Our children are counting on us.

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