Some Rules for Teachers when Communicating with Parents

1. Be Proactive – make the first call. Make a call anytime there is something going on in your room a parent might need to know about. Share everything all the time. It is hard for a parent to call the administration and complain that the teacher is reaching out too much.

2. Speak with Kindness…Remember you are talking about someone’s flesh and blood. Speak kindly and with great respect. Use very good manners. Remember to address parents as “Mr.” or “Ms.” until they tell you otherwise. Kindness is the most important thing to remember.

3. Be honest, but remember that the parent may not agree with you. Speak the truth…with kindness…but do not ask the parent to agree with you. Maybe the child cannot sit still in your room but does at home. Many times, you can avoid conflict by saying, “I see this” or “this happens with me.” (I statements rock!)

4. Document, document, document…you must note every conversation and communication…there are lots of ways to do it from apps on phones to paper and pencil…choose whatever method you want—just do it.

5. Make a point to call with good news…try to make one positive call every school day. This way when the time comes for a concern, the parent will know you are also seeing the good in their child.

6. If a conflict is inevitable in a face-to-face meeting, be sure other people are in the room. Another teacher…a counselor…an administrator. It’s not just about safety in numbers; it is also about having someone less emotionally involved to keep it focused on the child/student.

7. If whatever you need to tell a parent will take more than a couple of paragraphs, or if you aren’t sure how it might be received, then DO NOT USE EMAIL. Either call or do the face-to-face meeting.

Bonus – Keep your admins and supervisors up to date – especially when conflict is occurring. Admins would rather have too much information than not enough.

The Most Important Thing a School Administrator Can Do

I was recently asked what one thing I would tell a new school administrator that they should do to support the staff they work with each day.

Now I am sure some folks could give impressive statements about unpacking standards, interpreting data, or recognizing which interventions provide the most impact for student achievement. The idea would be that helping teachers with efficacy is the very best thing and administrator can do for the entire School community.

Others might say helping teachers take care of themselves and their mental and physical health is the most important thing an administrator can do. Or perhaps that helping teachers to feel supported in both word and deed is of central importance. Or maybe doing the very best that one can do to keep “nonsense” things off of the teacher’s desk if they can be handled in the office so that teachers can concentrate on teaching and not paperwork.

Now each of these things is important and could be the correct answers to the question. I am also sure that there are other ideas far more impressive than what I have considered that could be noted however none of these are my answer.

My answer probably sounds quite simple and I guess that it is but the one thing that I would tell an aspiring school administrator that they should do for their staff is simply this…

Pray for them!
Pray for them every day.
Pray they have patience and wisdom and strength and enthusiasm.
Pray they show tenderness and mercy.
Pray they share compassion and love
Pray they listen with their heart.
Pray they have courage.
Pray they teach boldly!
Pray they push each child to become their best.
Pray they help students learn and that they teach students to love learning.
Pray they remember to take care of themselves and their own families.
Pray for their health – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Pray for them as individuals.
Pray for them by name.
Pray for their unique needs.
To offer these prayers you must get to know the people you work with.
You must learn about them and their families.
Their past and their present.
Their hopes and their dreams.
You must be available.
You must seek conversations.
You must take time to be present.
You must listen. Listening not to respond, but to really hear.
And then you must pray…every day.

There are a lot of other things a good administrator should do for those whom they have been entrusted to serve.

But the most important thing I do (and that I doubt most of my staff even know about) is pray.
And that is what I would encourage any school administrator to do – be they new or old.

As in so doing you will connect in a very different way.

And you will remember that any impact you have and, any leadership you provide comes not from you, but from a partner located in a place much higher than your building, the district office, or even the state department of education.

And I would tell any aspiring administrator God is the very best partner anyone can have.

Why I must support #BlackLivesMatter

I am a member of the privileged class.

I am a white male. I am a college-educated professional…a member of the middle class who works a white-collar job with benefits. I am a married with kids…heterosexual and a Protestant Christian. I am a US citizen. This is my reality…my world. And I live and work in a world with folks similar to me.

None of this is my fault. It’s genetics and birth; thus it is luck.

I can give myself some credit for not screwing up the advantages I received at birth, but that is about it. Yes, I did some work and made some good choices. There are those whose terrible choices screwed up the same advantages I have had from birth. But before I pat myself on the back too much, I also must admit my advantages included systems and safety nets that helped keep me on the right path and helped me to succeed.

However, when I think of these advantages I have, it causes me to struggle. I struggle to remember that the world I live in is not the “real world” for most…that our society is anything but equal and just. And if I don’t intentionally look outside my bubble, I fall into the trap that movements like #BlackLivesMatter are really the problem.

Fortunately (or really unfortunately), I don’t have to look hard to see that my world view is not the view for our nation.

Recently though, this reminder that my world view comes from the perspective of privilege happened by accident.

I was doing research on poverty in America. And the things I found reminded me that we still have a long way to go if we are to be a nation where liberty and justice are to be reality for all.

The United States has over 9.8 million children living in poverty. This is over 21% of the children in America. That number is definitely sad and disturbing. But it gets even worse, and indeed points to the fact that we are anything but a fair society.

Statistics don’t lie –
The poverty rate of White children is 12.3%.
The poverty rate of Hispanic children is 31.9%.
The poverty rate of African-American children is 37.1%.
Put simply, if you are born black instead of white, there is a better than 300 percent chance you will enter the world in poverty. As a white person that bothers me, but if I were a person of color, I’d be angry.

And if I were black and discovered that 1in 106 white men were in prison, but that 1 out of 15 black men were incarcerated, and that the greatest factor of conviction and a sentence of jail time is poverty—then I would be mad as hell. (FYI 1 out of 36 Hispanic men are in jail.)

So the odds are simply this: if I am born a person of color, I have a far greater chance of being poor and spending time behind bars.

Now I know I can’t change who I am. I am the demographic I have described. However, I can remember that my privilege provides an opportunity. It provides an opportunity to speak up for those who do not have the same advantages I have had since birth. It gives me the opportunity work to for justice, so that one day Dr. King’s Dream might become an actuality. It affords me the opportunity to remind the world I am in, that while the Edmund Pettus Bridge may have been crossed, the bridge that will transform our nation into an oasis of freedom and justice still stretches before us. And when I hear folks speak the language of hate and intolerance based on ignorance of a world they don’t know and will never experience, I can share what I do know—that as long as some are born in privilege and some with a handicap based on the color of skin pigmentation, we must do better in both word and deed and know that before it is only #all lives matter, that #Hispanic and #Black Lives and #all of those with disenfranchised lives must matter.

Depression: You Keep Using That Word, But I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Depression:
You Keep Using That Word, But I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.

Depression…

It does not mean sad.

It does not mean upset.

It does not mean “blue.”

It does not even mean grief.

Unfortunately, that is what the world equates the word with today.

Serious clinical depression also is not fixed with just a couple of pills. Mild depression may be dealt with in this way, and treating mild depression with medicines may prevent the clinical form of the disease…much like cholesterol drugs can help prevent or stave off heart disease. However, sometimes even with these drugs, a heart attack happens.

But serious clinical depression is not this. Serious depression is hopelessness.

Serious clinical depression affects everything.

It affects the one who has the disease.

It changes the world as it was once known.

Spouses and children become caregivers.

And even if they don’t really know it, it touches family and friends.

It even alters the air in the room.

And while it affects the body and mind, its biggest impact is on the soul.

And it is exhausting – for everyone.

In fact, author Parker Palmer states the following in talking about his episodes with debilitating depression: “People walk around saying, ‘I don’t understand why so-and-so committed suicide.’ Well, I understand perfectly why people take their lives. They need the rest. Depression is absolutely exhausting. It’s why, day by day for months at a time, I wanted to take my life.”

Andrew Solomon is the author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, for which he received the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. He came to this conclusion about depression. He concluded the opposite of depression is not happiness; rather, it is leading a life human vitality. And in a life of vitality, even pain has its place. Depression takes away all of that—happiness and pain—and leaves a gaping dark hole of nothingness.

Solomon states that depression is “an experience of finding the most ordinary parts of life incredibly difficult: finding it difficult to eat, finding it difficult to get out of bed, finding it difficult and painful to go outside, being afraid all of the time and being overwhelmed all the time. And frequently, it’s quite a sad experience to be afraid and overwhelmed all the time. Nonetheless, those are the essential qualities of it. It isn’t, I think, primarily an experience of sadness. And it teaches you how big emotion is. The profundity of the inner self, I suppose, would be the best way of putting it.” 

The poet and psychologist Anita Barrows shares that “Suddenly, in depression you are ripped from what felt like your life, from what felt right and familiar and balanced and ordinary and ordered, and you’re just thrown into this place where you’re ravaged, where the wind rips the leaves from the trees, and there you are. Yeah. Very, very much the soul in depression.”

So as you can see, depression is hard to describe if you have never experienced it.

But looking for words to describe depression is important.

Because statistics say one in ten people and, even more dramatically, nearly one in four women in the U.S. will experience clinical depression during their lifetime.

And for those who need to express what happened, or is happening, in their lives, the word depression without further explanation is inadequate.

Yet if we read them with fresh lenses, even the scriptures show that the disease of depression is a plague…in fact a plague only outdone by death itself…

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—a darkness that can be felt.’” (Exodus 10:21)

When clinical depression strikes, it is a darkness that can be felt.

Even Christ knew anxiety that led him to isolation and despair. He even became so anxious as to experience hematohidrosis —a bloody sweat caused by extreme anxiety and fear—in the Garden of Gethsemane. Scripture states that even in the midst of his disciples, Christ felt alone. Though perhaps not clinical depression, the recognition that God knows the darkness that can encompass provides hope to those who battle the demons of serious depression.

If fact the good news and hope from both the Old and New Testaments is that it the darkness does not have to be victorious…but as with fighting any physical disease, the ultimate journey to healing and wholeness requires lots of struggle…lots of patience…lots of ups and downs…trial and error…successes and setbacks…and—perhaps the most necessary of all—the gifts of time and of presence.

Parker Palmer shares this powerful story that describes how a friend was able to help him through his journey of depression.

There was this one friend who came to me, after asking permission to do so, every afternoon about four o’clock, sat me down in a chair in the living room, took off my shoes and socks and massaged my feet. He hardly ever said anything. He was a Quaker elder. And yet out of his intuitive sense, from time to time would say a very brief word like, ‘I can feel your struggle today,’ or farther down the road, ‘I feel that you’re a little stronger at this moment, and I’m glad for that.’ But beyond that, he would say hardly anything. He would give no advice. He would simply report from time to time what he was sort of intuiting about my condition. Somehow he found the one place in my body, namely the soles of my feet, where I could experience some sort of connection to another human being. And the act of massaging just, you know, in a way that I really don’t have words for, kept me connected with the human race.

What he mainly did for me, of course, was to be willing to be present to me in my suffering. He just hung in with me in this very quiet, very simple, very tactile way. And I’ve never really been able to find the words to fully express my gratitude for that, but I know it made a huge difference. And it became for me a metaphor of the kind of community we need to extend to people who are suffering in this way, which is a community that is neither invasive of the mystery nor evasive of the suffering but is willing to hold people in a space, a sacred space of relationship, where somehow this person who is on the dark side of the moon can get a little confidence that they can come around to the other side.

Depression—the world keeps using that word, but I do not think they know what it means. Anita Barrows, who is also a lover of language, perhaps best shares this idea when she complains “that the word ‘depression’ itself does not do justice to this human experience.”

Deep depression is a disease. A disease of the mind, body, and soul. A darkness that can be felt. The Psalmist says over and over it is “the pit of despair.” And it impacts all those who come in contact with it.

It should not be minimized… if it is to be overcome, it cannot be minimized. Instead depression must be treated with the same compassion given to anyone experiencing any lethal physical disease.

The world should know that in order to gain remission the war with depression requires all the tools the community has available–medication, prayers, therapy, rehab, lifelong monitoring and real empathic kindness. Most importantly, it requires letting everyone going through the darkness know that you are present with them all as they go—that they are not alone as they struggle.

Clay Gunter
1/3/2016

 

Resource used for this entry:

On Being A Podcast hosted by Krista Tippett
The Soul in Depression – Andrew Solomon, Parker Palmer and Anita Barrows
February 26, 2009

http://www.onbeing.org/program/soul-depression/224

Top 12 Things Presbyterians Should do Before They Die

A lot of the David Letterman-type Top 10 lists seem to be going around recently. Though as a twist they are also being combined as part of people’s “bucket lists.” You know the Top 10 places skydivers should plunge (to their death?) in hopes that the parachute opens. Alas this list is not nearly so exciting, but…except in a few cases (see #6 below)…also offers much less chance for pain.

So here goes — the Top 12 Things PCUSA Presbyterians should do before their predestined death. (YES 12 not 10 – One for each disciple.)

1. OK this one may stop some of you from reading any further but…show up early to church AND sit in someone else’s seat.

You know what I am talking about. The commotion it causes might cause a schism, but hey why not? If you like the preacher let him/her know in advance; otherwise s/he may pass out when they look out from the pulpit and see you in Ms. Irma’s spot.
A true story I need to interject here…I once heard a member tell a first time visitor to move because they were in their seat. I offered mine, but alas the visitor never returned. Ahhh for the love of Christ…

2. Attend a session meeting…preferably the one when the budget is discussed.

Now I know many of you reading this are elders who have served faithfully on the session, and I also realize from my own service that it is not easy to be faithful stewards. However, if you ever just sit back and listen, you know Jesus is either laughing or crying as such weighty matters are discussed…like whether or not to renew the $35.62 subscription to “These Days” or if we could just reuse the Sunday School material that has already been colored in and cut out from two years ago…Such fighting over sacred pieces of the pie, I mean holy ground, truly makes Jesus proud.

3. This could be 2A but after the session meeting, be sure to attend one of the meetings that occur immediately after it in the church parking lot.

These are the ones where the pastor is criticized and then often called overpaid.

4. Go with the pastor to offer comfort to a dying parishioner or a grieving family going to the funeral home to make arrangements.

Afterwards tell the people saying that the preacher is overpaid to “shut the hell up.”

5. Visit Mecca….er I mean Montreat…

It truly is a very special place. If you can go to a youth conference, it will be even better. You will leave excited about your faith and have a new optimism about the PCUSA’s future.

6. Next visit hell…That is go to a Presbytery Meeting

I would give the option of going to a Synod Meeting but you’d have to find one first…Presbytery Meetings are great reminders of the importance of salvation, for without the grace of God you might spend eternity in such a meeting where reports are read, the lunch is usually bad, reports are read, the sermon is really 4 sermons in one (the preacher has 15 years of things s/he wanted to get off their chest and impress their colleagues about), the reports are reread, and nothing resembling the Great Ends of the Church is typically found. As a former Presbytery staff person I would like to find something positive to say here…well, OK on to number 7.

7. Spend a two or three consecutive days volunteering in your church office.

Then when you sit in a committee meeting (Presbyterians love committees – that is how we roll) where it is said the church secretary could be dumped and those tasks could be done by volunteers – you can tell them what you saw, share why perhaps that is one of the dumber things you have ever heard, and then ask them to “shut the hell up”…all decently and in order, of course!

8. Go to a General Assembly

be sure to attend the opening worship which is always very powerful…watch the debates…attend a committee meeting or two…read some of the reports (no one can read them all)…meet the crazy person who ran for and was elected Moderator…recognize that this is some of the very best (and I also must admit worst) stuff we do as a denomination…but if you sit quietly, you can often feel the Spirit of God in the place. Very Powerful.

9. Be in charge of an event at your church…

which really needs folks to sign up in advance to have enough for everyone…something like the church picnic…be sure your blood pressure medication is up to date!

10. Visit the Presbyterian Historical Society and read some of the old session minutes they have.

Can you imagine what would happen if your session today banned someone from communion for 6 months because they committed some mortal sin like using the Lord’s name in vain? Perhaps we have made some progress. Also take the time to look at how often Presbyterians were leaders on areas of justice like Civil and Women’s Rights when it was certainly unpopular…In fact we have often led the way towards progress. (BTW, did you know that MLK spoke at Montreat?)

11. Visit a seminary and ask to sit in on a few classes.

You will leave with a far better understanding on why your pastor cringes/convulses when you suggest s/he return for a D Min (unless they are a geek or mental). That said, marvel at the commitment it took your pastor to get through school and become a Reverend.
Konia Greek…Hebrew…Polity… Theology…Homiletics…Church History… and none of these classes prepared them for the tasks of preparing coffee, fixing plumbing, dealing with broken copy machines, explaining to someone why the church paraments CAN’T match the new carpet color and attempting to explain to the youth group why a church cruise to Hong Kong is NOT a mission trip.

12. Go on at least a week-long mission trip.

Nothing more powerful than BEING THE CHURCH…It will change your life.

Ok so there you go….12 things for you to try before you die if you’re a Presbyterian…I’d give you a 13th by telling you to read the church’s constitution–the Book of Order and Confessions–but I would really encourage skydiving first.