Written By: Jennifer Appel
Recently, I had this conversation with a colleague who didn’t know me very well:
Colleague: “Do you have kids?”
Me: “No, no human babies, just a beautiful dog.”
Colleague: “I wish I was able to be that SELFISH, that must be nice.”
This is something that I have heard in various forms for the last 20 years of my life. I am a 42 year old woman that is married and obviously loves children because of my career choice. So why don’t I have children??? That is the question that is always on everyone’s minds. The people in my life that truly know my story, understand that I have a disease called Endometriosis (Endo). I have had Endo since I was 11 years old. Due to this illness, I have had 6 abdominal surgeries over the past 14 years including a hysterectomy when I was 29 years old. I am simply UNABLE to have children. For years, I knew that “my kids” were the 150 that I served everyday at Wildcat Nation. Ironically, when people first hear my life story they all of the sudden have EMPATHY and stop judging and claiming I’m selfish.
But, why am I NOT shown empathy and kindness until my story is shared?
Last week, something similar played out with a student at school. I was talking to an educator and they were very disrespectful to a student and basically embarrassed the student in front of the class. Nothing like a little public shaming to kill a student’s connection to learning. Later, when we were talking, I told them a little background on the student and the “trauma” that they had survived. The teacher quickly shot back with, “well I didn’t know their story, I would have treated them differently.”
Again, why does it take hearing someone’s story to show kindness and empathy?
Kristin Souers and Pete Hall in their groundbreaking book Fostering Resilient Learners, say, “In our schools, we need to be prepared to support students who have experienced trauma, even if we don’t know exactly who they are.” All students have experienced some form of trauma, challenge or life hurdle and we should treat ALL STUDENTS with kindness and empathy.
Award Winning Culture leads with Kindness and Empathy regardless of knowing another person’s life story.
We should never cast judgement about someone’s life choices, actions, or needs based on what society has taught us is “normal.” In the same way, we should treat all students with Empathy and refuse to embarrass them in front of a group of their peers.
By demonstrating empathy, we provide others the OPPORTUNITY to share their story. As a trained counselor, my husband was taught to first show empathy and understanding to a person and then they might be willing to open up and eventually tell you their story. Afterall, who would trust someone who was so quick to judge. Judgement is a powerful barrier to relationships.
In the end, I chose not to share my personal story to the colleague that called me selfish. In fairness, they hadn’t presented a level of compassion to me and thus didn’t deserve the privilege of me opening up. As educators we forget this sometimes. We think that we deserve to hear student’s stories before we’ve actually built an authentic relationships.
Have you EARNED the right to learn your students, staff, and community’s stories?
Perhaps we all need to:
**Build mutual trust with others
**Assuming best intentions
**Listening to understand
**Choosing Connection over Compliance
**Seeing behavior as a need
**Leading with LOVE
As I head into my last week before winter break and recognize that the holidays are filled with stress for many...I’ll lead with an empathic ear, an open mind, and a full heart. Even the colleague who hurt my feelings by calling me selfish deserves me leading with empathy. Maybe they were just having a bad day--like we all do sometimes.
Here I go...EMPATHY FOR ALL!
Jennifer is a teacher and coach at Enterprise Middle School. She has been teaching for 21 years. Her passion for education comes from growing up in an education driven family (4th generation) and wanting to help and serve others. She is now driven to create an environment where all students are able to learn and become passionate about serving others.
Award Winning Culture was created by Hans and Jennifer Appel with the sole purpose of creating an educational mindset of Positive INTENTIONALITY and ACTION; with a daily mantra to make our sphere of influence stronger through Character, Excellence, and Community. Part of AWC's mission is to highlight outstanding educators, companies, and resources that support an Award Winning Culture. Both Jennifer and Hans work at Enterprise Middle School aka Wildcat Nation. Wildcat Nation received the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award in Washington, for its award winning culture and the 2018 Global "Class Act Award" for Kindness.