Taking Good Care

Shortly before noon yesterday, I looked at my school email and saw a notice that schools (and district offices, too) would be closed today as well as yesterday due to “the threat of severe weather.”  Friends in places where it always snows are probably laughing at the idea that three or four inches of snow count as “severe” … but friends in Atlanta, where children were still trapped on school buses and hundreds of people spent the night trapped in their cars or sleeping in store aisles, would likely have been grateful if Local Powers had decided to send their children (or their employees) home earlier.  Predictably, folks here were initially upset and angry about the decision … and they seemed just as upset and angry as they would have been if a different decision had been made and Something Awful had happened to a child, a parent, or a teacher.

Take good care,” my mother used to say when someone close to her was leaving.  Whether it was a short drive to the grocery store, a return trip to college for weeks on end, or the end of a phone call when we were far apart, she’d wish us not just care but good care.  I don’t think I thought much about the phrase when I heard it regularly, and I know I haven’t brought it to mind very often in the years since she died.  But this morning, as I sat down to write, taking good care was on my mind.  There’s a lot of wisdom bound up in that short, familiar phrase!

Taking good care means trying to make the best decisions you can; it means balancing conflicting factors, making difficult decisions, being ready to accept some upset and anger when you don’t have all the information.  It’s important, though difficult, for Powers That Be in a hierarchical organization, and it’s important for everyone in a family or a community.  In an organization, the buck has to stop somewhere, and when it stops with you, the responsibility is huge.  No matter what happens, somebody will get upset … and most people who become public-school educators (at any level, from teacher to school administrator to Major Power at the district or state level) are much happier when people aren’t upset.  Taking good care can be hard when means people might get upset at you, and it can be agonizing, even paralyzing, when you know they will get upset no matter what you do.

Of course, most people are happier when others aren’t upset at us.  Even Ms. X, who studiously claims not to care about what “those bad, lazy kids” or “those terrible parents” or “They,” the Powers That Be, think or say, sounds very different when she’s afraid that someone might be upset.  She and Mr. Y are really upset when they know someone will get upset at them … when the decision that pacifies the “bad, lazy students” is the very same decision that angers the Powers That Be, or when pacifying Powers That Be requires upsetting “those terrible parents.”  Ms. X and Mr. Y love policies, procedures, and handbooks because you can hide behind those when people get upset.  And a well-designed policy, procedure, or handbook can make taking good care semi-automatic.

I’m glad our Local Powers decided to take good care, to prioritize people’s safety over possibly upsetting somebody.  But taking good care can be harder than it seems.

The possibility of a day (or two) away from school had some of the upper-level students excited and distracted Monday afternoon, so excited and distracted that they were distracting each other.  “I’m concerned,” I told them quietly, “because this is what I’ve seen and heard.  And we can’t be a joyful learning community if we don’t think about the larger community as well as the smaller groups.”  It’s hard, of course, I empathized with them, because Ms. X would just scream at you to shut up, and she’d tell you exactly what to do and when to do it.  “But that’s not what we do, and that’s not who we are,” I said … and it worked not because the words were magical, but because we live the words in our daily interactions.  A joyful learning community can take good care because good care is important, and because it knows how, and because someone (not necessarily a formal leader) will take the time and the responsibility when it starts drifting away from taking good care.  The mid-morning class was excited and distracted, too, but B and T and C were the voices of care there.  “Y’all need to get quiet and listen,” they said when F and Y and U and D got distracted and distracting.  And F, Y, U, D, and the others did refocus, and we did have a productive, learning community day despite the distractions.

And that’s when I knew that the joyful learning community had truly begun to rebuild itself with the new groups.

If the weather forecast for today holds true, with lows below freezing and the (small) possibility of a bit more snow, our prospects for school on Thursday and even Friday might be dim.  On the other hand, if things warm up, the snow could vanish as quickly as it appeared  and we could all be back to normal tomorrow or even this afternoon.  I’m grateful for the unexpected days of rest, and for the Powers That Be who took good care of the children, families, and school-district employees in their charge.  But I’m even more grateful for the chance to reflect on good care and its role in community.

I wonder what other new insights and discoveries await!

Published in: on January 29, 2014 at 1:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

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