April 30, 2021 Message to Members
Just a Call Away
I was sitting in our Ford Windstar in the parking lot of a Canadian Tire when I got the call. On this Saturday, my wife was with me and our daughters were strapped into their middle-row car seats. The ringing phone made me think of the day my youngest arrived; it will always be connected to the novelty of cell phones. When we packed up and left my previous district for the Kootenays, my parting gift from the school was a cell phone: an interesting choice, given that the town I was leaving did not yet have cell service. I think they were preparing me to venture out into the wider world where cell towers existed. They also knew that I get pretty excited about technology.
With a clip on my belt, I wore that cell phone religiously every day. The thing was, I had no one to call and no one to call me. I looked for every excuse to use the phone, but the tech had not yet worked itself into our culture. I remember feeling much the same when email launched; I found reasons to send an email, and I was giddy when I received one. Different times: then, a ringing cell phone was a rare and significant creature.
When we made the move, our youngest had not yet arrived. As her arrival date approached, I became more attached to my cell phone, taking it to class and alerting my students to the potential ring. I had also made sure all our staff knew why I was packing around this cell phone. Day after day, it was a silent weight on my hip, distracting no one, bringing no news.
And then the day came when it rang. It could mean only one thing, and could be only one person. Without a display screen or a contact list, I knew with certainty the call was from my wife, and it was time to go to the hospital. Our new baby was almost here! The school secretary knew this too, and she was excited as she shuffled me down the hall and out into the parking lot. Now, a year and a half later, in a different parking lot, my seldom-used cell phone was ringing again.
Cell phones make us available at all times, and few know how to be discerning with incoming calls. We used to learn of certain events via our home phones, almost exclusively. People would call until you were there to answer or the answering machine engaged. And then, they would simply leave a request for a call back. However, when I received barely three calls a week and was not inclined to be discerning, I took advantage of the opportunity to use this toy. I pressed ‘answer’ and put the phone to my ear.
It would have been better to take this call at home, in a place of security and privacy, at a time when I could pause and collect myself. The news was significant. It was painful, and perhaps the worst news an educator can receive. It was news of tragedy and loss. It wasn’t the first time I had experienced loss as a professional, but it was the first time I received word on the road with my family. And it wasn’t the last time I would hear such news. As cell phones became ubiquitous, I would hear distressing news while cheering on my wife at a triathlon, while reading a summer book at the lakeshore, and while washing up the Sunday night dishes. I remember reaching the point when I could light thirty candles, and fill a classroom with memories and lost potential. It was relatively early in my career, and it struck me hard. As educators and leaders, we are invested in the children of our communities. As I wrote some months ago, we invest in, care about and celebrate their journeys. And when invested, there is no escaping the times of grief.
These times of grief call upon school leaders to support, comfort, and lead. This week, I am reminded that these exceedingly difficult times come despite a pandemic. In a time when our members are working so hard to shore up their staff and their school families, when they’re weary of ‘being happy all the time’, with brave and confident faces, and when they covet the precious time with their own families, they understand what news may come from a ringing cell phone. And knowing that, they answer the call. My heart goes out to them, and to their communities.
It’s true that any week of the last 60 has carried reminders of the joys and the sorrows in the spaces where Principals and Vice-Principals lead and live. These reminders underscore the importance of understanding the circumstances and conditions which support leaders so they may do more than cope – so they may thrive. To this end, we hope that our members will invest some time in the next two weeks to participate in our Thriving in Education survey which will help to guide our Association’s support in the months to come.
My phone rang with a new notification this week, as it did for nearly one hundred of our members who are participating in the WelTel pilot. My weekly text arrived, asking me “How are you?” I had to stop and think about it. How am I? My thumbs tapped out the predictable response I spoke of last week, but with a caveat: “I’m good… for now.”
Keep safe. Keep well. And keep in touch… you know how to reach me.