Ellen, I am a single father of a child with multiple neurological and physical challenges. We have so many problems, life-and-death issues. And now that American leaders in education are not considering what our children are going through, where will our help come from?
When leaders choose to disregard and disadvantage our children and the laws protecting them, they choose to do wrong, and in choosing to do wrong, they choose to harm. It’s that simple.
And the simple answer is, our help will come from those who choose to do right. In this lies great strength, because those who want to do right are far greater in number and are present at every level, including leadership positions. Most are in closer proximity to us than the nay-saying leaders. In the microcosm of my world, the higher-ups such as the superintendent of our school district, the state superintendent of public instruction, and the federal Secretary of Education weren’t ones interacting daily, hourly with my son. His successes came through the efforts of dozens of teachers, paraeducators, therapists, administrators, and support staff right down to the school secretaries and bus drivers who chose to see the potential in him, chose to see value in him, chose to challenge themselves to understand, craft strategies, perspectives and paths to learning that brought out the best in him. They had the law behind them, yes, but I saw their work day in and day out. They chose to do right by their special needs students because they wanted to, not because a law said they had to. And when it was necessary, both they and I challenged the laws, the rules and the people in charge as a parent-educator-clinician team, and with reasoned, fact-based demands.
When leaders fail us, our help will come from each other, and from within ourselves. Find your people, your “tribe,” and consider taking some of these steps:
Stay close. Remember that proximity in the internet age means we can be close at the same time we are spreading our wings, our words, our cause and our influence from far and wide. Proof of the power of this proximity is that the question I’m answering in this post came to be from the opposite side of the world, an ocean and three continents away.
Allow yourself to grieve the disgraceful hatred and bigotry going on around us. Let yourself work through the five stages of grief, talk it out with others you trust. You’ll be better able to rise to positivity, motivation and resilience if you do.
Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed with the enormity of what we’re facing. Whatever the first step is, take it. Then the next, and the next, and the next. Increments, not earthquakes.
Make yourself visible and audible where perhaps before you were not. Others have to know we are here and what we need before they can help us.
Knowledge is power. When you have the knowledge, you have the power. Deal always in hard facts. Not “alternative facts,” not assumptions, not guesses, not spin, not falsehood and twisted logic.
Focus on what’s doable and winnable. Know your local, state and federal laws so that you don’t waste time fighting for something that isn’t available or isn’t indicated by your child’s situation.
Recognize when systems or people have set you or your child(ren) up to fail, call it out, seek out others who are being similarly abused, unite, speak out.
Do not stoop to the level of leaders or others who engage in name-calling and other hateful speech or images. Never has it been more important to provide our children with consistent modeling of integrity, respect, equanimity and broad perspective.
Volunteer. There are numerous ways to make a positive impact for our kids and in your community even if you can’t leave your home to do it. Be a grant writer, web designer, editor, proofreader, foreign language translator, online tutor or mentor, online or email buddy for a student, soldier or senior citizen. Offer to record stories or books for emerging, struggling or visually impaired readers.
Keep a (respectful) sense of humor. Don’t let the baddies rob you of the sanity-saving joy of laughter.
Self-care—it’s how we stave off burnout. In all your doing for your child and others, do something for yourself. I like to tell myself to “go outside”—physically, spiritually, artistically, intellectually, socially. “If you put a small value on yourself, rest assured that the world will not raise your price” (Author unknown). Invest in yourself, the better to reap richer dividends for your own well-being, your child and community.
Draw stamina and tenacity from the reality that all leadership is temporary. Leaders leave or topple for many reasons—elections, health reasons, scandals, more attractive job offers, threat of exposure of wrongdoing, and the generic “to pursue other opportunities” and “to spend more time with family.” Being held accountable is more than some leaders can survive. A leader can’t be a leader without followers.
And carry with you always the superlative wisdom of anthropologist Margaret Mead:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
© 2017 Ellen Notbohm www.ellennotbohm.com