On occasion, I think of a particular student I worked with once when I was an assistant principal at a high school in MD. It was around this time of year 3 or 4 years ago that he died. He hadn’t been attending the schol for a couple years at this point. He was what people would call “at risk,”: adopted with a family history of mental health and substance abuse issues; poor school attendance; discipline problems. Most of his disciplinary record was accumulated over a 2 year period, as I was serving as his assistant principal. I built the relationship with the parents. I worked with law enforcement when necessary to try to help this student. I felt like I did everything within my power to help this student, and it wasn’t enough. It’s a constant reminder about the fact that no matter how many positive professional experiences come my way, there are always students for whom we will struggle to figure out what we missed.
That was one very important and unexpected lesson I never anticipated when I was preparing to be an administrator. The other was simply the sheer number of funerals I attended over the years as a school leader: funerals of colleagues, students, family members of students, family members of colleagues, etc. As painful and awful as they are, the importance of paying those respects is part of building and maintaining relationships among members of the school community.