This year especially, it seemed like Christmas and New Years’ were place nicely on the calendar to allow most school children and employees almost 10 days of a break. Many school employees I know were thrilled to have the time to “rejuvenate.” When I was a teacher or principal in the public school setting, by the time the winter break was done, I was usually very ready to get back to business as usual. I would have high hopes that the new year would bring about new hope and new energy.
What really surprised me as a school leader was that more frequently than I would have expected, students and staff members return from this break “battered and bruised”, whether that be emotionally, mentally or even physically. The holidays can be a very difficult time for many people, especially our students living in poverty or those students struggling as some sort of “marginalized” status – be it by having a learning disability or physical disability, one defined as LGBTQ or targeted as not fitting gender norms, or a student whose first language is something other than English.
Until I lived it, I was not prepared for the emotional first aid that school employees often needed to give to the students upon their return to school. The first day back from a break, a conversation with a student about their struggles over the time away from school reminded me quickly that what school communities provide to students is first and foremost a stable and predictable environment. While that can’t be quantitatively measured by a standardized assessment, this is the huge responsibility that is placed upon people who work with students. Additionally, as a school leader, I learned quickly that I needed to provide the same “first aid” and kindness to my staff members who also may have struggled during the time away.