Saturday, September 17, 2016

I'm Old Here

A few weeks back, I was reminded of something:  How easy it is, when we think we’ve planned for everything and everyone, to forget someone or something really important.

It was the first week of school, and I was doing what I always do—I scheduled a visit with every classroom to read a book.  This year, it was I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien.  It tells the individual story of three students who are new to their school—and, also, new to the English language.  Each of the three children feels lonely and confused at the beginning; finally, though, the language begins to make sense and the kindness of others makes them feel part of their school community.

It was the perfect book for me to read aloud, because we have a lot of new students this year.  We did some re-drawing of our elementary school lines, and to summarize a long and complicated story, we’ve got over 100 new little people added to our community. 

From the very beginning—last winter, even, when we learned who our new students would be—we were so careful, so thoughtful, so focused on making sure our new students felt welcome.  We did everything we could think of.  We hosted a Welcome Night.  We posted FAQ’s on our website.  We met, one by one by one, with anxious parents and students.  We sent letters and emails and gave a gift to each new student.  We bet over backwards to make sure each new student felt part of our community. 

Our hard work paid off.  Everything went beautifully.  

So I was proud and confident each time I went to visit a classroom with my copy of I’m New Here.  I always started the same way.  “As you know, we have lots and lots of new student this year,” I would say, opening the book.   “That’s why I’m reading this book.  Let me ask:  Who is new here?”  

A handful of students would raise their hands. 

But one time, when I asked this question, I heard a little boy sigh.  I looked at him.  “What is it?”

“I’m not new,” he said.  “Actually, I’m old here.”

His eyes were downcast.

Oh, my.

For months, all we’ve been talking about?  The new kids.  We’d been making them feel welcome.  We’d been smiling extra-wide; wiping tears before they sprung; connecting, empathizing, and whooping it up. 

And in all that whooping, we hadn’t thought enough about the “veterans.”  The kids who had been enrolled with us all along.  Because in a lot of ways, those kids were still new—they had a new teacher, new year, new class, new friends they needed to make.  They were having a new experience and felt vulnerable, too.

Once again, I was reminded of the truth of leadership:  It’s so easy to over-plan, making sure we meet every single need of a certain group.  But in doing so, we sometimes forget others.  Looking back, I wish we had celebrated the students who weren’t new just as much.  I don’t think there was harm done, but it’s an important lesson.  In overplanning for one group, we might be underplanning for another.

Just something to keep in mind.    

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