Initially, my plan for this week’s post was to share a note I sent to the Gateway Public Schools staff, encouraging them to take care of themselves as election results become known. In the past weeks, I have been reliving the trauma that I and so many members of our community felt after the 2016 election. I wanted to tell my colleagues that I know this is hard.
Shortly after I sent the note, I received a response from a beloved colleague, sharing his concern that I had taken too much of a partisan position. He reminded me of our duty as a school to uphold our values as a community without favoring any candidate or party. He reminded me that it is always important not to make assumptions, to be sure we are holding a safe space for all, and to lean on curiosity and compassion rather than judgement. Such good points. And, so complicated in this particular election, when the stakes are well beyond the realm of ordinary politics.
With that as the backdrop and with my acknowledgment that I am deeply pondering how to be an everyday leader in the coming days, I decided to share my initial note with you nonetheless. There are lessons here – lessons about the importance of leading from our values, the importance of acknowledging mistakes, the importance of respecting multiple perspectives.
As a postscript, I sent a second email to my staff, apologizing for going beyond neutral and appreciating the colleague who wrote to share his views. Since then, more teachers have responded to offer their sense of what is on the line in this election and their beliefs about our role. In the end, it feels like a moment of community during a fractured time.
Dear Gateway Staff,
As we head into election week, you are all on my mind. 2020 has been a battering year, testing our resilience, our belief in democracy, and the strength of human connection. Yes, there have been moments of beauty and joy, but this year has brought too much anxiety, grief and anger.
I want to tell you that I have great hopes for Tuesday. But, after the jaw-dropping and painful disappointment of 2016, self-protection keeps me from believing the polls or getting my hopes up. Like many of you, I refuse to be as emotionally unprepared as I was four years ago, and this year I see even more clearly how high the stakes are.
That said, here is what does bring me hope:
- the ways we are helping our students recognize and exercise their power as individuals and as social change agents
- the deep and dedicated anti-racism work we are engaging in across Gateway
- the thoughtful plans we are developing to support students and families as the results of the election become known
- the spaces we are creating as an adult community to safely process our own emotions and reactions to the election
I have been asking myself what will be needed of me on Wednesday and in the days or weeks ahead as an individual, educator and leader. I know many of you are asking yourselves the same questions. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far: honesty and vulnerability, empathy and compassion, hope and joy, visible commitment to advocacy, equity, and action.
In writing to you today, most importantly I want to acknowledge that this is hard. Regardless of the eventual outcome of the election, it’s likely that on Wednesday we will be faced with uncertainty and division. Once again, as educators we will be asked to pull ourselves together and support others, while on the inside we are struggling, questioning, and perhaps hurting. I want to thank you for this incredible gift you give our students. Equally, I want to remind you to save some of your care and compassion for yourselves. You are going to need it, and you deserve it.
At heart, I am an optimist. I want to believe that Tuesday will be a happy day. I want to believe what President Obama said recently, “We will not leave any doubt about who we are as a people and the values and ideals that we embrace.” I know for sure that at Gateway, this is true. Thank you for being you.