Carrying Heavy Things: Support Students

Matthew BowermanBlog, Connect Better, Self Care Better, Teach Happier

TL;DR:

  • We all have a lot going on and are carrying a lot of heavy things.
  • What does that look like at your school with your students?
  • Communicate with stakeholders to help carry the weight.
  • Provide school-based support for students.
  • Assist staff with self-care by practicing collective care and supporting boundaries.

Carrying Heavy Things: Support Students

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it through the day.”

“Is someone going to come in here and shoot us?”

“How can you guarantee their safety when the doors to the gym are always open and someone can just walk in?”

“Have you ever worried that your children won’t come home, and you’ll learn that they’re dead on the news?”

“I’m having nightmares all the time.”

Carrying Heavy Things

Carrying heavy things…heavy.

Backpacks and lunch bags, hoodie pockets, and cellphones filled with granite-sized chunks of jagged worry.

Pandemics of race and Covid.

Communities of Color and Indigenous Communities seeking brighter tomorrows in a world full of todays that are still designed by history’s own hand to marginalize them.

Uvalde.

Parkland.

Sandy Hook.

Assessments that don’t speak to the true knowledge children possess.

Trust, health, safety, well-being, and anti-racism, hold them tightly.

As I said, heavy things are being carried; students and staff, families, and communities all seem to be carrying something when they come to our doors every morning.

So what do we do? What can we do?

As school leaders, we welcome them.

We help them shoulder the load, even carry it for them when we can; and when we can, set down our own, for it’s important to remember we are often carrying too. In the work of recognizing our children from K-12 are carrying heavy things, seeing heavy events, and thinking heavy thoughts, we must still prioritize ourselves in the work of sharing and carrying heavy. After the past three years, heavy things aren’t going anywhere, right?

We live trauma adjacent every day as we work to support our students, staff, and communities. The needs today are amplified at a rate we have never seen before, and it starts with an open heart and mind, acknowledging that it does not occupy one demographic or neighborhood. Heavy hits hard everywhere, and as leaders, the more we are plugged into the pulse of our community, the more we smell the smoke, hear the voices, and feel the impact.

Keep love and hope alive as tenets of your climate and culture by talking about them as a part of your daily language, and show them your supports of their personal and professional lives. Avoid unnecessary meetings and tasks. Click To Tweet

What does heavy look like?

Heavy exists in the 10th grader, rocking and crying in the bathroom during lunch.

A Kindergarten child who lost both their parents to Covid who is terrified to get off the bus, and enter the heavy darkness of the apartment where they all lived together once upon a time.

The seventh grader wondering why they are told by a group at the bus stop, in heavy-handed language, to leave the country because of the religious items they wear.

The masks, sanitizer, gloves, and funerals…so many funerals in the heavy, spring rain.

Carrying heavy things, living heavy lives.

News feeds and video content floods our worlds, and our students, staff, and communities have it all there before them, immediately accessible, often without any filters or context. “Beware of falling rocks,” the sign flashes.

And when they come from the bus doors to the main doors, we welcome them. We acknowledge the seen and unseen carrying. For some of it, you can’t always observe, and you don’t have to be in crisis to carry something heavy. There is so much there, and as stewards of our school communities, we meet them where they are, acknowledging and validating the emotions, experiences, and stories as what they are. We bring them—students, staff, and families—access to support and resources. It’s what I believe we are called to do and some of the most critical school improvement work we can engage in.

Consider some of these ideas for supporting carrying heavy things:

1. Communicate to your school—all stakeholders—that social-emotional support, mental health, trauma-responsive care, and wellness are a priority of your school.

2. Show support to your students and families. Provide school-based support to them with regards to daily messaging posted in the school and access to school counselors, school psychologists, teacher mentors, crisis team support, free meals, and other external, material provisions. Town halls with PTA support provide an opportunity to discuss these issues openly and honestly. Student activities and groups allow them to emotionally regulate and occupy their minds and bodies in proactive, positive ways.

3. Show your staff. Keep love and hope alive as tenets of your climate and culture by talking about them as a part of your daily language, and show them your support of their personal and professional lives. Avoid unnecessary meetings and tasks. Provide ways to celebrate who they are and what they do. Design relationship-building opportunities between staff and leaders. Explore professional development around anxiety, the emotional backpack, and stress. Bring in providers/therapy animals to offer other ways to decompress and be heard, employee assistance programming, and monthly opportunities to come together as a staff to discuss/heal/recover around heavy things.

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Being the Light

There will always be heavy, but within the carrying work, we have it within us as leaders to be some form of that proverbial light in the moves we make and provide lightness to the load. None of that work is easy. And it doesn’t make things go away. But engaging in it with students, staff, and families with consistent, open communication and behaviors, with mechanisms to support their safety and wellness as well as your own, you can elevate the message that together you can lift those things, and together you can ease the burdens.

Remember, sometimes the carrying is just too much. Your hands and heart get calloused from wrestling with its weight, and you just need to give yourself permission to be human and set that heavy down. It will be there when you come back, that much is true, but putting down the heavy and looking around will help to remind you that despite all you carry you are never alone in any of it. Never.


About Matthew Bowerman

Matthew J. Bowerman is a father of six, husband, school administrator, adventurer and storyteller who has spent almost 25 years in education. Additionally, he is also a national and international actor/singer/dancer. The author of the upcoming book, Heartleader, Matthew is an Emmy and Cine-award winning writer/director of the educational short film “BusSTOP,” addressing the bullying crisis in the United States. Matthew is a speaker and trainer with a focus in trauma responsive education, social emotional transformation, and staff/family empowerment and engagement.