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Managing Tragedy

There are so many students in our schools who are in crisis. There have been countless days where I have felt that no amount of compassion could comfort and my lack of common experience made me I qualified to help these most vulnerable students. In the last 4 years, I have helped students through the deaths of parents including a suicide, I stopped a young girl from ending her own life and have worked with countless kids enduring truly difficult medical circumstances including cancer. There is no training on how to deal. There  is lots to read on what to say and what not to say but it always seems so abstract and impractical. It's a struggle to manage my own reactions and emotions and maintain composure. I have tried in vain to remain stoic but have yielded to my humanity so many times and have cried along side students and their parents. I have stood frozen and speechless in front of caskets of students who have died, feeling inadequate in offering consolation to a devastated family. Did I mention there is no preparation for this? And yet I cease to be amazed how much of my time is devoted to dealing with and helping families to manage tragedy. 

I might sound a bit whiny but it is in these instances that an Administrator has the opportunity to really help kids without any obstacles or interference. These are the encounters where students see that God works his mercy and compassion through others. As a Catholic educator it is our vocation to actively demonstrate that Jesus is our guide and model. In times of need, we make decisions that allows coming to school to be a bit more tolerable and if that means putting accommodations in place that may cause the odd brow to furrow it's too bad. 

I will admit that each situation I have dealt with in the last four years, and there are sadly too many to count, have impacted me to the point of feeling traumatized in some instances. Difficult though the experiences have been, they are the only confirmations I have that, despite having loved teaching so much, I am having a much more direct impact on students in my role as VP. It's sad that this affirmation has come through witnessing tragedy but it's so frequent. It's exhausting, emotionally draining. 

My VP partner has been a saving grace because she is my sounding board to help process events. It's important in these instances to have a partner you can trust implicitly. It can become overwhelming to become intimately acquainted with the personal issues in students' lives, and it's so crucial to have access to a voice of reason who helped keep you grounded when you feel you might completely lose it. 

I keep coming back to training. I did crisis training in regards to such matters as bomb threats and intruders, less frequent occurrences these days than young people being diagnosed with terminal illnesses. We need support. Access to certain board personnel can be helpful but more often than not students and their families prefer to deal with a familiar face. The truth is students and their families would rather not deal beyond the four walls of their own home because they feel like their privacy is being invaded. Being sensitive and open, talking less and listening more have worked for me. Regardless, I hurt for these families and it makes me sad when yet another appointment gets made to discuss "an urgent matter".

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