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A Little Shell-Shocked Sometimes

Is it possible to feel a loss of innocence as an adult? I don't think this is a conversation that is typically held, not about well-adjusted grown-ups with lots of education, a well-paying job and a stable home life. But is it possible that in our position as administrators, we experience trauma alongside our kids?

As a teacher, I was really sheltered from what my administrators were dealing with on a daily basis. There very worse issue I had to deal with was perhaps a student swearing in class... I really had no clue what was going on behind those closed doors and well-beyond the hours of the school day. Now
that I've been on the other side of the door for the last 5 years, I can tell you that it's not all sunshine and rainbows. It's not even as simple as dishing out detentions and suspensions on some days. Other days, which are not the majority I must emphasize, snowball into these "incidents" or "episodes" that just consume your days and sometimes weeks, depending on what has transpired. It usually means endless hours on the phone with parents, police and community agencies. Drugs. Fights. Weapons. Sexual assault. Domestic violence. Serious trouble on the homefront. Mental breakdowns. A young life ends too soon.  Interview after interview. Re-interviewing to double-check and triple-check "facts" and recollections. More phone calls. Hours of reviewing security camera footage. Conferral and collaboration with colleagues. Decisions are made. Consequences are imposed. Reports are prepared. Sometimes charges are laid. Sometimes someone is suspended or expelled. Other times, a son or daughter is removed from the custody of their parents. A child is hospitalized. A funeral.

During the "event" the administrator must keep his or her wits about him or her. Emotion has to be kept at bay in order to arrive at an objective understanding of what has transpired so that the best possible decisions can be made based on the information gathered. At the same time, we have to balance the quest for objectivity with the need for compassion.

Eventually, it all ends.

Then what?

In the quiet of the aftermath is when it always hits me. Humanity takes over. Feelings of sadness and anger and sometimes grief for all the lives affected kick in. It can be overwhelming. To an extent, it can feel traumatizing. The facts of these cases are difficult to hear. We listen to a lot of crying and sobbing, yelling and screaming. We provide comfort and consolation and that requires inner strength. We remain logical and calm, which requires restraint and patience. At the end, sometimes you feel like a punching bag. Others, your sweater is soaked with tears.

Then it's a return to "regular" routine. It's not always easy to brush yourself off and move on. Some cases will have a tremendous impact and we have to still be functional. How do we do it? This is when the strength of a team is tested. The administrator in the thick of the incident must communicate what is going on to the others so that they are aware and know that back-up for some of the other day-to-day duties is needed. I can't speak for my colleagues, but I always found taking a quick 15 minute break to drink a cup of coffee or have a quick bite with my partners gave me a bit of grounding or were good opportunities to bounce ideas and get some feedback. Debriefing with my principal in the end is always a good exercise for me. Reviewing all the steps taken and sometimes offering some alternatives is great for growth and learning, since in this role, it all happens on the job. There is no manual in responding to human crises. In this debrief, encouragement is offered and an acknowledgement of the rollercoaster of emotions is offered, which gives me some reassurance that I can deal with the next thing that comes along. Finally, sometimes a little separation is good thing. I'll take a lieu day and spend the day reading or walking or painting or whatever... I can't ever "reset" because, traumatizing those these events may be, there is learning to be processed and practices to reflected upon. Just as I was a reflective practitioner as a teacher, I continue to be so as a Vice Principal because there is no exact science to doing this job.


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