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In the spring of 2019, I was chosen by the teachers in my school district as the educator of the year. It was a tremendous honor that came with a great opportunity and responsibility. I was to speak in front of all of the members of our school district at our opening convocation in August. As I considered what I would say, I decided I wanted my words to be uplifting – I wanted to encourage them to “Be the Light” for their students and for one another. I’d like to share my message with you in the hopes that I might encourage you too. How can you be the light in your school community?
Every morning of the school year, I get to witness something truly magical. The library at my school is in the center of 9 classrooms, and when the morning bell rings to start the day, the classroom teachers come out into the library to greet their students. Smiles and warm “hellos” fill the space… “How are you today?” “How was your game last night?” “Did you like the way that book turned out?” Students are often eager to share a story with their teacher of something that has occurred in their lives since they’ve last seen one another. More than once, I’ve noticed a caring teacher spot someone who looks like they’re having a rough start to their day and reach out to give some extra understanding and reassurance.
What’s happening here? These educators are showering our students with love, a sense of safety and belonging. They’re shining light into their lives and giving them a chance to start their day on a positive note. They’re making connections, building relationships. This is where the magic happens! Without these connections, that belonging, that feeling of mattering, there won’t be much learning going on.
I’m well aware that this magic is not just happening each day in my library. I’ve walked through the other parts of our school and witnessed the same love and care and light filling our hallways and surrounding our students. Enveloping them as they walk through their classroom doors – giving each young person the best possible chance for success as they start the school day. It’s a unifying atmosphere in our school!
I know you’re all doing this too – in your own way, in your own buildings, in your own school communities, you are routinely striving to make those important connections with your students. You’re showing them your love and care in your words and your actions, you are letting each one of them know they are important. You are the light for your students!
I am so proud to be part of this – part of this team of educators. Where we shower light and love on our students, and make their social and emotional well-being a priority, because we know (as the research so clearly tells us) there is no learning without relationships.
I like to think I know something about how our students feel when we go out of our way to show our love and care for them. You see, I’ve been showered with the same light and love and confidence at a very dark time in my life.
Four years ago at this time I was in the middle of a health nightmare. Just a couple of weeks into the school year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I know many of you have faced similar health crises yourself, or alongside a loved one, so you can relate to the fear and uncertainty I felt.
Going through something like this can make you feel hopeless, but so many people reached out to lighten my load, to shine light and love into my life. Lovingly prepared meals were delivered to our home every week. I received positive, encouraging text messages, emails, phone calls, and cards and letters every single day.
A friend once asked me what my biggest takeaway or surprising realization was from my experience as a cancer patient. I didn’t really have to think much about my answer. I was, and still am, completely amazed at the powerful effect those cards and letters, emails and text messages, phone calls, visits and home cooked meals had on me, on my heart and my spirit. I was lifted up, given hope, bathed in the light of positivity. The light and love that was shared with me helped me to feel optimistic and strong at a time when I could have felt so lost and weak.
So, I do know how it feels to be showered with light and love and positivity, like we do for our students. This experience has caused me to reflect many times on how powerful this influence can be for adults too. My personal challenge was evident, but we all have struggles that we may keep very private. There is a saying “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” (As a librarian, I can’t resist the need to stop here to tell you… this saying has been attributed to two people: Plato and Ian Maclaren. I couldn’t stand it if someone would accuse me of not citing my sources!!)
“Be Kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” None of us are immune to heartache, whether it’s over a serious illness or injury, the loss of a loved one, financial hardship, worry about our own children, loneliness, or uncertainty about our future. And let’s not forget the struggles and stresses that come with our profession! Kind words and encouragement, a listening ear, a respectfully expressed difference of opinion, a smile, or a helping hand from a colleague can make all the difference.
I know you’re already looking out for one another in many ways – educators are, by nature, very caring humans after all. I hope my experience might encourage us to reach out to one another even more. We are stronger together. When we take the time to take care of one another, to believe the best of one another, we make our entire team better for our students and ourselves.
I want to encourage you to “Be the Light.” I want you to know that you ARE the light – WE are the light! I hope you let your light shine bright this year – for your students, your colleagues, and yourself.
You can see the message I recorded for my colleagues here:
Thank YOU for all you do for your students and your colleagues! How can you “Be the Light” this year?
Be well and have fun!