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I’m writing this from a hotel room in Philadelphia because my family can’t stay in my house right now due to a rather massive plumbing issue. It is, for our family, a really annoying disruption that has thrown all our routines — including those of Jakob and Theo’s homework — out of whack. And I am a creature of habit, used to working at night in the chair in my office. It’s one of the ways I make my life make sense – routine – and all of them feel very disrupted right now.

Now, all of that being said, we’re fine. We’ll be back in our house in a couple of days, and the damage done will be fixed a few days after that. We have the resources – financial, social, etc… – to make this only annoying. But even with all of the resources to deal with it, it has me feeling really off my game. I’m behind on my to-do list, I’ve had nowhere near my usual level of focus on SLA, and I’m frustrated.

We have kids in our classrooms who deal with far worse every day – and do we create the space for them to thrive at school, even when little about the rest of their lives are stable, safe or easy?

I worry that in many schools, there are not systems in place to recognize the challenges of trauma and stress outside of school place on our students. I worry that many schools don’t have the systems in place to a) learn when students are struggling with issues of hunger, homelessness, divorce, abuse to name a few, b) appropriately communicate issues to teachers, and c) create policy that creates school as safety net, rather than being another stress point in a child’s life.

This is another example of what it means to understand the difference between “I teach math,” and “I teach kids math.” Schools need to help students deal with trauma while also helping them to assess the most important work that needs to be done. Teaching kids how to manage stress and trauma is as much a part of being a fully realized citizen and person of the world as anything that appears on the Common Core list of standards.

Schools need to have systems and structures in place to help students through the challenges they face. For us at SLA, it begins with our Advisory system so that every student has an advocate and a safe space. It allows us to create the space for students and teachers to see each other as whole people who can celebrate success and deal with challenges together. Do we learn everything that we should about what kids are dealing with? Probably not. Do we always do as well as we should at figuring out how to mitigate the stress of the work of SLA when kids are in pain from the rest of their lives? Probably not. Do we always remind ourselves to see the student in front of us and remember their lives exist far beyond our walls? We certainly try.

All it took for me to feel out of sorts and off my game as principal was a plumbing emergency that displaced my family for a few days. It made me think about all the kids at SLA who are dealing with so much more. It behooves all of us who teach kids to ask ourselves — how do we ensure that our school has humane systems for helping students who are facing trauma?