I walked down the hall in a hurry to make my next appointment. As I turned the corner, I saw a Third Grader walking down the hall more slowly than usual. As I greeted him, he barely lifted his gaze at me. I continued on my way down the hall with an inner dialogue that went something like this, “Hmm. He barely looked at me. I thought after a year of speaking to him, of calling him by name, we would have connected more than this. I wonder what he needs from me to feel a connection.” As my thoughts fired rapidly, they slowed as the image of his eyes in that moment pushed forward. “His eyes looked sad,” I thought after he was long out of sight. With that, I continued toward the Leadership meeting at the front of the school.
It was right before carpool, and I was rounding the corner near my office. That same Third Grader suddenly appeared awkwardly in front of me, looked up into my eyes, and said, “My cat died yesterday.” I gave him a big hug, told him how sorry I was, and asked him to send me a picture of him. He nodded and headed to his classroom.
Indeed, his eyes were sad. No wonder he didn’t grin earlier when I called him by name. No wonder I didn’t feel a connection as we met in the hall. His heart was hurting, and he was doing the best he could given the weightiness of his heart. That night, a picture of Batman appeared in my inbox.
As a Division Head, I often long to make the deep kinds of connections with children that I once did as a classroom teacher. Instead, I gather information about the students in Second through Sixth Grade in small doses, which can mean it takes a while for some to connect with me. But I keep my eyes wide open to watch for newly pierced ears, a sharp new haircut, or some piece of information that allows me to reach out with a personal connection. Over the years, I see students who don a more confident stance, gain a smile across a face, or develop newfound eye contact. I see “my kids” grow. I watch them learn hard lessons over the years. I have small moments to let them know I care, so I keep my eyes wide open, because at any time, one of them just might need a hug from me or need to know that I care about their cat.