Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Importance of a Support System

This summer I really started thinking hard about the importance of a support system.  I think that, my whole life, I looked for people who would be there for me.  As a child, this made me a very unforgiving friend.  I had high expectations for my friends and, if you failed to meet them, you were no longer my friend.  My expectations, I thought, were pretty honest and be there.  When I think about it now, for a child this is pretty deep.  Most children can't "be there."  It's the being there that runs a support system and young children aren't really capable of being a true support system.  So I have started to think about what this really means.

My Definition of a Support System

In order to be a support, one must
1. listen with an open heart.

Basically this means that when someone comes to you with a problem, you don't tell them how wrong they are right off the bat.  Listen to their feelings first.  Tell them you understand.  So it sounds like this: 

Me- "This parent is driving me crazy.  Every time I open my email, there is another complaint about Suzie not understanding the homework or being bullied by her classmates.  It's not what I see in school but I hate having to answer her all the time."

Supportive Friend- "Yeah, that sucks. It's hard to deal with this every day.  I know you've said Suzie seems so happy in class so what is this woman's problem?  She needs to get a life."

2. be honest.

Now would be the time to try to help.

Me- "I wish this kid wasn't in my class.  Her mom is really crazy."

Supportive Friend - "True.  Have you met with Mrs. Suzie in person yet?  Maybe she just needs some reassurance.  You're always much better with parents face to face."

Me- "I've been avoiding that but, you are right.  I will have her come in and sit with me and Suzie.  Let's find out what's really going on."

With the help of my supportive friend, I am able to vent first and get validation that my venting is justified.  Then I can get down to business.  

Now, obviously, this example is pretty simplistic.  But I realize my support system helps out in so many ways, not just when I need to vent about a pushy parent.  I depend on my friends to cheer me on when I am struggling, to laugh with me when all I want to do is cry, to celebrate successes small and large.  And, most importantly, I must do the same for them.

So why has this come up so much this summer?  It isn't because of Suzie's mom (Suzie's mom doesn't really exist although we have all had parents like this).  It isn't because of how rigid I was with my friends in elementary school.  But the importance of a support system has come up a few times.

  • ISTE
    • One of the things I miss terribly in school is a local support system. I have always been lucky enough or maybe smart enough to have found a very few people at work who can be my support system.  This makes school manageable for me - knowing that, when the going gets tough, I can reach out to my friend. When my friend isn't around, I hold my breath waiting for us to meet.  But at ISTE, I realized I could relax and breathe again.  Everyone there is in the same boat.  We work in schools where others are resistant to our ideas, where we are told to do things that go against our teaching philosophy, and where we are alone.  But when I talk at ISTE, all I hear is "Me too."  
    • This was brought home to me one day in the Blogger's Cafe.  I was standing by a couch watching Kevin Honeycutt with some friends playing music with IPads and computerized guitars.  It was fun.  Paul Wood was standing next to me and, while we were listening and laughing, I realized it was the first time in a long time that I was comfortable with a group of teachers.  I turned to Paul and told him this was just what I needed.  He, a true supportive friend, gave me a hug and told me he was glad I was there.  Ahhhh.
  • My Husband's End of Year Evaluation
    • My husband works in a district where parents are in control and teachers talk against each other.  He had a particularly difficult time this year with his grade level colleagues and it all came out in his final evaluation.  The principal wrote about issues he had with his classroom that were only issues because of his colleagues.  And she only knew about them because his colleagues told her.  One example...he was using email to contact parents and students.  One parent didn't get the emails and complained to the homeroom teacher, who, instead of going to my husband, went right to the principal.  Not a great support.  He did get the principal to change her evaluation, only talking about what she has personal experience with.
    • He has had a rough time this summer just wrapping his head around going back to work.  He has no support system there and, in fact, has to worry about the rest of the staff.  And he is miserable.
  • My Daughter's Schooling
    • I have written in the past about Ali's struggles with high school.  Her middle school was split into two high schools and her entire support system went to the other high school.  She thought it would be okay but she has been unable, after two years, to recreate that support system in her school.  
    • I am in the process right now of trying to get her moved to the other high school.  But all the superintendent is hearing from me is that she wants to be with her friends.  He doesn't understand the difference between friends and a support system.  She has plenty of friends at East (her school).  She just has no friends who listen with an open heart and then are honest with her.  Those friends are all at West.  This summer she has spent a great deal of time with them. While listening to their conversations, I finally realized what was missing at East. 
    • BTW...I reached out to my support system and got some great advice from Patrick Higgins about what to say to the superintendent. So, after our meeting Friday, when he started with no, he moved to..."Let me do some investigating and I will get back to you."  Stay tuned.
  • My Classroom
    • Now is the time I start preparing for a new year.  I am creating exciting projects, looking into great books to read, deciding on a theme for the year.  And what I realize now is that it is my job to be a strong support for my students and to model being supportive for others.  I want my students to feel supported in the classroom.  I think I do a really good job of creating this.  But now I have a better understanding of why it's so important.
I am incredibly grateful to have a support system.  I live with strong supports in both my husband and my mother.  I work with strong supports in my own classroom.  I am lucky this year to have my wonderful friend, Joanne Miller, be my aide again.  And I have my amazing support system in my online PLN.  I know I can always reach out to Karen Janowski, Maria Knee, and Linda Nitsche for an open heart.  I know I can always depend on Paul Wood to say just the right thing.  I know I can complain to Brian Crosby and he will listen and commiserate with me.  There are so many of you out there who are there for me.  

Do you have a strong support system?  Can you reach out to support someone else?

Image: 'Strength Over Head

Image: 'Deep conversation

Image: 'Class photo

Image: 'We're thinking of you

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