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Nourishing Our School Communities and One Another

By: Dr. Betsy Okello - Faculty for ACE Leadership Programs; Teaching and Learning Team, Notre Dame ACE Academies

Dr. Betsy OkelloHunger is a physical sensation that demands our attention, and we ignore it at our own peril.

We know that hunger can increase our impulsiveness, reduce our ability to make long-term decisions, and cause an inability to focus. Physical hunger requires an urgent response, and only after it is satisfied can we attend to other matters. We know this as educators, which is why we have breakfast and school lunch programs to make sure students are physically satisfied so they are ready to learn.

As school leaders, other hungers also clamor for our attention: the hunger for justice, spiritual hunger, social, academic, and emotional hungers also drive us, though their effects and manifestations may not be as immediate. We ignore these hungers not just at our own peril, but at the peril of our students and families. These hungers have weighed heavily on us all during this ongoing pandemic and the corresponding racial, economic, and social tensions that have deeply divided our communities. Recent articles have focused on the toll this pandemic has taken on teachers and leaders. The University of Michigan’s COVID-19 resource page highlights a teacher hierarchy of needs, noting the necessity of teachers and leaders to meet their own physiological needs and then the physiological needs of students and families before attending to instruction. In this environment, it can be difficult to talk about the disposition of hunger or to ask any more of teachers and leaders who have already worked so tirelessly to keep our Catholic schools open, students safe, and prioritize teaching and learning.

In the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program we define hunger as “the moral obligation to do whatever it takes to attend to the needs of people in our community: academic, social, emotional, and spiritual.” In our present moment, we can also add physical to that list, as much of our time has been devoted to keeping students safe from COVID-19 and ensuring that families have the resources they need to continue to provide food and shelter for their children. When the list of needs seems endless and the resources we can provide have their limits, it can be difficult to continue to do “whatever it takes” day after day.

Our shared definition of hunger also notes that leaders’ “high expectations for excellence are driven by a love for the members of the school community,” and it is this love that enables us to hold each other up and support one another as we continue to press for excellence for all of our students through this very difficult school year. We do so not as individual heroic leaders but together as a community. We do so motivated, not by our individual ambitions, but by our collective will and belief in the God-given potential of every student in our care. The late educational researcher Mike Rose, who struggled in school and was the first in his family to attend college, describes this kind of hunger that teachers who love both their students and their subject matter display:
    

They really devoted themselves to their teaching and their students, and they taught me a lot of things about history or literature, how to write, how to write better - they certainly did that. But they were also the people whose office door was open and who would spend a lot of time talking about the material you were learning and would work over a piece of your writing. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be sitting at the elbow of one of these folks, and they were going over a paper yet once again saying, “You know, try saying it this way. Try it like this.” So all of that kind of personal attention, that embodiment of knowledge in a relationship.

 

The embodiment of knowledge in a relationship communicates care to students and families. It demonstrates our hunger and insatiable desire for all students to excel and to open new possibilities, to sit alongside students, elbow to elbow, and write, read, and talk together, to keep our office doors and our hearts open. Now, more than ever, we need to embody our knowledge in relationships - with each other, with students, and with families. We will likely continue to feel the pangs of various hungers.

Rather than merely satisfying them, let us work together - side by side, elbow to elbow -  to nourish our school communities and one another.


Learn more about the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program at ace.nd.edu/leadership

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