How School Leaders Can Build Trust and
Resilience in the Face of Disruption
It is not an easy task to communicate about current stressful and controversial issues within our communities. The war in the Middle East, the mass shooting in Maine, the deaths of a family in Mercer County are current examples impacting the daily lives of students and their families. These are complex and sensitive topics, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to navigate them. However, it is crucial to bear in mind that students and families are looking to you for guidance and support during such trying times.
Addressing difficult issues comes with its fair share of challenges. One of the foremost challenges is the diversity of our communities. New Jersey is a remarkably diverse state, housing students and families from all corners of the world. Consequently, it is paramount to be mindful of the diverse perspectives that our students and families may have on any issue.
Talking with students, particularly the younger ones, about sensitive issues can be a daunting task. It necessitates finding a way to deliver accurate information while ensuring it is age appropriate.
There are several positive steps you can take to address these and other challenging issues within your communities. Here are some examples:
Acknowledge the difficulty: Begin by acknowledging that the issue is challenging and there are no easy answers. This simple recognition will make students and families feel heard and understood.
Respect all perspectives: Be respectful of all perspectives surrounding this issue. Listen to the viewpoints of students and families, even if they differ from your own, and refrain from generalizing about any group.
Engage with community leaders: Arrange meetings with religious leaders and other community figures to listen to their concerns and share how the school district is addressing tensions within the schools. This can foster trust and understanding between the school district and the community.
Provide resources: Offer students and families resources to further educate themselves about an issue. This might include books, articles, websites, or even inviting speakers from diverse backgrounds to enlighten students on the subject.
Establish safe spaces: Create safe spaces for students and families to discuss their concerns, whether it be through classroom discussions, assemblies, or with trained school personnel and outside support groups. Such forums can help students feel at ease sharing their feelings and concerns.
Transparency and honesty: Maintain transparency and honesty when dealing with students and families regarding controversial issues. This means providing them with accurate, up-to-date information, even if the content is difficult to digest.
Collaborate with colleagues: Work with other school district leaders in your area to develop a coordinated response. This will help to ensure that all students are receiving consistent information and support.
Addressing stressful and controversial issues with our communities can be a daunting task, but remember, you are not alone. There is a wealth of resources available to assist you, including other school leaders, community organizations, and the New Jersey Department of Education.
Most county affiliates have established response teams to support each other in times of crisis. If your county has not, I urge you to speak with your colleagues to prepare, collaborate, and share resources in advance before the inevitable next crisis occurs.
Your dedication to addressing complex and disruptive topics will undoubtedly contribute to a more informed, understanding, and empathetic community, better equipped to tackle the challenges that arise in our ever-evolving world.