Love Literacy Leadership and Guns

Letter to KIPP Delta Leaders,

While the country rages, grieves, blames, and opines in the aftermath of the most recent school massacre, most adults return to workplaces that don’t include children. But you do.

 

Most adults aren’t entrusted with protecting children in the workplace. But you are. Most don’t come into contact with large groups of students whom they get to know well. But you do. And most adults don’t spend time, on a day-to-day basis, with hundreds of children who are, or will become high school students.

 

But you do.

 

In fact, only about 1.1% of the national workforce are teachers. And, yet, the country turns to you to help protect some of its 50.7 million students. The country’s children. And, to teach them to read, write, and to be able to calculate, for example, the percentage of teachers to the US workforce. They turn to you to help our children acquire guiding principles and values, and to prepare them to become the next generation of healthy, successful Leaders.

 

You, dear teachers and leaders, have a special mandate: to help change the narrative for our students and their families.

 

You are, in fact, the unsung sheroes and heroes who only seem to get noticed when you think quickly enough to go into lockdown in the middle of deconstructing parts of speech, or while immersed in discussions about civil disobedience. Who instinctively throw your bodies in front of students in the line of fire. Who keep your composure when the world seems to be crashing down all around you.

 

Why is this? Love is one reason. I’m talking about fierce love. The kind that develops by knowing what your students eat for breakfast. Which parts of the alphabet they each know and don’t know. Where their college essays need tightening or expanding. If there will be food on their tables tonight. Knowing which houses of worship they pray in. Knowing their little sister’s name. Knowing what their dreams are.

 

The literature tells us that these strong relationships you have built help keep your students – and you – safer because potentially violent students usually telegraph their intentions in advance. But traditionally, other students tend to avoid them. Your informed Leadership changes this dynamic. You can listen to your students, without judgment and fear, and teach them to come to you when they’re worried. Many of you have already built these relationships. You know when one of your students is acting differently. You know that the best hope for these students who act out is to keep them in school. That’s what the literature tells us.

 

We also know that violent perpetrators spend time researching school massacres, studying them in great detail (a third of them consciously imitate and emulate what had happened in Columbine). As a Leader driven by fierce love, you guide your teachers to strive to be so attuned to students, that they would notice this pattern. These are some of the critical tools for recognizing and thwarting potentially violent students.

 

And then there’s this: Research tells us that when schools, county mental health professionals, and law enforcement agencies collaborate, the probability of interrupting a potentially violent student increases. Los Angeles created this strong program after the Newtown massacre.

 

Why am I offering all of this when these atrocities have, to date, been perpetrated by white males? I’m offering this to you because I want to illuminate the Love, Literacy, and Leadership you engage in, and to urge you to expand your definition so you can intentionally infuse your schools with this holy trinity.

 

And, because Donnell Bailey, a former New Orleans KIPPster, now an adult in a workplace – Democrats for Education Reform – offered this insight to me tonight:

 

The kids in the Delta probably look at school the same way

my family and I looked at school—as a place where you learn,

but even more importantly, a place that kept you safe,

that kept you out of trouble and out of harm’s way,

and where you went to become somebody—

because in America far too often Black and Brown kids

are robbed of their “somebody-ness.”

 

I’m just guessing, but probably not all teachers

realize the holistic work they do and the impact

they have. Perhaps this is a perfect time for them

to be reminded of that –

to be reminded of Love, Literacy, and Leadership,

and to thank them for living it.