From the Superintendent: Practicing ‘Both / And’

by | Feb 4, 2024

Above: Steven Yeun, one of the stars of “Beef,” a short TV series about road rage gone nuclear. Photo by Andrew Cooper for Netflix

By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.

During the winter holiday break, my family and I binged the 10 episodes of Beef. The Netflix mini-series is about a road rage incident that grows into a prolonged fight that entangles two families. It was indeed a challenging show to watch, and yet it brought some hard truths into focus. Some gruesome moments are difficult to see, and there are scenes with intense vulnerability and human connection. 

It’s early into the award season for TV shows and movies, but still,  Beef won six Emmys. During his acceptance speech, Steven Yeun, who earned the lead actor award for his portrayal of Danny Cho, said the following; 

“Judgment and shame are a lonely place. Compassion and grace is where we all can meet.” 

I have observed that sometimes, in education, we are reluctant to embrace both/and and prefer either/or. I can speak for myself as a classroom teacher; it was a shortcoming in my professional practice until I got feedback from one of my mentor teachers early on in my educational career. A woman, by the name of Loretta Jene (whom we nicknamed Yoda because of her size and her wisdom) asked me during my second year of teaching, “Mr. Ricca, why can’t it be both?” I don’t even remember what we were discussing, but my educational perspective changed that day. 

We can be forward thinking, and use worksheets. 

We can hold high standards, and have empathy. 

We can expect a great deal, and still scaffold the way forward together. 

Either/or thinking results in judgment and shame. Both/and thinking bring forth compassion and grace. As I’ve written many times in this very space, we need more compassion. We need more grace. Our work is about relationships. That’s it. That’s the list. 

East Greenwich Public Schools are a safe place for all of us to come and meet. The strategic plan, entitled “All Means All,” specifically welcomes every single learner, young and old, to our community of teaching and learning, spread across six school buildings, and the district office. You need not be perfect. You need only to bring an open mind and an open heart. 

My commitment to our students is that EGPS will be a place that is safe, welcoming, and inclusive so that every student can grow to his or her potential, with the courage to make mistakes. For our adults, I commit to providing the tools they need to be their best professional selves, in service to their students, colleagues, and families. I cannot do that with judgment and shame. I can only do that with compassion and grace. 

More than 26 years ago, Loretta Jene asked me, “Mr. Ricca, why can’t it be both?” The truth of the matter is, not only can it be, it’s how it should be. 

Both/and. 

Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.

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Bruce Mastracchio
Bruce Mastracchio
February 5, 2024 7:57 am

IF you really care about your students you can do a lot of things and they will see through to the truth. If the commitment and work are there they sense you are for them.
(I taught 40 years. Coached 45. I am 81 and former players still come on a regular basis to take me out to eat. I have letters and cards from former students to attest to that fact. Did I get them all. NO. But not for lack of trying).

Marie
Marie
February 5, 2024 5:33 pm

Might BOTH EG’s Town Council AND its School Committee collaborate to improve our schools?

Ray Riccio
Ray Riccio
February 6, 2024 12:34 pm
Reply to  Marie

According to Oxford Dictionary it would be listed as a SNAFU.

The referendum has been approved. Whether the taxpayer gets the benefit from Rhode Island Department of Education I think and unless informed differently is still an open issue?

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