By Dr. Brian G. Ricca, Superintendent
I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. Looking around for the “big moments.” Trying to capture something “huge.” This week, I was fortunate to notice two little things that made a big difference in the lives of people in East Greenwich Public Schools.
A relatively large number of people had gathered for a meeting at one of our buildings when one of our staff members needed to step out to take a call. The call was from this staff member’s child to tell their parent some disappointing news. That staff member returned to the meeting with tears in their eyes because, as any parent knows, you’re only as happy as your least happy child. When we inquired and heard what had transpired, we quickly realized there was nothing we could do but extend our compassion, empathy, and kind words to this individual.
There were no grand gestures. There was nothing dramatic. We empathized as parents, sympathized as humans, and expressed that to this staff member. I was proud to see so much kindness from the people in that room. I awoke the next day to the following text message from that staff member:
I immediately thought to myself, ‘I didn’t do anything.’ And it was only upon reflection that I realized I was a part of the community of people in that room who reached out to comfort a colleague. We couldn’t make it better. We could not fix it. And still, what we did, made a difference.
The second moment took place in that same meeting. A different staff member was being praised for their work at their building by multiple people. The theme was recurring, and it slowly became clear that the staff member was uncomfortable with all the praise. At one point, the staff member muttered, “Please stop it. I’m just doing my job.” A colleague at the table, who was also sharing compliments, nudged the too- embarrassed individual and said, “Hey, you earned them.”
There’s a sense among educators that we have to be humble all the time. We can’t take credit. We can’t celebrate. We have to make it about others. I’ve done that myself. Brene Brown talks about this in her book Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts:
“We don’t want our employees to get too excited because there’s still so much work to be done. We don’t want them to take their foot off the gas, to get complacent. So we don’t celebrate achievements. We think we’ll do it someday, but these same factors persist in the wake of joy. This is how foreboding joy shows up at [school], and it’s a costly mistake.”
I’ve been in education for twenty-six years, and in all of those years, I’ve not seen a celebration cause complacency once. Not once. Not one single time. Kudos to the staff member that encouraged their colleague to bask in the glow of deserving compliments. Education is such a personal endeavor. Teachers pour their entire selves into their lessons, assessments, and interactions. Paraeducators develop relationships with our children, ensuring they can have full access to the excellent education East Greenwich provides to them. Staff members answer phones, pay bills, sweep floors, feed children, and lead departments and buildings. We bring our whole selves to the work that we do every day.
I’m proud to have seen the best of East Greenwich in less than fifteen minutes. I saw staff members reach out to comfort a colleague and a colleague push another into the spotlight to celebrate. It’s just another way that ‘All Means All’ in the East Greenwich Public Schools.
We need focus, not hyperbole. More walking through the school buildings, connecting to the students please.