There was an article in the most recent issue of Wired magazine that sparked my thinking. It didn’t detail the latest gadgets or technological innovations, or deal with the field of education, yet it immediately made me consider this question in regards to our roles as school leaders and educators:
Do we show them we care?
Dr. Feelgood, written by Nathanael Johnson, explores the beneficial effects of alternative medicine. Despite the fact that science is often unable to prove its ability to be effective in curing patients, the same scientific studies show that patients treated by alternative measures often end up feeling better.
Johnson reminds us of the placebo effect: when sick people are given a treatment, even if it’s just a placebo, their condition often improves. But not always. So further studies commenced, and researchers discovered that when patients are treated by doctors and care providers who approach treatment with kindness and care, they report marked reduction in symptoms. Researcher Ted Kaptchuk from Harvard Medical School concluded “the empathetic exchange between practitioner and patient” made the difference. This approach to healing has been coined the care effect:
“the idea that the opportunity for patients to feel heard and are for can improve their health.”
Johnson describes other studies in the field of nursing that support the healing power in the relationship between practitioner and patient. While “nurturing is no replacement for science,” the author stresses that mainstream medicine has a lot to learn from alternative medicine, where practitioners tend to show empathy and involve patients in conversations about care, rather than just dole out treatments.
Two weeks ago our school community lost a bright and shining soul, a young girl in first grade whom we all loved deeply. She valiantly battled cancer day in and day out, but you wouldn’t know it when you interacted with her. She always greeted us with a smile, a funny comment, and compliments, blended together with a perfectly charming amount of six-year-old sass. At the end of my pregnancy, she asked me if she could kiss my baby, and she wrapped her arms around my middle and placed a perfectly sweet kiss on my belly. She showed us she cared, and she made everyone around her feel special. Her care effect was unwavering.
As school leaders, when problems arise, do we just TREAT the issue? Or do we examine the patients and what they need? Do we consider the feelings of staff? Of students? Of community? Do we approach difficult conversations with care and concern? As classroom teachers, do we consider the individual needs of the children sitting in front of us? Do we recognize that one-size-fits-all is a ridiculous notion? Can we learn from the people, especially the sweet children around us, who always manage to approach life’s toughest situations with concern and dignity?
As Johnson concludes, “We need to stop thinking of care as just another word for treatment and instead accept it as a separate, legitimate part of medicine to be studied and delivered.”
It’s a difficult task, to lead and manage a learning organization. It’s stressful, it’s overwhelming, and at times we struggle through and think we’ll never again see the light. Remember this is why we do what we do. When challenges arise, focus on the care.