A leader who helps us grow new leaders

Opinion: Editorials

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By Jill Wagner

Last week was the annual Field Stevenson open house, which marked my seventh consecutive year of having the privilege of attending. This special night had new meaning after the toxic events in Charlottesville had knocked our collective consciousness back 100 years. This Open House was grounding and hopeful, as I reconnected with Field friends, teachers and administrators. 

I mention the seven years because it is now hard to remember what it was like back in 2011 when Henry transitioned from second to third grade — Betsy Ross to Field Stevenson, across Roosevelt, with older kids, to a school with a middle school attached. Back then I had only set foot on the Field Stevenson side of the school twice, before Henry started to go to school there. Field Stevenson and third grade were foreign. By the time I had the opportunity to meet teachers at the open house, Henry had been going there for weeks, and I had already had the parental hazing of learning the kids do not enter the front of the school, but the back. 

In the old days, the two-week-in open house featured a lively roll call of every teacher at this unfamiliar Field Stevenson, who would run up to the front stage by name. However, the announcer did not share the teacher's grade or title so I was captivated, waiting to hear "Mrs. Shriner" or "Ms. Beherens," and to catch my first glimpse of the teachers who had spent more time with my son in the past two weeks than I had. When we broke out into classrooms, Henry lead us to the off-the-beaten-path classroom which just felt disconnected from the rest of the school, where I could see the parents and children who shared the same class. 

Things have changed. New Field Stevenson third-grade parents now have an open house before the first day of school, survival guides are distributed, and parents are told that line-up and pick-up is in the back of the school. That once off-the-beaten-path classroom in the back corner of the school is now the teacher's lounge. There are several events at Field Stevenson throughout the school year, where Betsy Ross families are invited, which helps build a relationship with the building and teachers from older grades.

Knowing and understanding history helps us appreciate where we are.

At this year's open house, Field Stevenson's principal, army veteran, and community leader, Dr. Brunson, opened with the Pledge of Allegiance, as we always do. She invited us to please stand but added if anyone wanted to kneel, sit, or raise a fist, they could. 

See, at Field Stevenson, there is a culture of respect. Students and families can express themselves, but they cannot bully, intimidate, harass or be unsafe. This culture is embodied by the leader, which trickles down throughout the school. Perhaps that is why all the families there that night stood, with hand on heart, and recited the pledge.

This month, Jerry Useem's column in the Atlantic, makes a case for power causing brain damage. He claims that over time, leaders can lose mental capacities, as gaining power can make leaders more impulsive, less able to see things from other people's points of view, and power can even cause actual neurological changes in the brain. Brains of people with power, Useem claims, can actually be damaged, because having power weakens the human ability to conduct "mirroring," a neural process that may be a cornerstone to empathy.

It is helpful to understand the hubris syndrome that infects so many leaders and politicians. It is refreshing to see a leader like Dr. Brunson, who is humble, empathic, and in touch with reality.

At the open house, the education goals were laid out for the year, and how 21st-century learning focuses on every individual, and how chrome books and technology aid in the learning environment today. This was all explained in the 21st-century glitz of video and animated slides. 

But it was what Dr. Brunson said at the end that carried the most weight. "At Field," she said, "we are teaching kids to be good people."

Good people come from all sorts of environments. Good people come from any neighborhood, they can come from every walk of life. What makes a good person is not found in material, technology, or tests; it comes from good role models. Good role models are empathic, reflective, and are not possessed by power. Good people attract more good people. 

I look forward to sharing the fifth-grade experience with the good people of Forest Park who also have children at Field Stevenson and the Field Stevenson team. Together we can make good experiences that will help us grow good leaders for the future. 

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Michelle Jensen from Oak Park  

Posted: August 26th, 2017 12:17 AM

Thanks for sharing this Jill! Hope prevails and live always wins.

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