I happened to be in a parent meeting this morning where a mother of one of our students was going to great lengths to explain how she and her husband supervise their son when grocery shopping. Her son is a high school-aged student with a number of behavioral issues. Those behavioral issues have risen to the level of community concern, and the parents are trying to manage allegations against their son, accusations and suspicions of what he may or may not have done.

As I listened to the mother explain all of this to the Minnick staff gathered in my office, I noticed how each staff member was leaning into the mother, listening intently and actively. They were not sitting back, listening and waiting for their turn to speak—to make some point about safety or to give a parenting suggestion. They were listening with compassion to understand, to hear what was said and what was not said. I decided in that moment, that this is the hallmark characteristic of successful and effective Minnick staff, regardless of whether they are administrators, teachers, teaching assistants, or one-to-one educational aides. They compassionately listen to understand, not to wait until the other finishes speaking so they can have their say.

I’ve sat in many similar meetings in my 35-year career as an educator. I’ve met with parents who, like the parent this morning, want to tell the “important school people” that they really are trying to be good parents. They want to explain their efforts, their plans, and their hopes. They do not want to be judged, to be criticized.  At Minnick, the staff understands that listening compassionately to the caregivers of our students is critical to establishing relationships with the student and the family, ultimately leading everyone to a different path, a better path. Listening is how we learn what works and how we can help students achieve. Listening is the essence of compassion, a characteristic not often talked about in teacher training programs as a way to improve student achievement or to build good parent relationships.

I have a print in my office that I have toted around for about 15 years now. I bought it from one of those feel good platitude companies that sell beautiful photographs with positive quotes beneath them. This particular print expressed what I have always felt about our work in education, but had never been able to put into words, and it is what I believe that Minnick staff members possess and practice daily:

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and wrong…because sometime in your life you will have been all of these.”

I’m proud and humbled to be a part of our schools.

When she isn’t enjoying a variety of books and music, Terri Webber, director of education for Lutheran Family Services, loves spending an enormous amount of time with her favorite furry playmates, cats: Layla, Lola and Jack. After a day’s works, she looks forward to retiring to her front porch to admire the Appalachian Mountains.