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The principal’s gift

Last week I decided I probably should break the news to Harrison that his principal would be retiring at the end of the school year. We were driving when I told him this and there was some thoughtful silence in the back seat.

After a while, he asked, “Who will take her place?”

Without going into detail about changing job descriptions at the school, I told him that Mrs. Camper would be in Mrs. Anderson’s office next year.

More thoughtful silence . . .

“But will she be as nice as Mrs. Anderson?”

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Harrison and Principal Holly Anderson

I assured him that she would be, but this exchange suddenly brought another reality into focus. As Harrison’s dad I’ve probably had more interaction with Holly Anderson than most other parents during her years at the school. She arrived right as we were beginning to see some heightened behavioral issues due to Harrison’s autism. Early on he would spend time in her office to chill out when he was having problems, when he was feeling overwhelmed, or needed a quiet place to focus on his work. As time went by Holly also called me several times to bring him home due to extreme misconduct.

I can tell you there’s nothing quite like being called to the school and the principal’s office because your child has, for example, struck out at a teacher. It’s a feeling of despair combined with the effect of someone driving the Indy 500 on your nervous system. It was during these times that I really learned to appreciate Holly for her skills and abilities.

She was always naturally calm regardless what had happened. She seemed to have a way of projecting this calmness to Harrison, and also to me.

Then, when we sat down to discuss whatever had happened, she spoke to Harrison with an astonishing clarity, using language that was on his level but without speaking down to him. In this way she could encourage him to accept and take responsibility for his actions without instilling any hint of guilt or humiliation for what he had done.

The next day when I brought him back to school she would welcome him with a smile and the opportunity for a fresh start. Whatever had happened was not simply swept under the rug. Instead it was used as an opportunity for growth and learning.

I don’t know Holly outside of the school setting at all. But it is my sense she operates from a foundation of hope, kindness and compassion. As such she has been not only an important influence for our kids, but also for parents such as myself and her fellow educators. Her work carries on as a lasting gift to the school, the larger community and beyond.

I know Harrison is going to miss her, and I am grateful to have learned so much from her as well.

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