I find myself captivated by the coverage of the sexual abuse of children by Jerry Sandusky. I can’t get enough of it. The work that is being done by Mike McCann (@McCannSportsLaw), Dan Wetzel (@danwetzel), and Sarah Ganim (@sganim) has been worthy of awards. I have a passion for sports and the legal aspects of things so this has drawn my attention for a while. I have my own thoughts and opinions based on what I have seen and read on the topic. I have read grand jury reports and excerpts from the Freeh Report. As a father of three and as a human being, I hope that everyone is able to feel empathetic towards the victims and the families before speaking about the situation. It is easy to lose track of the victims and focus on Joe Paterno and the impact to the athletic program. Following this story helps me to reflect on what we do in our schools to keep students safe. Hopefully, the attention will allow the voice of the victim to be heard and taken more seriously. For now I want to share how I use something that may have seemed like a boring exercise in graduate school to help me with difficult decisions that I have had to make as an Assistant Principal around safety. When I have those brief quiet moments after I have investigated a difficult situation and talked to everyone that I could have talked to I will always look to the wall where my Core Beliefs are posted. My Core Beliefs represent the things I value and strive to instill in my school as a leader.
I had written my Core Beliefs as an assignment in my graduate program for administration. Others may have written a Philosophy of Education. If you haven’t looked at yours for a while I suggest pulling up the file and reviewing them or even updating them. It is a good exercise to check and see if you still agree with what you wrote. I review my beliefs every summer and go to them when I am struggling with an impactful decision. They allow me to slow down and ensure that I am making a decision that matches with what I truly believe in.
My number one belief as an educator is the needs of the students must come first. The teaching, learning, and safety of the students must be our number one priority. Safety is something that we take for granted a lot of the time. There has been an extreme focus on teaching and learning in schools over the last few years. However, the subject of safety tends to come up after someone has done something horrible and we are facing the repercussions. Individual groups and political factors can make for messy situations. As school leaders, we need to make sure that we have a system and a process that protects all of our students. We need to hire and surround ourselves with leaders (coaches, teachers, counselors, administrators…etc) that will make decisions for the whole and that are willing to step up and protect victims. It is easy to get sidetracked when things are moving fast and you are weighing the impact to a program, a coach, or a teacher. Nevertheless, once we obtain information it is our responsibility to guarantee that we are making decisions that match the law, our handbooks, and are in the best interest of student safety.
My core beliefs serve as a reminder to me as to why I come to work everyday. I hope that when I am in the room collaborating about a decision that impacts students that I am staying true to my #1 core belief. Please take a few hours to see if how you behave matches how you say you behave. It may not lead to what is going on at State College in Pennsylvania but it may keep you from a restless sleep one night when you are wondering if you made the right call on a difficult decision.