Serving The Heroes Who Serve Our Schools
by Dr. Andy Stoker
After all of the news, all of the worry, all of the prayers for our beloved partner school, I could no longer wait to get a report from our principal. I could only imagine the difficult and demanding work our principal was doing to keep up with the shifting roles and responsibilities of her teachers, staff and her own job description. The appointed time came for our phone call. Our principal laid out the opportunities, not difficulties, this pandemic was offering. Greater communication with parents, teachers finding new ways to teach, administrative staff learning what it means to be community engagement officers—all of this with a smile on her face and absolute joy emanating from her voice.
And, she wanted to put me to work!
She shifted to how I can help. “I want you to lead a staff enrichment session next Monday. Nothing too long, preacher. I want you to tell our teachers to gain adequate rest, to find courage when times are tough and maybe give them some hope!” (i learned in my elementary, middle, high school, okay, ALL of my schooling, that you never talk back, or negotiate with your principal.) “Yes, ma’am,” I responded.
My time came to connect with the teachers via teleconference. 4 teachers signed in. 11 teachers signed in. 29 teachers signed in. Finally, all 51 teachers were there. The Principal welcomed everyone and introduced me. (It was like I was back in school: palms sweating, butterflies in the stomach and a half-Olan-Mills / half-seeing-your-great-aunt-at-Thanksgiving-nervous smile.)
“Dr. Stoker is going to lead us in a brief, 10-minute enrichment! Welcome, Andy!”
Okay, here we go . . . nervously, I rushed through my slides…
Sleep: find a rhythm in your sleep schedule; try not to use a screen in bed.
Self-compassion: this is all new, allow yourself to make some mistakes; love will get you through.
Find a contemplative practice: try the 4-7-8 breath practice; four second inhale, seven second hold, and eight second exhale; do this three times a day or when you are faced with a challenging situation.
Just like that, my time was up.
“Dr Stoker, thank you for being with us! I am signing you up again for next month. Be ready! Good -bye!”
I have no idea what effect, if at all, my time with our teachers would amount to. But what I do know is that I was transformed by the seat at the table with my principal and her staff. To sit in solidarity with the heroes in now-virtual classrooms touching the lives of the next generation was a humbling and moving experience. - Dr. Andy Stoker is Senior Minister of First United Methodist Church, Dallas.
FirstChurch’s partner school is JJ Rhoads Learning Center, just a mile away from downtown Dallas. His two sons, both learning in DISD schools, are learning to listen to their principals as well.
Andy has also established a partnership with pediatrician Dr. Early Denison and psychologist Matthew Housson to start a parenting podcast called Parenting for the Present (www.parentingforthepresent.com) which is where his short presentation with teachers originated.