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Relationships Can Be the Solution, Even to Difficult Challenges

The 11th school shooting of 2018 hits close to home

by Tamara Fyke

Another school shooting occurred yesterday in Marshall County, Kentucky, the second such tragedy this week.  The latest happened only two hours from my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. According to the New York Times, this is the 11th school-related shooting already this year. Viewed through the lens of news broadcasts, this issue can feel beyond our control. How can we prevent this pain? While I would never presume to have a cure-all or quick fix, I am encouraged by the positive results that I know can be achieved when we focus on relationship-building as a core foundation of schools, communities, and organizations. When we begin with the priority of caring more for one another every day, we can make a difference.

I remember years ago working in a middle school in Arkansas where a shooting had occurred.  The Love In A Big World team and I were there to be part of the healing process.  It was several months after the incident, well after the news stories had stopped and many teachers had left.  But the students couldn’t leave; this was their school. Some teachers chose to stay until these students moved on to high school.  They didn’t want the kids to be left alone with the memories of that fateful day.  

We found a similar scenario in a Florida middle school devastated by violence.  Students and teachers alike struggled through the pain and fear of the trauma while longing to return to some sort of normalcy.  But what is normal?

Is it normal for us to walk around our schools and workplaces – spaces where we spend the majority of our waking hours — without knowing the people around us?  Let’s be real; sometimes we don’t even take a moment to acknowledge another human being’s existence with a glance or a smile because we are so focused on the job that needs to be done.   

When I worked at the Center for Safe & Supportive Schools at Vanderbilt with Dr. Maury Nation, we provided support to schools across the state of Tennessee around issues of safety and climate.  We researched issues that schools are facing and then consulted with them in their buildings about solutions and successful implementation.  When it comes to gun violence, is the solution for creating safer places metal detectors and surveillance cameras? No, these are not the answer and are not the solution for schools. A focus on relationships is the beginning of any meaningful solution.

When Hendersonville High School was dealing with student suicide, they decided to take a preventative approach by instituting Advisory Period, a dedicated time of the week for students to build relationships with teachers and peers.  By changing the culture – what we do, they changed the climate – how it feels.  

Over the coming days and weeks, there will be much speculation about why the incidents occurred in Kentucky and Texas.  There are a multitude of factors that will be difficult, if not impossible, to untangle.  The challenge before all of us is not to withdraw from the people and places who need us most:  our children in our nation’s schools.

Educators, thank you for your faithful service to our kids, families, and communities.  You are on the front lines.  Build meaningful relationships with your students and with each other.

Families, get involved.  Volunteer at your child’s school throughout their school career, not just in the elementary grades.  Attend their sporting events and other special activities.  Communicate with their teachers.  Get to know other families – invite them over for dinner.

Together, let’s build strong and healthy communities through intentional relationships.  It’s simple, but not always easy.  And it starts by looking people in the eye, sharing a smile…even calling them by name.  If a pack of wolves can change the landscape of Yellowstone National Park, I believe we can bring hope and healing to the kids in our schools and communities.

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