Ubuntu: “I am because of you”

by Liz Garden, Principal, Florence Roche Elementary School, Groton, MA (Updated post from Dec. 2013)

sandyhook-heart.pngAs 2016 quickly comes to an end, I can’t help but remember back to a few years ago, December of 2012.  The unfathomable had happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and we were all trying to hold it together and keep a brave face for all of our students and parents.  I remember getting updates on my computer during that day and thinking this can’t be happening.  I remember all of us sitting in the library the following Monday, coming together to make a plan, to figure out how we were going to do our best to not let the outside news seep into our classrooms and our students’ thoughts.  We had to figure out how we were going to stand in front of kids and teach like we always do, while inside we were mourning Newtown.  When I was finally able to get in my car and drive home, I cried the whole way home for those educators and those precious children.  It was probably the hardest day for me in my entire education career.  And on the one year anniversary, as I watched the news clips and videos of families who lost their children on that December day in 2012, I cried again.

For me, that week back in 2012 was emotionally draining.  Starting the week in the aftermath of what happened at Sandy Hook was difficult.  It became more difficult because I was awaiting the call from my mother.  The call that my grandmother had passed away.  We knew it was going to happen; it was a matter of days.  I remember that once again I was sitting in the library after school; this time I was teaching a writing course for several of our teachers.  That was one of those moments when I simultaneously loved the immediacy of cell phones and hated it at the same time.  I wanted to know when my grandmother’s life had ended, but at the same time, I did not want to answer that phone call. While I knew that my grandmother could not live forever, for the second time in a week I couldn’t help but think this can’t be happening.  And again, I cried in my car on my drive home.

If you are still reading this blog entry, you might be wondering a.) is she trying to be a complete downer right before the holiday break? or b.) does she cry all the time? or c.) why in the world is she telling all of us this?  Before I began typing this post, I watched a TedTalk video about a wildlife activist whose topic was ‘What I learned from Nelson Mandela.’  Just before he walked onto the stage to deliver his talk, he learned that Nelson Mandela had passed away. The man had grown up in South Africa and Nelson Mandela had in fact stayed with the man’s family after he was released from prison.  Mandela talked with his family about how his time in prison gave him time to think within, to “create in himself the things he most wanted for South Africa: peace, reconciliation, harmony.”  Mandela came to embody a phrase they use in South Africa: ubuntu or ‘I am because of you.’  People are not people without other people.  This phrase struck me.  It’s not like this is some new concept, but it certainly gave me a different perspective as I thought about what had happened at Sandy Hook.

Ubuntu, I am because of you.  I think about the brave principal of Sandy Hook and the educators and students who lost their lives that day.  I think about all of the staff, students, families who survived, who are still surviving since that day.  Their lives have been forever changed.  They are who they are because of what happened that day.  And because of the interactions that have happened with so many others as a result of that day.  We are who we are today, a school that is acutely aware every day that we are trusted to protect children, because of our indirect interactions with the families of Newtown.  And since that day in 2012, we have actually had a family from Sandy Hook move into town and begin attending our school.

Ubuntu, I am because of you.  I think about my grandmother.  There is no doubt in my mind that I am who I am today, a caring, dedicated educator, because of my grandmother.  I have so many wonderful memories of our education talks.  She was always interested in what was going on in the world of education, and I know she was proud of my mother and I for becoming educators.  She understood my dedication to having a positive impact on the lives of children.  I am who I am today, an opinionated instructional leader who advocates for kids, because of my grandmother.

Ubuntu, I am because of you.  We are the educational leaders that we are because of our interactions with each other and especially because of our interactions with our students.  So as you finish out 2016 over the next few weeks in your schools, think about the kind of educational leader that you are.  Who has helped you become who you are?  How have your students molded you into the educator you are today?  How has your staff helped you become the leader you are?  How will you change as your interactions change?  How have your interactions with others and the world around you impacted you?  How will these interactions continue to impact you in 2017?  We need all kinds of interactions with humanity, the sad, the happy, the engaging, the uncomfortable; we need all of these interactions.  It is these connections that make us who we are.

So…who are you?


Liz Garden is currently in her third year as the principal of Florence Roche Elementary School in Groton, MA.  Before becoming the principal of the school, she served as the assistant principal for two years.  Prior to coming to the Groton-Dunstable school district, she was an early childhood administrator in Leominster.  Liz was also a second grade teacher in Westborough and a communication teacher for children with autism at the Boston Higashi School in Randolph.  Before moving to MA, Liz was a teacher in VA.  As a result, she is still in denial about wearing a winter coat for a large part of the year!  Liz has presented at MESPA, MRA and NAESP conferences, and is excited to be a presenter at NAESP in July.  She blogs regularly for her staff (and anyone else who wants to read what she has to say!) at www.floromondaymorningmusings.blogspot.com.  When she is not trying to be an instructional leader and mold future minds, she is dealing with her reading addiction, keeping Amazon.com in business, listening to her musician husband sing, and chasing around her wild 1-year-old, Emerson!  You can connect with Liz on Twitter @PrincipalGarden and on Voxer @PrincipalGarden, where she is an active member of MESPA’s Voxer group.

Are you interested in sharing your ideas, insights and questions? If so, click here to sign up for a post. Julie Vincentsen, Principal of Ruggles Lane School, will reach out with specifics. Are you interested but nervous because you’ve never blogged before and don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry – as long as you know how to use Microsoft Word you will be up to this challenge. We write for our communities all the time – this just changes your audience. You probably could even take a current newsletter you’ve written and repurpose it for your colleagues.

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