Last week, I thought I had a small cut on the skin at the base of a toenail, so I watched for that little spot to heal. Another week passed, and I looked closer to discover that it was not a small injury but in fact a new little mole. Out of an abundance of caution, I decided to make an appointment with my dermatologist.
I called the main office line and no one answered. The mailbox was full. That’s odd, I thought.
I called back and tried another extension. Same outcome. Finally, I tried the billing department extension where there was a voice message letting me know that they had changed phone numbers. Perhaps I’m extra sensitive this week, but you don’t share your new phone number unless it’s people calling to pay bills? Come on now.
So, I tried this new number. Now, previously, I could call and get the same receptionist. I enjoyed that. Who doesn’t want to go where everybody knows your name? (insert Cheers jiggle.) But not this time. This time I was put on a long hold. 5 minutes passed. 10 minutes passed. Finally, I spoke to someone who sounded like they might be with a contracted agency who schedules appointments on behalf of doctor’s offices.
All of that just is what it is. However, it was something I heard while on hold that struck me. A little bit of music played. Some advertisements for services. And then there was it was, that standard, “Your call is very important to us.”
Forgive me for sounding a bit cynical. I was nervous about a health matter and had to call three different lines to get a different phone number only to be placed on a long hold.
That doesn’t make me feel like my call is important to you.
This has me wondering what we say in school that is intended to sound caring or professional but instead comes off as disingenuous or minimizing to others? Often, when someone is upset, they need connection. They need someone to make space for them and to listen deeply. They need someone to acknowledge their emotions and where those emotions are coming from. They need someone who is accessible and present.
However, sometimes in schools, we hide behind phone extensions and closed doors. Afraid of the unpredictable landscape of the school day, it’s easy for us to also hide behind our rules and procedures. While procedures are a helpful way to keep the work orderly and as a safe as possible, when someone is in distress, talking about the procedures is one of the last things they need in that moment.
They need space to feel. They need to know we are in it with them. They need to know that we want to be involved in a way that is going to help them make things better.
I worry that sometimes when students are communicating with us through their behavior, we aren’t truly listening. We are tired. And when we are tired, apathy can set in or a tendeny to fix for others instead of feel with others. And we can’t truly help someone move forward without a meaningful level of dialogue and understanding.
I don’t want to see a dermatologist who is going to shame me over sun exposure and SPF levels. That doesn’t make me want to go to the doctor. It makes me NOT want to go to the doctor, actually. It makes me want to say, “You don’t even know me. You haven’t asked me about my life or my habits. I would rather not come here than to come here and feel this.”
I wonder how many of our parents and students feel that way about school. Parents who may not be involved in the ways we hoped. Students in classrooms who may not behaving in the ways we hoped either. I wonder how many of them are struggling to make it into the school setting every day because they feel misunderstood and alone?
They DO care. We need to believe that, and they need to feel that from us.
Saying “Your call is important to us” is different than creating an overwhelming sense that the call is important.
And it’s up to us to know the difference. And be that difference.
In what ways are our actions and words misaligned?
How can we ensure that we not only say our values or put them on posters, but we live out our values in even the smallest of moments?