Traveling to Atlanta

Anne Swayze, Head of School
Over the weekend, I traveled to Atlanta to attend a school-related conference on leadership.
Departing from Vermont and traveling to Georgia meant a full day of traveling by car, plane, airport railway cars, escalators, stairs, rental car (well, sort of), and eventually, a taxi that delivered me to the conference center.

During my travel day, I interacted with toll and parking attendants, airline greeters, ticket counter personnel, flight attendants and pilots, bag handlers, rental car attendants, a very chatty taxi driver, and hotel personnel. I admit, by day’s end, I was weary from a day of travel. 

While enjoying coffee and swiping through my Instagram account, I found a recent article in Forbes magazine by Tracy Brower, Ph.D. Sociologist and Senior Contributor, "Empathy Is The Most Important Leadership Skill According to Research." As I read the article, I reflected on my last twenty-four hours, specifically the many individuals I encountered. I asked the following questions: “Was I patient?” “Was I kind?" “Was I able to slow down enough to recognize the gifts of others?” “Was I sensitive to understanding the complexity of their lives?” And in my need to travel from point A to point B efficiently and swiftly, did I remember to say please, thank you, and exchange a smile of understanding? Gosh, I hope so.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. 

In our school communities, empathy becomes a critical piece to creating and shaping the lives of our students and faculty. Updated research suggests that sharing and demonstrating empathy for others allows for more significant innovation, commitment to the place, and overall retention of those who call school communities their home. 

We should not be surprised when acknowledging that day-to-day stress, anxiety, and general worry—personally and in the workplace—are seen as a by-product of the pandemic. Thoughtful organizations are paying close attention to creating work and play environments where collaboration, trust, and kindness help to define personal interactions.

In a small school like Greenwood, interactions and engagement with others influence our daily lives and routines. Our students, whether in middle or high school, seek structure and approval, and it is incumbent on the adults to provide an environment where trust, respect, and empathy are part of each interaction. Teachers must consider how our students view their days and express their understanding. We must show emotional empathy as we embrace each student as an individual. 

We witness acts of empathy on a small and large scale throughout the year.

The friend who brings an extra towel to an early morning Polar Plunge. The dorm parent who bakes a sheet of brownies on a Tuesday night "just because." The dining room staff member who creates trays of "to-go" food during a flu outbreak. The roommate who reminds you that it is Thursday night, and you must gather your laundry for the Friday pickup. The special care package that arrives from your family because they love you. The Language and Literacy teacher who supports you as you prepare for Gettysburg. The exposure and understanding of new cultures during CONNECT trips. The unconditional love from our campus dogs. 

Suppose our livelihood as educators is about imparting lifelong lessons to our students and modeling those lessons as educators. In that case, those of us who call Greenwood home will continue to embrace this idea of empathy for others. The world needs places like Greenwood, full of individuality, compassion, and patience, and Greenwood needs the world to keep reminding us to stretch ourselves toward opening doors of new opportunities.

Today, I will channel my inner empathy.