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My Daughter Ran Away and What I Learned about how to be an Effective Educator

My daughter ran away while we were camping. She was supposed to just go to the bathroom, early in the morning, but instead went to go find someone. That's pretty scary to begin with, but it is more scary when compounded with the following factors:

  • We were in Denali National Park.
  • There were signs everywhere about a moose charging people if they got too close.
  • There was a river not too far from our campsite.
  • My daughter has no sense of direction.
  • My daughter has no sense of consequences.
  • My daughter is very stubborn.
  • My daughter has down syndrome and can't communicate very well to all people. We understand her, but not everyone else does.

I went to a place where I thought she might go. It was a place where she and I walked two days before, so it is possible she might know the way. I told the workers there the situation, and one worker's response was

"Oh, just make breakfast. They usually come back when there is breakfast."

That one comment brought about so many emotions I could hardly stand it.

Anger - I was really angry that she would say something so insensitive. My daughter had no idea where she was or where we were. She has no sense of direction or ability to find her way back. She doesn't know what campsite we were at, only that we were in Denali. It wasn't just about breakfast. She was lost, and she would not miraculously find her way back.

Frustration - This lady was not listening to me. She didn't understand my daughter! How dare she make some off-the-cuff response that totally disregards all the information I had just given her about her disability and inability to find her way home.

Sadness - My daughter was lost, and nobody could tell me that she was going to come back home on her own. I needed help to find her, and someone who should have been able to give some help or advice on how to get help was completely unable to offer support.

Hurt - I felt like this lady was judging me that I was upset that my daughter was lost. She seemed dismissive about what I was going through.

Empathy - I suddenly realized that this lady was totally unequipped to help comfort a parent who was in a dire situation. She didn't have the tools to help me be successful.

What does this have to do with Education? I'll tell you:

  1. We need to be supportive allies of parents. One of my friends asked me a while ago, "How can I be a good friend?" Many times, with parents, that's what we need to do.
  2. We can't judge parents. Parents are likely doing the best they know how to do. We can't waste any time making judgments about what they are doing or how they can or can't do something. My daughter ran off through no fault of mine or my wife's. She had been to the bathroom at the campsite many times by herself, and she chose to run away rather than go to the bathroom. When that lady that should have helped me made me feel that way, I felt like I was a bad dad. I'm not. I'm not perfect, to be sure, but there was nothing I could do to have prevented it.

I hope I can approach situations with my students and their families with more empathy, respect, and lack of judgment.

I hope you'll join me in August for the #1 online conference for educational leaders: Transformative Leadership Summit Join me and over 40 amazing educational leaders to discuss all the ways you can improve your school this year.