There is a poem about a man walking down the beach throwing individual starfish back into the ocean. A stranger happens upon him and asks him what he’s doing. He says that the starfish will die if left in the sun to dry out so he’s throwing them back. The stranger looks around at the thousands of starfish on the beach and asks what difference it makes, there are too many to save them all. The man picks up a starfish and throws it back in and says, “I made a difference to that one.”
As a middle school principal I sometimes feel like I’m surrounded by starfish.
Sometimes it is my teachers, who come into my office, shut the door and share with me something that is happening in their life. Whether it’s a divorce, a death in the family, the illness of a family member or themselves, I hold each of these teachers as they share their lives with me. And I try to make a difference to them.
Sometimes it is parents who come to me and tell me the family issues that they are dealing with. The stories of their life that make it a challenge for their child to focus in school. I try to listen to them and help them with their challenges, even if those challenges are the school itself. I try to make a difference with them.
And sometimes it is the students who share their personal struggles. Sometimes they are in tears because of a bad grade in math, and sometimes it is because of the horror they face when they go home. But whatever it is, I try to give them perspective, time, a shoulder to lean on, and in the end I try to make a difference.
Sometimes it can be overwhelming the number of “starfish” out there. I try my best to save each one. But sometimes you can’t save them all.
I have a high school student who has recently made some very poor choices. She did things that she will have to live with the consequences of for the rest of her life. So of course I am trying to figure out why I couldn’t make a difference to her? What could I have done to help her from making those bad decisions? Why didn’t she feel like she could reach out to me, or someone else, to help her? What did I miss?
I know I can’t always save them all. But I will continue to try.