Journalist Andrea Gabor graciously offered her blog to retired principal Jeanne Rotunda to reflect on her years as a school leader in New York City.

Having worked in a city that became famous for its obsession with testing and data, Rotunda was an oddity. She cared about the emotional life of children. She knew that the children needed kindness and security to be able to concentrate on school. There was no metric for the qualities she cared about. She knew that every child had a story, every child faced unimaginable challenges.

She wrote:


With the constant focus on testing, the latest standards, data that presume to quantify everything important about a good education, we rarely discuss the important unmeasurables, including the emotional life of children. Yet, who among us is not aware of how our own childhoods have impacted our adult lives? Do we not think about how we feel about situations in our lives and try to manage our stress levels? Aren’t we dealing daily with the complexities of relationships and choices? How can we expect a child like David to focus his energies fully on learning? How can we think a child knows how to express feelings appropriately and ask for what he needs when the closest relationships in his life are so damaged? The trauma of growing up in a home with enormous stress from finances, violence, drugs, and other dysfunctions, cannot be underestimated. How is it that we rarely create the space and time to truly understand how these complex emotions shape the children we educate and our designs for their learning environments?

Being aware of and responsive to a child’s inner life can be painful for the adults who venture there. But responding with anything less than a dedication to understand and help the child navigate their young but fragile lives, is to not be fully present to their reality. Schools that are sensitive to the whole child and build meaningful opportunities to nurture and grow the emotions of children, are schools we should look to for guidance and inspiration.