This is only my second year as an administrator, but in the short one and half years in this position, there have been a number of students who have been admitted to the hospital for attempting to take their own lives. Fortunately, all of them have returned to school with a safety plan in place. I have usually had some interaction with these students, so it’s more than just something I feel sad about when I get the news. Upon their return, I make even more of an effort to make a personal connection with these students. I’ll say it here, my mantra for the last two years, IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS.

There are a select few, that in conversations in my office, or occasionally in a classroom, I’ve shared some stories from my life. Like the story of Tess,** a girl in my 6th grade class that was so excited to sit with my group of friends at lunch. The only empty seat was where someone had spilled chocolate milk. Pat,** with a smirk on her face, encouraged Tess to sit with us, and pulled out the chocolate milk chair. Tess was so excited, she didn’t even look at the chair, just sat. In her white shorts. When she shrieked and jumped up, Pat just laughed. She laughed. And I did nothing. I tell my students this story because it happened in 1985, and I still remember. Tess moved after that year and I don’t know what happened to her, but I want my students to realize that I remember. I remember feeling helpless because Pat was our leader and we didn’t want that to happen to us. I remember because I felt so bad for her. I remember being mad. I hope they remember. I hope it makes them think about how they treat others. And I hope it helps them feel connected to me.

I also have told the story about my best friend in 7th grade. Elizabeth**. We were inseparable. But she was miserable. She had an older brother who was extremely mean to her. Beyond regular big brother mean. And her parents were divorcing. She felt alone in her house and more alone because I didn’t get it. My parents didn’t even fight, as far as I knew, so I couldn’t understand what she was going through. One night she called me at 2am and told me she had taken 13 Tylenol and she was going to sleep. She told me I couldn’t tell anyone. I told her she needed to go make herself throw up. I begged her. I sat on the floor of my bedroom and felt the trickle of sweat run down my side. I couldn’t leave the phone to go get my parents–no cordless phones or cell phones back then. The minutes ticked by. Twenty-two of them. She dozed in and out. And I just kept talking. I talked about our inside jokes and the boys we liked and our crazy language arts teacher. I talked about our math test and the school lunches and the basketball team. I didn’t know what else to do. Finally she agreed to go throw up. I waited until she came back to the phone and confirmed that as truth. Then she hung up. To be honest, I’m not sure what I did after that. I don’t know if I told my parents or not. I did make her talk to a counselor at school and we went to a special session together when a speaker came to our school to talk about drugs and other teen problems. But after that night, we weren’t as close. We didn’t hang out anymore. We were still friends, but not best friends. I’m not sure why. Maybe we didn’t know how to talk about it, I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure she hasn’t forgotten that night, either. I’m glad I was there for her. I don’t know if I can say that it was me that saved her life that night. I don’t even know if 13 Tylenol would have done anything other than make her sick. But it’s all about relationships, and our relationship was something she needed. I saw Elizabeth just last year. She lives in Arizona and owns her own web design business. She is married, has 2 children, and our daughters have the same name. She looks great. I need my students to know that she survived and is doing ok. And that I did, too. And I hope it helps them feel less alone.

As educators, we have a big responsibility. We need to prepare kids for college and careers-academically, but also emotionally. I say let them in a little. Let them know who you are and why you are that way. Connect with them, share your stories. Build relationships. It’s all about relationships.

picture credit: http://www.jeffcalloway.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/kids-on-dock2.jpg