The Power of Being Seen

By Ofier Sigal, General Studies Principal

There is a story of a bus of more than 30 shochets going upstate New York for kosher slaughter on a farm. They would load a bus in central Brooklyn and went twice weekly. The shochets would cut and slice all day long. The men cleaned up and started loading the bus, but the security guard noticed one was missing. They looked to each other and determined the guard was right. They split up into groups and begun to search the barns, the fields, the buildings and finally found him in the freezer. He had been there over an hour, freezing and unconscious. Emergency services were able to revive him, and they saved his life.

The shochets asked the guard how he knew so quickly that their friend was missing? The guard answered simply, “This man greets me every morning, says goodbye, and he thanks me. I was addicted to his thank you, and when I didn’t get it, I knew something was wrong!”

I’m not sure I ever appreciated the power of showing people that they are both seen and appreciated until I became a school Principal. The power of looking at a student, colleague, or parent in the eye and saying hello, good morning, goodbye, Shabbat shalom, etc. can be immeasurable in providing that individual with comfort and confidence.

Most mornings, I stand at the top of the main hallway ramp welcoming all to the Cherry Lane campus. This not only gives me a good sense of who may be absent from school that day, but it also allows me to demonstrate to the NSHA family here, teachers and students alike, that it’s important to me that they are here and that I’m happy they are here. I’ve made it my mission this year to look every student in the eye and say, “Good morning.” At first, my ambition was a bit high. In the beginning, most students walked by me, some ignoring me completely, their minds already far off and focused on their day. Some grinned or smiled, and a handful even answered my gesture. It’s now four months into the school year, and I am happy to report that the reverse is true. Most students respond with “Good morning” or a high five, but there are still a few who I haven’t been able to engage in. I’m working on them. Soon the “good mornings” turned into other engaging conversations like observations about my sock collection. Mr. I and I seem to have a friendly rivalry going on surrounding our wacky socks, and the students have taken notice. Regardless, I’m just happy that these ten seconds of interaction demonstrate to the students that I see them, I notice them, and I appreciate them.

I’ve also found that this practice allows me to hone in on students who are having a rough morning right off the bat and may have a rough day ahead of them. Once in a while, a student comes to me crying that they do not feel well, fell off the bus and scraped their knees and hands, or that they’re simply exhausted. This morning interaction helps me as an educator give context and keep an eye out when I next see them in the lunchroom or at recess to ensure their day picks up. I also really cherish the quiet moments when a student will stop to ask me about my fantasy football team (I’m getting crushed) or, as all the kids know about my Star Wars obsession, gab about the newest film, The Mandolorian and “Baby Yoda.”

The same is true for most Friday afternoons when I’m standing at the bottom of the ramp, first off reminding everyone not to run to their buses but also wishing our students and faculty team a Shabbat Shalom and a good, safe weekend. I usually give them a high five or during cold and flu season a fist bump (also slows them down) and listen as they yell back, “Shabbat Shalom!” The consistency of the students seeing me in my spot at the top of the hallway and the different exchanges we can expect from each other have become a ritual.

My primary goal is to establish a relationship with our students and demonstrate that we are all similar – human beings who share interests and appreciation for recognition through a hello or Shabbat Shalom. There is no better feeling for me on Friday afternoons than when the last child has left the building for Shabbat, and I reflect upon having had even a brief interaction with each and every one of them. I hope that through this daily ritual, I’m also teaching them to pay it forward – to act kindly and show others that they are seen and appreciated as well.