Collateral Beauty

May 26, 2022

Dear Families,

For the past few weeks, I imagined my final wire of the year would be filled with joy. I anticipated reflecting on the celebrations we enjoyed this year. I envisioned providing the lists of accolades from fine arts to performing arts and athletics to academics. 

While we celebrate our successes, the reality of our world gives us pause. Even amid celebrations at SkyView, we faced difficult challenges. One or more of our community members experienced heartache, pain, frustration, anger, or discord during the year.

The tragedy in Texas reminded us of the difficulty and pain that torments our education system and our world.

As an educator, I continually look to make connections. As an English teacher, I seek to find those connections within the art of our society. I believe that art reflects the community from which it emerges. I spent the year teaching my Honors World Literature students to challenge the validity of that statement. 

As I reflected on the content of this wire, I found myself processing the message of the movie Collateral Beauty. I don’t know about you, but I have a few movies that I rewatch simply to challenge my thinking and push myself to reflect. Collateral Beauty is one such movie.

The movie opens with a room full of ad executives listening to an inspiring speech delivered by the protagonist. The protagonist challenges his audience to answer the following question, “What is your why?” 

I engaged immediately.

In my experience, asking why provides wisdom and discernment not attainable through the questions of what or how. I find myself regularly reflecting on this question. When I face decisions that impact the staff or students, I wrestle with the why.

The protagonist inspires his colleagues with his speech. I, too, found myself inspired. Once an English teacher, always an English teacher. The movie challenged me to reflect on my own “why.” I found myself examining the “collateral beauty” of school. Day in and day out, students face challenges. 

Stop and think, really think, about your school experience. If I had to choose to go back to my years on the elementary playground or face the challenges of today’s students, I would return to 1978 and let Michael Luna push me in the puddle all over again. If I had to choose to return to my middle or high school experience or grow up as a teenager today, I would prefer to go back to my experience in a heartbeat.

Our students face things today that 20 years ago would have been unimaginable. 

Our kindergarten students cooperatively follow the direction of their teachers. They respond immediately to rules that require them to clear the playground for a secure perimeter in less than 90 seconds. No questions asked.

Middle and high school students navigate the adult world of social media while learning how to balance equations in Chemistry. Notifications on their Smartphones sporadically interrupt their concentration. News of school shootings or the latest TikTok challenge robs them of focus and learning. 

Gone are the days when passing notes in your pen cap caused the greatest controversy in class. (Not that I would know anything about that method of delivery.) 

Every day, teachers juggle the balance of imparting academic knowledge and navigating the distractions of society. Unfortunately, those distractions include active shooter preparation. 

Students today, as my son would say, are the real MVPs. The faculty and staff are the G.O.A.T.s

Some days, I question how we can expect students to implement the Quadratic Equation or argue the value of capitalism in a Socratic discussion. I question because I know the battles they face. 

Social media suffocates them. 

Screen time consumes them. 

The dangers of school violence silently terrify them.

As I reflect on Collateral Beauty, I see a significant connection to education. I realize that the collateral beauty of school rests in the success that students find when they battle to learn and grow. They fight to think critically and to understand the importance of balancing equations. They practice their math facts and sight words with dedication and commitment. They work to support their claims with solid evidence or data. They work to make connections in their small group reading time.

But they also battle to become honorable leaders despite the pressures they face. They navigate conflict on the playground and preparation for active shooters. They struggle to make the right choice about a TikTok challenge or Snapchat post. They battle to find themselves. They fight to develop strong character. This is their collateral beauty. In their collateral beauty lies the why of my love for my students and our community. I love that despite a broken world, our students respond to redirection, strive to succeed, and find joy in their learning.

They sometimes lose their battles. Sometimes, playground conflict needs adult support to find a resolution. Sometimes, middle schoolers and high schoolers need help to navigate their struggles. Sometimes both students and staff battle their fear of danger. They fight their fear and show up to school. 

I’m thankful they choose to battle. I celebrate it. For in their battle, they grow. They find courage. 

I believe that we look into the eyes of our future leaders when we look into the eyes of every child at SkyView Academy. The challenges they face build their resilience and, in so doing, develop their collateral beauty. 

So, as we prepare to embark on summer break, I encourage you to reflect on the collateral beauty of this year and see the beauty. It’s as clear as day in the eyes of your children.

Honored to Serve You All,

Janet Worley