Lessons Learned in Hospitals

No one enjoys being in hospitals. I almost wanted to scrap the idea of comparing the experience with that of education. Almost. I did a lot of watching, listening and experiencing things this summer as I spent time with my dad, who was in and out of multiple hospitals. I learned some things that I believe resonate in education.

  • While tests and numbers can be helpful, they don’t tell you everything. So many times doctors would come in without even examining the patient and tell us that all the tests were good, he should be going home soon. I wanted to yell, “Have you seen him! Does he look good to you?”

Looking back, I have done that with students. Mistakenly, I thought they were doing well because their grade was okay. On the other side, as a parent, it is hard to know how your child is doing when you feel like all you have to go on is data. Which leads to the next point.

  • It is important to communicate clearly and consistently. My dad had a LOT of doctors. Each hospital he was in had no less than five specialists assigned to him. The doctors we appreciated most were the ones that told us more than just the test results of the day.

We have to start communicating what our students are learning and not just their test results. We need to leverage the myriad of communication tools at our disposal to let parents know what their student experiences in the classroom. When you have a parent that asks why their child doesn’t have many papers sent home, they are not necessarily telling you to give them more worksheets. They just want to know what their child is doing. We have to replace one means of communication with another.

  • Act like a professional and you will be treated like one… and vice versa. Honestly, it was the nurses, the really good ones, that reminded me of good teachers. You knew they were going to be good when they came in with an equal measure of confidence and concern. They were the first ones to recognize when something was going on with my dad and would alert the doctors. They spent time with him, talked to him with dignity and respect, and they knew their stuff. Interestingly, there was a culture difference from hospital to hospital. You could tell the hospitals that treated their nurses as the professionals they are from the ones who did not, simply by watching how the nurses handled themselves and responded to questions.

Culture is everything in a work environment, and the best principals create a culture of trust and respect. Knowing you are valued no matter what your position or how much experience you have had, creates a sense of responsibility to be a professional in the classroom. And vice versa… the way we dress, conduct ourselves and relate with parents and colleagues will play a significant role in determining how we are, in turn, treated.

  • Listen to really hear what is being said. Sadly, we had some doctors who would come in, give their report and start backing out of the room before we could process what had just been said, or nurses who would go through their routines and barely speak to us when we asked questions. We also had the flip side, medical personnel who recognized that we knew my dad better than they did and could offer valuable input.

As teachers and administrators, it is hard to balance everything. There is a lot that goes on in a school day. It is hard to take the time and effort to really listen to parents… and each other. We all have opinions and we all want to be heard, but we have a really hard time listening and receiving what another person is saying. We have to get better at this if we hope to have the kind of culture and communication that we want for our schools.

  • When a professional in a service field becomes arrogant in their knowledge, they stop treating people as their main priority. We asked a lot of questions trying to get clarity about what had happened to my dad. No one in my family is in the medical field, although we joked that we thought we had earned a degree over the last three months. Sometimes our questions were very basic; other times they were highly impassioned and desperate for answers the doctors and nurses didn’t always have. The very best doctors and nurses handled our questions with complete professionalism, understanding where we were coming from, not taking the questions personally, and answering as completely and honestly as they could even when the answer was, “I really don’t know.”

We have to remember that parents send us a piece of their heart when they send their child to our schools. When they find out their child may be having difficulties, they will probably have a lot of questions and they may even question us in an effort to make sense of things. We can not take that as a personal attack on our practice or it becomes about us and no longer about the child. Part of our job is helping everyone involved understand what is going on and what the plan of action is. Walk with the whole family through the difficult stuff.

  • Caring matters. Dr. Royce Bargas was a rare find in this whole experience. We knew she was fighting for our family, and especially my dad, when she called every hospital and cardiac team in the city to consult on his case. She was always straightforward, but also determined to do everything she could. She empathized with us, gave usPhoto by nosha with CC License Attribution Share Alike  her phone number and told us to call her if we had questions or needed anything. And she meant it. She came on her own time to a hospital she didn’t have privileges in to just visit with us and help us talk through some hard conversations. She told us she was sorry, she hugged each of us and she cried with us when we knew there was nothing more anyone could do for my dad. She cared.

Students need to know that we will fight for them, do everything in our power to help them and will walk through the difficult times with them. Sometimes we have to care about and show kindness to the students and parents that are hard to care about and difficult to work with. If we will dig deep and think about the times we have felt most defensive and difficult, we will recognize it as a time we did not see or feel like we were understood or cared for. Students and their loved ones need to know we care because if we do not care, why should they?

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