What I thought were feelings of illness, shortness of breath, dizziness, and exhaustion were merely symptoms of fear and anxiety. I can’t help but wonder if we are going to be okay. I am given some sense of optimism as I look to educators throughout our state who are showing immense compassion to students. This past week, I spoke with teachers who handed out food to students, dropped off technology so students can continue learning, and looked for ways to show empathy. As I emerge from the fatigue of hopelessness, it is the actions of teachers and students that make me believe that we will, in fact, be alright.
Policymakers have a lot to learn from educators about how to lead in a crisis.
We need the governor to show leadership on the crisis issues emerging from the current global pandemic, not use it to play politics. Gov. Brad Little recently signed into law two bills targeting transgender youth. The first prohibits young transgender girls and women from participating in sports that are aligned with their gender identity. The other makes it illegal for transgender people to change their gender identity on their birth certificates. Passing such legislation during the current crisis is not a response that is relevant, timely, or compassionate— the three most essential characteristics of leadership during an emergency.
Prioritization during a crisis is essential. We live during an unprecedented time where leaders must be able to make the best decision possible in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. School safety expert, Ken Trump, suggests that “leadership must listen to the health experts, follow their advice, stay visible [to constituents], communicate what they know honestly, stay focused on the issues, and acknowledge what they still do not know.” We need our governor to put politics aside and get more focused on the issues at hand.
Moreover, leaders must focus on timely issues. We need Little to take action on pressing issues that affect Idahoans, not pass legislation that targets young transgender girls and women. The bill was signed during the most significant jump in COVID-19 cases. Sports are canceled. Government services are closed. What’s the point? Why now?
Lastly, and most importantly, we need leaders to be compassionate. I spoke with a principal in the Treasure Valley who is working with her school staff to ensure students continue learning. She stated that learning was a top priority, but admitted it was second to ensuring all students were safe and cared for first. For her and her school community, they spent time calling every family and understanding their needs. She shared a story of a student who was on a virtual call with his class, and in the background, the teacher heard a parent as she lost her job. The principal made it clear — knowing how the crisis is impacting students and families and caring for their wellbeing must come first. Her response moved me. Beyond focusing on the most relevant information and taking action in the timeliest manner, leaders must be compassionate, staying attuned to how people feel and what they need.
Our most vulnerable students need compassionate leadership, now more than ever. A glance at data collected by the Trevor Project should leave us all concerned about the wellbeing of transgender youth as they are more likely than their cisgender peers to indicate depression, consider or attempt suicide, or be victims of violence. Fifty-three percent of transgender youth surveyed reported they felt hopeless. How will social distancing and isolation affect our most vulnerable students? How might passing legislation that calls into question their very existence affect their wellbeing? It is in the chaos that the most vulnerable people lose their rights and agency and then it’s tough to get back when things normalize.
We are in a crisis. We need leadership, compassionate leadership that focuses on the most timely and relevant issues at hand. May we wait until our students are safe and healthy before we debate whether policymakers should pass legislation that limits the rights of our youth. At least, by then, students and their advocates have the opportunity and fortitude to stand up for themselves and have a fighting chance.