School Views: Learning from adversity |

School Views: Learning from adversity

Dan Dougherty
Eagle County Schools

On Monday, the world collectively experienced a tragedy as news of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was shared across all media types. Photos and videos rolled in from people of all walks of life expressing sadness and a sense of loss with the damage to this famous historical landmark.

Social media use spiked with stories by those who had previously visited Notre Dame. The emotions we all felt were real because when we lose a part of our history, we lose part of our sense of identity.

History can quite literally be interpreted to mean our story since the beginning of time. First, there were oral traditions, most lost to time, but some of them survived to become our first written stories. These are our origin stories, and every culture, religion, and family has one. Much of our ongoing education involves the study and review of historical works, including artwork and music, to understand past societies and apply those lessons to our current lives.

By thinking about learning in this way, it’s easy to see that life is something we are all learning as we go and grow. Our education is a journey through time and place where the explorer changes as a result of experience.

The school district is about to start kindergarten roundup, for example. It’s a beautiful, terrifying, bittersweet moment for parents and students. In many ways, kindergarten begins the journey of discovery that continues under the careful guidance of parents and teachers for a dozen or so years until the student has matured to the point of being independent. That’s another bittersweet moment for parents.

It all focuses on story. Story is the brain’s natural process for trying to make sense out of a world that often doesn’t make sense. It is the biological device that helps us each find our place in the world. We pass along the stories of our culture, the so-called norms of contemporary society, we review historical stories, and actively create our own stories, all in an effort to find ourselves in a global world.

K-12 education is a collection of stories carefully assembled to scaffold through the years and grow in complexity in step with the developing minds of maturing children. The knowledge is much more than what can be tested, though parts of it can be measured. Just remember that such measurement is of the system, not the child. School districts are striving to learn how we can improve the learning environment of students.

Social and emotional well-being, though more challenging to measure, is equally important. Creativity and complex problem-solving skills are not as easy to plot on a bell curve but are essential in this journey to locate one’s self in the world. Eagle County Schools is focused on meeting the educational needs of the whole child, measuring what we can for our own improvement, which in turn, improves our students.

One such essential life skill is resiliency. Monday was not the first time the great cathedral of Notre Dame burned. It’s the first time since mass communications covered the globe, and what we will see first-hand is the power of resiliency.

In the past, rebuilding fell on the church or the local community. Today, the entire world will contribute to the rebuilding and restoration of Notre Dame. Overcoming heartache, loss, and tragedy is part of our whole story. We would not be surprised if our local students find a way to contribute to the restoration process if only to say to the people of Paris, and the world, “you have friends in high places.”

Dan Dougherty is the chief communications officer for Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at

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