MTEI: Community Connection in the Aftermath of the Highland Park Shooting

August 8, 2022


Nanci Caplan and Suzanne Mishkin


We feel such enormous gratitude to have had the opportunity to learn with Cohort 8 of MTEI. Over the last few years since we graduated, we have continued to look to the MTEI principles to guide us and our work. We have also turned to our MTEI community in times of celebration and challenges in our professional and personal lives. And while all of it is helpful and generative in nature, and it challenges us to be reflective practitioners, none of the work we have previously done could have prepared us for how to handle the mass shooting on July 4, 2022 in Highland Park, a town 10 minutes from our school. Dozens of our families and community members were present at the parade, ready to cheer and celebrate, only to have to run for their lives.

In a typical year, we spend the summer carefully crafting how to successfully open the school year. It is a time of reflection, a time for thoughtful collaboration, and a time to plan for the coming year. A mass shooting in our community has changed that. Instead of fully focusing on content planning time and talking about school-wide events, we are thinking about professional development in relation to best practices for being a trauma-informed school. Instead of getting dates down on the calendar for our mandatory drills, we are thinking about how to postpone our active shooter drill so as not to cause additional trauma for our students. We are thinking about what it means to support students and faculty who may be traumatized by having to run for their lives, and what it means to be a victim of secondary trauma. We are talking to experts, we are planning to support our faculty and students, and yet we are bereft, left wishing that we knew exactly what to say and what to do to offer support in this incredible time of need.

While there is much to mourn, we believe that “a little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness” (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi). We are grateful to work at a school where, under the incredible guidance of our Head of School, Dr. Lena Kushnir (another MTEI grad!), we are a kehillah (sacred community) in times of darkness and light. We are seeing the light in our community support. There has been an outpouring of support from local mental health experts to our community, as well as partner organizations who have offered programming to Schechter families. And we have our principles from MTEI to fall back on, as we trust the validity of our work together from years ago. Two of these principles stand out at this time as being in the forefront of our minds: the intentional creation of community and remembering that how we talk matters.

1. Intentional Creation of Community:

Only nine hours after the shooting, our MTEI home group, a group of colleagues with whom we met regularly during our cohort, was texting us to check in. They wanted to see if we were safe and to offer their support. One of MTEI’s core values is the ‘intentional creation of community.’ And community was just what we needed, and continue to need, as we navigate this tragedy. Our MTEI home group has become a necessary community for us, years after our time in the program has ended, and we are forever grateful for the relationships that we have formed.

We have been intentional in how we will support our community as we heal together. Members of the leadership team reached out to families who were at the parade within the days that followed. We wanted to make sure everyone knew we were thinking of them. In these calls we were able to assess how families were doing, and help with initial needs. The next week we had teachers volunteer to reach out to families to check in as well. We plan to reach out to this group of families again before the school year to see how they are doing, and to create plans for individual students if they have specific needs as we start school this year. Finally, we are working with an outside agency to develop trauma-informed professional development for our faculty to make sure we are ready to greet the students with as many tools as possible when they walk through our doors, recognizing that the needs of some of the members of our kehillah may have changed due to this event and we need to be prepared.

MTEI is so thoughtful in how they develop community, and we recognize that their careful planning has provided the space to cultivate a trusting relationship that has sustained over time. Our MTEI home group has become a safe space that ‘gets us’ as educators, that is both part of our daily work and apart from it, and it is incredibly valuable. Our goal is to use the tools learned during MTEI to intentionally create a safe space for our kehillah to heal and grow after the terrible events of July 4th, 2022.

2. How we talk matters:

As we plan to welcome our students back to school for the 2022/2023 school year, we recognize that their lives, and ours, are forever changed. And we know that it is incumbent upon us to think carefully about the words we choose, the meaning imbued to them, and that we take the time to not only choose our words with care but also to listen to the words spoken to us as leaders in the school community. Using attuned speaking and listening will be an important component to crafting our educational year, and we are dedicated to doing the work to thoughtfully consider how we speak to each other and to others in order to protect and support each person who enters our school.

We recognize that connection is the key to supporting our community this year, and that we need to rely on, and continue to strengthen and build, our connections in order to grow and heal from this tragedy. Using our learning in attuned listening will help us to support our students, our staff members, and our families. We know that every one of our constituent groups will arrive at the new school year in a different emotional place, and our work will be to understand, value, respect, and empathize with the diversity that is presented to us.

When MTEI reached out to us to ask us to think about a principle that we use in our work today, we never dreamed that we would be writing about how MTEI has impacted our work in the aftermath of a mass shooting. But perhaps what is most special about our MTEI principles is that they have the ability to transcend what we do in our everyday lives and serve as an integral moment of learning and reflection in the most dire of circumstances. Thank you to our MTEI community for continuing to be a support and sounding board for us, for helping us to intentionally create community, and to always remember that the way we speak matters.