Good morning and welcome back to the 2016-17 school year. I chose this video to begin the day because I wanted to kick off this school year with some laughter. The last several years have been filled with a lot of uncertainty and I believe that it’s time for us to lighten up and bring humor, joy and excitement back into our work and our schools. This will be the focus of some of our Continuous Improvement work during the year.
This year, I challenge all of us, including myself, to make our schools positive, so that all of our students feel welcome, cared for and excited about their learning.
Between the school day, co-curricular activities and other events, many students spend as much time with us – or more – than they do at home. They board the bus and arrive at our schools each morning; some ready to learn and others preoccupied or not as prepared as we might like. Each day – and for every one of our students – we have the ability to make their day great or simply make it better. It is a choice, each and every one of us sitting here this morning can make as we enter the new school year. Our frame of mind, enthusiasm, compassion, humor and appreciation of all that we have will be projected onto our students and the experiences they have each day. Think about your own experiences as a student, and for some of us this is much further back than others, who do you remember and why?
Let me share an experience I had as a young teacher. I believe I was in my second or third year of teaching when I had the good fortune of co-teaching with a fabulous veteran teacher. That year we had a student who was terrified of speaking in public and the thought of doing any kind of presentation, resulted in extreme anxiety.
One of the projects we planned required our students to make a formal presentation to the class. We would video tape them and, they, in turn, would assess their own presentation skills. This particular student had completed all of the work, but when it was time to do her presentation, she refused. Being the inexperienced teacher that I was, of course I encouraged her. I spoke to her privately, but ultimately, told her she had to do this by the deadline or she would end up with a ZERO!
I didn’t understand at the time that this simply gave her the out she was looking for; she would be happy to take the zero in lieu of having to do a public presentation. And, as a bonus, Ms. Monroe would stop bugging her about it.
However, my more seasoned colleague knew better. She suggested a different approach. She spoke with the student and complimented all of the work she had completed. She let her know how proud she was and then offered the student something different. She offered the student more time to practice and once she felt ready, she could come in after-school to present to just the two of us.
I was shocked and quietly thought to myself, “she won’t do it”… but, about two weeks later with some gentle reminders, she came in one day after school and completed her presentation. It was still a struggle for her. She had to stop several times, but she did it. You should have seen her face when she was done; she was beaming. That was something very special to see.
My colleague taught me that what we do, how we react, and the environment we create is so important for students to feel successful. After this experience, I realized that we can set deadlines and we can use grades to motivate many of our students, but not everyone responds to the “black and white.” This is a people business, like no other and we need to think in shades of grey. We have to recognize that a “one size fits all approach,” doesn’t work with our students. We have to recognize the setting and relationships we create matter more than we often realize; in fact, these can matter more than any content we will ever teach or any grade we will ever assign.
It is not just what we do for our students, either, but what we do for one another.
In his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum wrote,
“Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, coworkers. Good people who are always “there,” who can be relied upon in small, important ways. People who teach us, bless us, encourage us, support us, uplift us in the dailiness of life. There are always those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who.”
We are in the midst of what some call the information age, while others believe we are now entering the innovation age or experience age. Regardless of what this time is called, we need to prepare our students for their futures. The CEO of Automation Anywhere, Mihir Shukla suggests that future success will rely on, “Our ability to use our intellect for complex problem solving, our need for more immersive experiences and entertainment, and our ability to empathize with others.” In order to prepare our students for an uncertain future, we need to create atmospheres that develop these important skills, where students feel safe, supported and inspired.
I think we can all agree that we want to fully prepare our students for their futures, wherever that may lead them. It is our responsibility to help create the circumstances that allow students to soar.
I hope that you all have a great opening to the school year. I continue to feel honored to work with such a tremendous staff! In closing, it is my distinct pleasure to share a song that Mike DeAngelis, who as many of you know retired this past June, wrote to kick off our year and celebrate all of the wonderful people here at BC!