I write this on the eve of the second semester. Tomorrow my school will welcome our returning families after the vacation, as well as welcome around 80 new students who are joining our community.
I recently wrote a few words to the community as a way of framing some thoughts ahead of the resumption of school. As much as they are for my own school, there is a case to be made that they ay apply equally to any school, and are presented here in that spirit:
“At its most fundamental level, school is a place where our students learn to become the kinds of people of whom any parent would be proud. We hope that they will learn the importance of empathy, of caring for each other, of kindness, as well as respect for themselves, for others, and for the world we all share. Of course, to achieve that they need our help, guidance and support. Our children are growing up in a complex and confusing world where, more than ever, they need trusted adults in their lives to show them the way forward. If we wish our children to develop the qualities above – empathy, caring, kindness and respect – then we must model those very qualities to them through our own behaviors”.
The world doesn’t get any simpler, and the challenges we face as a society seem to become more daunting with each passing day. If it isn’t global warming then it’s some pandemic or other: if not disease, then political or other threat. Sometimes there seems to be nowhere to go to escape bad news, or to find any kind of hope in a world that can seem pretty dark if we aren’t careful.
My school’s mission talks of an education which inspires creativity and critical thinking: of collaborating, and communicating; and of inspiring our students with the confidence to lead and excel in an ever-changing global community. These are tools that are not exclusive to my school but tools which all young people need to develop for success in their lives ahead. It is through becoming skillful in working with others, in understanding the necessity of collaboration and the power of critical thought that they will be able not only to make sense of the world, but to do so in ways that will make the world a better place.
After what feels like a hundred years as an educator, I still feel that excitement at the sense of a new beginning that each semester brings. But as I have gotten older that feeling has changed into something a little different and perhaps even more powerful. What I feel – without exception – is a sense of hope. With each greeting in the morning, with each student who walks onto campus, I am hopeful that they have a world of possibilities in front of them to do amazing things. But to do that they need our help. They need to see us – the trusted adults in their lives – at our best. They need to see, through our values, our words and through our deeds, what it is to imagine and create, to think critically and precisely in ways that are intelligent and informed. To show them the power of collaboration in how we work with each other, and how it matters that we communicate truthfully, honestly and with integrity.
I know that is not always easy, but when was our role as educators ever easy? To paraphrase JFK’s moon speech, we choose to educate young people rather than do the other things, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. We know that not everyone in society gets it. But we know how hard it is, and I know how hard we all work in schools, either directly with students or indirectly in service of their education.
If you are a parent sending your child to school after the vacation, or a teacher looking forward to the students’ return. I hope that you feel the same sense of hope and optimism that I feel. And if you are a teacher or anyone who works in schools, I hope that you know that what you do is truly valued.