Another school year is about to begin and with it, all the anticipation and excitement that a new school year invokes. Summer affords us a time to pause, slow down, get involved in ways that we may not be able to during the school year.
Last year at this time I shared my summer experiences staying close to home, sharing the wonders of the great outdoors with my grandson, awaiting the birth of my granddaughter. What a difference a year makes. Last summer I was teacher and guide. This summer, through conferences and a workshop, and as a tourist under the tutelage of a guide, I was a student again. These summer experiences led me to reflect on the relationship between teacher and student. At its best, it is a two-way relationship where both student and teacher learn, where each has the opportunity to grow and delight in the experience.
My summer began with an educational conference in New Orleans. I learned strategies to aid struggling learners. While these strategies are not themselves new to me, I am thinking how best to support our teachers and our students in new ways. I also attended a workshop on leading the maker movement. With our new MakerSpace being set up as I write these words, it was a timely session to attend. In this conference session, we became students, creating paper “gami-bots” with circuits, motors, flashing lights, paper, and tape. As a student again, I found it both fun and stimulating to work with the materials, creating my little “gami-bot,” taking pleasure when it “worked” and using all the habits of mind we have been teaching your children over the years, in particular, persistence and thinking flexibly. As I reflected on being a student, I realized the importance of student choice, and of having the opportunity to fail, to puzzle, to persist, and to conquer. It was invigorating.
On vacation, I spent time in the Dordogne region of France, exploring prehistoric caves, witnessing first hand, the twenty thousand year old cave drawings, as well as the marvel of the precise replica of Lascaux II. I was student, the guide and expert, my teacher. The student experience during the earlier maker workshop activity had been self-directed, student-centered inquiry. In France, the learning was more passive - I listened to history lessons taught on-site. And yet, this, too, was a relationship, teacher and student. I asked questions that my new learning provoked, providing my teacher with new avenues to navigate in his efforts to increase my understanding. His up-to-date knowledge, sharing new discoveries that have altered our understanding of the period from the Neanderthal to the Cro-Magnon, was imparted in ways that were intoxicating. This wasn’t an ordinary classroom, of course. I was listening to a lecture, while exploring caves, visiting museums, and witnessing the land that was inhabited by long ago ancestors. We live at a time where we can use technology to bring aspects of these on-site trips to our students’ classrooms.
My experiences at the beach this summer were as different as the two-learning experiences. I enjoyed the exhilaration of riding the waves and the quiet contemplation of walking along the beach looking for rocks and shells; engaging in hands-on activities requiring persistence, flexible thinking, and a growth mindset as well as the quiet listening, observing, questioning, rethinking, and synthesizing of new information. All these experiences contributed to my wanting to learn more, read and reread, and share my discoveries. They also reinforce my commitment to strengthening the educational interaction of teacher-student that are critical to student success.
As we get ready to start the new school year, we have new configurations of grade level teams, teachers teaching new grades, and teachers new to the school. We have an opportunity to reignite our collaborative efforts to develop our teacher and student relationships. I will use these thoughts and experiences of summer as reminders of my role as principal as we embark on this journey—to support teachers in their work with your children, to promote life-long learning, to share the joys of discovery, to allow for creative moments – both the messy ones and the contemplative ones.
I have gotten excited about the opening of school every year since I was a five year-old entering kindergarten. Our school is filled with spaces, and new developing spaces, such as the Makerspace and Outdoor Classroom, where teacher and student create together that joyful, amazing experience of learning. I am honored to be able to roll up my sleeves and dig in as we make this new school together.
Here’s to another wonderful year.