A Note from Principal Tony Byers: October 2019

Dear Families, 

September is a busy month, packed full of welcoming events, routine setting, and an incredible amount of paperwork. I enjoy opening the school year and welcoming our new and returning students, but it’s also nice to have all the excitement behind us as we head into October. October is a more settled month, where the day-to-day hum of school life returns and academic learning begins in earnest. I hope you’ve all settled into your school-year routine, too.

As part of your school-year routine, I would like to remind families about a few simple things you can do to support your child’s learning in school and to support other students, too. These may not be the most exciting aspects of school life, but seemingly small, individual behaviors can have a broad impact on the larger community, and so are worth reviewing as we begin this school year together. 

The first reminder is to make sure your child is at school on time. Like adults transitioning to work, children need a few minutes to stow their belongings and check in with their teachers and peers before the day begins. Arriving after the second bell is an abrupt and often disruptive transition, both for late students and the classroom community as a whole, which must pause every time a late student enters the classroom. So while our second bell is at 8:25, I encourage you to aim for an 8:15 arrival to set your child and their classmates up for a successful day of learning. 

The same is true for regular school attendance. Cambridge is an international city, and Graham and Parks is a vibrant international community. It’s a privilege to serve such a community. We wouldn't have it any other way. However, over the years, we have noticed some patterns in attendance, in all of our programs, including SEI and general education. While we know that it’s hard to be away from family for an extended period of time, and it’s tempting to book that vacation when airfares are low, extended absences from school are disruptive for individual students, their classmates, and teachers. Students who are absent for multiple days in a row miss instruction and fall behind. They return confused and sometimes frustrated, and their teachers must divert time and attention from the rest of the class to attempt to catch them up. There are certainly rare and extreme circumstances when families must travel during the school year, but please consider the impact on your child and their peers when you schedule non-emergency travel during the school year. 

It’s also important to think about how to balance individual and collective needs when communicating with teachers. At Graham and Parks, we encourage family involvement and frequent communication between home and school. These relationships form the foundation for school success. We want families to share their concerns or important information about their children. When in doubt, reach out to your child’s teacher! But when you do, think of a teacher’s time and attention as a limited resource. Teachers work long hours; their in-school hours are only about half of their actual work day. Each day requires hours of planning and materials preparation. When it takes an hour for a teacher to respond to an email, that is an hour displaced from lesson planning. It’s also true that access to a teacher’s time and attention is not equitability distributed amongst families, for reasons of time, location, language, and culture. Teachers work hard to engage all families. You can support their work, and equity for other students and families in our community by considering when and how you connect with them. Here are some things to think about when communicating with your child’s teacher:

Email 

We have all experienced how email has changed how we work. Email is easy to send, accessible at all hours, and feels like “getting stuff done.” It’s also possible to say things in email you might not say in person. For teachers, email can be useful for communicating with groups of families, but it can also swamp other parts of their job. Your email might just be a drop in a teacher’s inbox bucket, so please be mindful. Allow for at least 48 hours before expecting a response and know that a teacher’s response might be shorter than your initial email. Urgent concerns are always better addressed in person during a scheduled meeting. Email is particularly good for:
–Asking questions that require a brief response, like “Can my child bring Pokemon cards to school?” (The answer is no. Students should not bring toys to school.) 

–Sharing important information, like changes in dismissal plans or changes at home which might affect a student’s behavior in school. 


Arrival and Dismissal 

Teachers must remain focused on the student community during arrival and dismissal to maintain safety and classroom routines. This is not a good time for checking in. Questions requiring a brief response are better left to email. Urgent and longer conversations require setting up a formal time to meet. And remember that not all families have access to teachers before and after school. 

How Urgent is Urgent? 

Safety concerns (physical and emotional) are urgent and require immediate attention. Most other concerns (homework struggles, developmentally appropriate peer conflict, etc) can wait until family conferences or are a great opportunity for students to practice advocating for themselves. When my daughter has a non safety related concern at school, we coach her at home on how to share it with her teachers and then have her report back. This practice builds independence! 

As I enter my 6th year as principal of Graham and Parks, I continue to be grateful for our welcoming, friendly, and inclusive community. We take care of each other at G&P. I’ve always appreciated how families at our school support their individual children, but are also committed to supporting all children. Especially in these times, schools can be a model of what it means to create inclusive communities, where individuals make decisions in the collective best interest…  even if it means getting up ten minutes earlier to arrive at school on time! 

Best,

Tony
 

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