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A Note from Principal Tony Byers: October 2018

Dear Families,

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned as an educator, and especially as a principal, it’s that beginnings matter. The start of a new school year is a powerful marker of change and sometimes reinvention. There’s a short window of time at the beginning of the school year when children and adults are open to change and when old habits can be put aside for new ones. This is why teachers begin the year slowly, with a focus on carefully teaching and reinforcing new routines and expectations for behavior. A productive year, for an entire class or a single student, depends on beginning right. Students learn more when they can manage classroom materials independently and share a common language for problem solving with peers. Both require explicit instruction, practice, and sometimes correction. It may seem trivial, but so much depends on whether or not a student can hang up their coat properly and politely greet their classmates and teachers in the morning.

I know this makes the first weeks of school sound very basic, as though students are spending hours practicing how to replace marker caps. Although students do receive lessons on marker cap replacement (it’s a vital skill in school!), they’re also learning and practicing what it means to be part of a safe and supportive classroom community. For example, in an upper grades classroom, students spent several days designing portfolio covers representing their hopes for the year ahead. After completing a first draft, they presented their work to their classmates for feedback. During these presentations, students practiced giving and receiving clear, actionable, and non-judgmental feedback, setting the stage for collaborative academic work later in the year. These are far from basic skills. Many of us are still working on them! But without an early introduction and guided practice, students might fall back on earlier habits. And you know what that sounds like, if you’ve ever been lucky enough to receive feedback from a nine year old.  

As we head into October, school begins to shift from teaching new routines and habits to living them. The foundation of the classroom community is laid, and it’s time to start building. But it’s important to acknowledge that we can’t do this work alone. It’s a joint effort between home and school, and our partnership with you depends on communication. Students thrive when the adults in their lives develop and model communication habits that are open, clear, and collaborative. These habits are set now, as we move from the first weeks of school and settle into the sustaining rhythms of the year ahead. Graham and Parks is a school where teachers value families, their expertise and experiences, and where families value teachers and the professional work we do to support your children. Every year around this time, I’m reminded of how glad I am to be a part of such a collaborative learning community.

Happy fall, everyone!

Tony