The First Chapter - Lower School
Welcome to The First Chapter by Silvia Davis, Head of Lower School, a blog featuring wonderful stories about our youngest students.
Mrs. Davis will be posting here regularly. Please be sure to scroll down to read more and check back frequently for updates.
The Promise of a New Year
There are various quotes about the promise and hope which come with a new year. In education, we have the unique opportunity to have two New Years: one in January and another in September. The Responsive Classroom text, The First Six Weeks of School, guides teachers in creating the classroom community and culture most conducive to learning. In its first page, the authors write, “There’s something fresh and exciting about a new school year - a sense of boundless optimism and crisp new beginnings. And every year, the first six weeks present us with a wonderful opportunity to help students transition smoothly back into school routines and start to connect with each other.” Our teachers are the guides for children into these routines, and as guides, we are seen as the experts to help children along the way, creating the space for learning to flourish.
No matter our first-year teaching or our 40th, I’ll tell you a little teaching secret: no teacher sleeps more than an hour or two at a time in the first days of school. As we approach mid-August, or what a former colleague of mine used to call “The Sunday of the Summer,” our minds begin to race with all the things there are to get ready for the year. Teachers worry about getting their classrooms set up. Teachers worry about having all of the supplies labeled for every child. Teachers worry about having everything laminated to keep papers fresh throughout the year. Teachers worry about planning those first days and the activities in those first days so all students, new and returning, feel comfortable in the classroom.
I could go on and on about all the details they check off their lists to be prepared for that first minute when children come in on the treasured First Day of School. These details, to the outsider seem trivial or like minutia, but to the teacher, and more importantly, to the student, they are the difference between feeling welcome in your classroom due to the smooth transition back into a routine, and feeling like a stranger in your class. In these first weeks of school every detail the teachers attend to is carefully planned in order to do a few important things. Teachers care for the details of creating a climate of warmth, inclusion and safety. They care for the details of teaching the classroom routines and behavioral expectations. They care for the details of helping students get to know their home away from home by caring for their classroom and school. And, teachers care for the details of establishing expectations for academic work.
I have written quite a bit about the power of community. While many students have been with us in Lower School for several years, every year, we are essentially rebuilding the community. Given the few days we have in a school year and the amount of learning which takes place, there is not much time to waste in creating our classroom communities within the Lower School community. So, it seems with the promise of a new year comes the urgency of the fresh start as well. In this timeframe, we feel the pressures of getting “things done.” It is then that the new year becomes the double-edged sword: on one hand we have hope, promise and excitement, and on the other we have the pressure of a finite amount of time during which to accomplish much. It is in the latter that we forget the former...rather quickly.
Hope is a fascinating thing. We look to it rather quickly, and we seem to dismiss it rather quickly. When I think of the fragility of hope, I am reminded of the Greek myth about Pandora. According to the ancient Greeks, Pandora was the first human woman created by the gods as a gift and punishment for Prometheus’ stealing the element of fire from Zeus. Pandora was a beautiful woman, but was cursed with incessant curiosity. Zeus sent a jar along with her to Earth with explicit directions not to open it under any circumstances. After not long, Pandora opened it, and inadvertently released all the world’s evils of humanity such as pain and suffering. All that was left by the time Pandora and Prometheus closed it was hope. While the Greeks used this myth to explain why there are awful things which exist in the world, they also used it to explain the fact that we should always hold on to hope. I would also like to think that there is a metaphor for the fragility of hope as well due to its vulnerable vessel. In the frenzy of getting things done, we toss the jar aside.
The time that our teachers take to plan the first weeks of school and to create their classroom community saves hours later. And so, with all the sleepless nights, labeling, organizing, cleaning, planning and creating, comes a solid foundation for which each child enters feeling welcome and cared about. Perhaps, it is also creating a solid foundation on which we can sit the jar of hope so that it is cared for and thrives. As it is on this foundation, the learning environment is set as a safe, joyful space where all students thrive.
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