Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about habits. Like many educators I use the summer to take stock and reset. Think of August 1 as our New Year’s Eve. Many of us head into the school year, determined to begin anew or recommit to habits that we know equip us better for learning and instruction. I’m sticking to a new routine that allows me to take 10,000 steps a day, both because the practice makes me healthier and because the quiet reflection makes me more effective as a leader. Internship and independent study students will meet several times this year with me as a class because learning flourishes in the spaces where we connect. I am finding ways to share poetry at the start of every week with students because a sustained commitment to the arts requires more than mere words.
Similarly, the Admin Team as a whole has undertaken some resolutions for the new school year. Each of us is setting aside time in the week to be at each other’s campuses–in classrooms with kids and teachers. We’re taking on direct instruction and mentoring responsibilities that allow us to build connections with students and walk the walk with our talented teaching staff. And we’re determined to find a way to engage our entire school community in experiences and conversations that broaden our sense of each other and the perspectives that we hold about the world around us.
As Joy made clear in our #WhatMatters meeting with parents just two weeks into the school year, we are approaching that last resolution with more than a little trepidation. The evidence we see around us suggests that we increasingly live in an “us versus them” world. The list of topics that polite conversation must avoid seems sometimes to have grown to the point that it nearly crowds out any ground for an exchange of ideas that fuels the life of the mind and lies at the heart of the conversations that should bind us together, rather than sending us to our corners.
For five people who immerse themselves in the habit of relationship-building every day, the thought of riding herd over the inevitable stumbles that we’ll all make along the way is daunting. We know that we cannot foresee all of the pitfalls. We worry that we are ill-equipped to serve as navigators, pilots, and passengers all at once on the journey that we’re determined to undertake with our school community. We hesitate because we never want our children to suffer the slings and arrows as we adults face down some truths about the assumptions we make and the realties we may ignore.
And yet, we remain convinced that the effort is entirely worth it and, in fact, incumbent upon us as leaders.
This past summer a parent shared an article from The Atlantic entitled Students’ Broken Moral Compasses, that helped reinforce our own gut instincts about how to move our learning environment forward in an increasingly polarized world. Understand: we do not buy into all of the various dimensions and nuances of the author’s perspective, but the article does echo some of our own observations about the habits into which many of us and our children have fallen. We see a growing gap between our students’ day to day individual experiences and the willingness and ability to grasp that all of us experience the world differently. That gap seems to disconnect us from the need to stay open and receptive to the stories of the people around us and weakens the very relationships our school community values and seeks to build.
We’re going to take a deep breath this year and jump into the fray—scary as it may be. We invite you to jump in with us. We’ll be sharing articles, hosting screenings, and starting discussions that ask all of us to settle in, tell our story, and consider the range of stories we have no idea exist, even within our very close-knit community. In doing so, we hope to break some old habits and start some new ones to keep relationships at the very center of learning and teaching.
Making and keeping connections to each other is a journey of 10,000 steps. It helps root us. It stokes learning by making it safe to ask questions and challenge one another. And it models a habit we hope our children carry with them for a life-time. We hope you’ll bear with us when we stumble and walk with us as we travel this important path.