The first day of school. Each year, this thought elicits fond associations from my childhood. What comes to mind can be summed up by the words, anticipation, Trapper Keeper, new shoes, a haircut (or new look), new teachers, new friends and uncertainty. Even though I am in a different role in schools moving from student to educator, the pattern leading up to the first day of school each year is familiar. This day has always brought a sense of opportunity, and I don’t think I am alone. For my entire life, the first day of school has signified the start of a new year and endless possibilities, even with the trepidation of the unknown just ahead.
In the days leading up to my 8th grade year, I was excited to be preparing for the new, but I was also a bundle of nerves. That particular year, I moved to a larger middle school. I was intimidated by the size of the school and the academic prowess of my peers. I was sure I didn’t belong. I worried about making new friends, keeping up with the work. With all of this on my mind, I did not get much sleep the night before school began. On opening day in homeroom, one simple kind gesture introduced me to the person who would become my lifelong best friend. She offered me a piece of gum. She was a science warrior and I was a history buff. She was on the swim team and I was on the dance team. We came from different cultures, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds. We had very little in common on the surface, but we “got” each other and were open to learning about each other’s interests. Today, we are both educators who talk about how our own education inspired us to pursue careers dedicated to more progressive, constructivist, inquiry-based practices. I look back on this particular “first day” with gratitude.
As we all venture into the school year, I have a few “new” wishes that I hope Field students will embrace in the upcoming school year.
Try something different—Doing something new allows you to confront and vanquish your fear of the unknown. There are physical benefits such as growing the neural pathways in the brain and mental health benefits in how you see yourself. Whether it be a new sport, an afterschool play, a new instrument, or a coding class, take advantage of the expanded electives, clubs and extracurricular activities to do something a little bit outside your comfort zone.
Develop new friendships—Bad days are more tolerable when surrounded by friends and good days are celebrated with friends. Friends hear your ideas and are a great sounding board for both your creativity and apprehension while offering a different perspective. Talking to someone you have not connected with previously can feel scary and intimidating but new connections can open the doors to laughter, shared experience, understanding, and simply fun. You might establish a long-term friendship, meet someone to kick a ball around with or find a lunch buddy.
Take an academic risk—The most meaningful and satisfying feeling comes from learning, creating, or innovating something new. School is a place where it is safe to make mistakes and say you don’t understand something. Those risks lead to our most powerful learnings. Many big problems need solving. If we are consumed by our fear of failing then we won’t try. So, here is my invitation to practice the skill of academic risk-taking.
Perhaps the idea of possibility resonates so strongly with me this year because we are entering our third year of COVID schooling. While I had hoped to start the year with fewer rather than more restrictions, our community’s health remains top of mind. That being said, our offerings on campus will be much more robust than last year and we are harnessing the lessons of the last two years to build out an even better educational program for our students. I will continue to update you as policies and protocols evolve to match the changing public health landscape.
Last week at the kickoff of our teacher professional development weeks, I spoke about collective effervescence, which is the sense of urgency and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose. It is a term coined by the early 20th-century sociologist, Emile Durkheim. Working at a school has always provided me with the experience of collective effervescence multiple times a week and even daily. My colleagues shared their sense of the deep, purposeful and meaningful work of being an educator and working at a school that values the connection between people and our disciplines of study. We feel it now more than ever and are so very much looking forward to sharing our passions, interests, talents and expertise with our students. We cannot wait to see you on Wednesday, September 8, and hope you will fully embrace the opportunities and possibilities in front of you.