Monday, August 26, 2013

What the First Day of a New School Year Means to Me: A BVP Blog Series

Thoughts from a Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) Mayoral Academy Head of School

The role of classroom teacher is awesomely challenging and greatly rewarding.  As teachers embark on a new school year, they are in a unique position to dramatically impact their scholars’ lives.  When I joined the BVP team as a founding Kindergarten teacher in 2009, this time of year meant painting my classroom, inventing school-wide cheers, and trying to translate the wishes of eight very passionate and strong-willed teachers into the simple “I Do, We Do, You Do” lesson planning template.  Little did I know how much my life would forever change for the better following that first day of school. 

On August 31, 2009, I met 19 smiling faces-- all from proud families and representative of four very distinct communities.  In those first days, my co-teacher and I taught our scholars the routines and procedures to help our classroom run smoothly throughout the course of the year, consoled those who missed their families, and introduced them to the beginning literacy and math concepts that would set them up to achieve great things over the course of the year.  Several of our scholars had not previously attended preschool, and the incoming Kindergarten achievement gap between those who had and those who hadn’t was quite noticeable.

I still think about one scholar in particular, Zachary*, at the start of every school year.   When he entered my classroom that first year, he was asked to identify the letters of the alphabet and responded by counting from one to five. Throughout the year, we worked diligently in partnership with his family to help him find success.  By sending home personalized homework to specifically meet his very unique learning needs and constantly staying in contact with his mother, we made progress.   When he was able to correctly identify all 26 upper and lower case letters by January, I almost cried with delight in seeing our hard work make such noticeable gains. To this day, I still keep in touch with his mother.

Now that I am in the position of Head of School, I am charged with constantly looking out for the best interest of the “Zacharys” in my school to ensure that they are receiving the high-quality instruction they deserve.  By providing coaching and professional development to my team, I am able to see improvement not only in their instructional practice, but also in their scholars’ academic performance.  

In those first few days of school, there is so much to do.  So much time is spent focused on the “what” that needs to get done and the “when” it needs to get done by. My advice to teachers as they prepare for the start of what will quickly become a very busy school year is to not miss out on the opportunity to focus on the “how.”  Although our work is urgent, please take your time.

·       Take your time to learn about our scholars and their families.  Enjoy each opportunity to interact with our families in the upcoming weeks at our Ice Cream Social, during Home Meet and Greets, and over the first few days of school.  See each and every interaction as an opportunity to develop stronger relationships with our scholars and their families who entrust us with their children.
·       Take your time to learn about your colleagues and what makes them tick.  Prioritize spending down-time with those who you will be working closely with this year.  Whether it’s as simple as continuously greeting them in the hallway, engaging in light chat at the Keurig machine or water fountain, or simply enjoying lunch together, these small actions will help to forge the positive and professional staff cultures we all strive to create this year.
·       Take your time and get to know your office and school staff.  From our office managers, to our receptionists, nurses, custodial staff, and so many others, these are the people who can either make your life incredibly easy or consistently challenging.  Make every effort to treat them well and they will certainly look out for you in the future.  (Believe me, you will need their help with something very shortly, if you haven’t needed them already.) 

Although my focus has changed as a school leader, my priorities are still the same.  For me, and for many at BVP, the “why I do this work” is simple.  I do it for Zachary, and for every scholar who deserves to have the bar raised for them. Our teachers and school leaders are charged with raising that bar and proving what is possible—for each and every scholar to have the opportunity for success in college and the world beyond.

Best of luck to our families, scholars, teachers, and community in the new school year, and never forget to treat every day like the first day: full of that possibility to change a scholar’s life.  If you’re like me, this work will forever change your life, too. 

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the scholar.