The very first thing we do at the beginning of each school year is gather together as a school community and celebrate the ceremony of Havdalah. Havdalah literally means “separation” and is the ceremony that marks the transition between Shabbat and the weekday. Because of its length (short), melody, and prominence in Jewish camping, Havdalah is a relatively popular ritual even with those who are less ritually observant. Part of what makes any ritual powerful is its ability to infuse the everyday with transcendent meaning. My small way to lend transcendence to the typical “Back to School” assembly is to use the power of Havdalah to help mark the transition between summer and the start of school.
And so this past Monday morning, the students and faculty of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School marked the transition between the summer that was and the school year that is presently unfolding with a heartfelt Havdalah.
I told my faculty during “Pre-Planning Week“ that I had never been this excited for the start of a school year in my 9 years as a head of school. All the work of the last three years combined with a cast of talented, dedicated, loving, enthusiastic returning and new teachers has led us to this point. We are as ready as we have ever been to deliver on the the promise of “a floor, but no ceiling”. And this first week has more than lived up to my expectations.
It has been wonderful to walk the school, to feel the positive energy oozing through the walls and see the smiling faces of our students and parents. As we say this time of year, “Shofar so good!”
Our newest faculty members are acquitting themselves with great aplomb and our returning teachers have plenty of new tricks up their sleeves to mix with their tried and true excellence. We are focused on ensuring that we take the time at the beginning of the year to create classroom communities of kindness under the leadership of our new Community of Kindness Coordinator Stephanie Teitelbaum. We are paying extra attention to lunch and recess to make sure the good work of the classroom teachers don’t full through the cracks of unstructured time.
The first week of our new 1:1 iPad program in Grades 4 & 5 has been a success (with the normal amount of confusion newness brings) and the addition of a full-time K-8 Science Teacher has already raised the bar for science education at MJGDS. And in my meetings with faculty to discuss their professional development plans for the year, I can see the impact their summer reading is already having on their practice.
I don’t think I am alone in this, but I will admit that in the eight prior years of being a head of school, that whenever I had the time to do a school walk-through, in addition to all the positive things I was hoping to see…a part of me was always steeled for the possibility of the things I was hoping not to see. If a principal is honest, s/he knows which teachers s/he has concerns about, which students s/he is worried about, and, yes, which parents s/he has difficulty with. We don’t share that information with anyone, but in our hearts we know the score. And we go into each year optimistic that those problem areas will improve, but realistic that there will inevitably be fires to be put out.
I took my first walk-through of this school year yesterday.
I visited each classroom. I saw every facet of our curriculum. I saw each teacher. I saw every space. It took me about a half-hour before I could put my finger on what was different this time around. And then I realized that the small sinking feeling of the possibility of something going wrong that typically accompanies me on my walk-through’s was absent! Room after room, teacher after teacher, activity after activity, student after student…it all looked…like how it was supposed to. It has taken us four years, but it just might be possible that we have finally begun to become the school we have all worked so hard and with such positive energy to become!
I am no pollyanna. Things are going to go wrong during the course of the year. We will still have behaviors to correct, programs to improve, teachers to grow, parents to connect, lessons to be learned, and yes, probably a few fires (metaphorical ones this year!) to put out. But if the next thirty-nine weeks go as well this one, the 2013-2014 school year will, indeed, be a very special one.