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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Same Old New: School's Start

Guthrie School, like thousands of others across the fruited plain, is welcoming back our most cherished resource, our youth, for the start of a new school year.  I count myself among the most blessed people on earth for a host of reasons, and being able to serve the students and community of the Guthrie Common School District is just one of those many blessings.  Feeling a bit more of my mortality than I used to, I stand reflectively on the threshold of a new year considering what has, and hasn't, changed about the beginning of school.

Some things remain the same.  The students can hardly sleep in anticipation of the new year. Most all of the teachers and administrators begin suffering loss of sleep, too, but for very different reasons. The buildings and buses are all polished up.  Classrooms are adorned to send clear messages of "welcome back" and "learning is our business."   Teams and coaches have begun the painful and exhilarating process of whipping themselves into shape, donning the colors that scream to all that they are prepared to defend and protect the honor of their communities and schools in the arenas of competition.  Cafeterias and concession stands get stocked. Lesson plans get developed. Band uniforms get altered (again). New clothes and shoes are laid out. School supplies are stowed neatly in backpacks. Master schedules and bus routes get finalized. Resolutions for a newer, brighter, more productive year get prayed, promised, and articulated.  New is in the air.  All, much as it has always been.

On the other hand, some things have changed. Schools must do more, with less, far less in the way of funding. Expectations for student achievement are ratcheted up, way up.  More tasks, that have so little to do with student learning, are added to the "to do" list. Students do more of their learning as "digital natives" while being taught by "digital immigrants."  Learning opportunities proliferate, as students and teachers quite literally hold the sum of all human knowledge in the palm of their hands (in the form of computers, smart phones, or iPads). Knowledge that used to be the domain of a few enlightened intellectuals is now available, in full color video, with tutorials, with scored practice sets, at the click of a few keys.  Teachers, more than ever, find themselves cast as co-learners with the students, rather than as sages on the stage. It is all very disconcerting.

But wait!  Some things haven't changed at all. LEARNING continues to be the fundamental reason that schools exist. Learning will still happen, or not, based almost singularly on the skill of the teacher in the classroom (not the curriculum, not the facilities, not the technology, not the administration).  Students will continue to love, perform for, and learn for teachers who love and serve them well.  The powerful learning nested in the the "curriculum of life" that is taught both in overt and covert ways, by parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, principals, bus drivers, lunchroom personnel, maintenance staff, will continue to be the most important learning task we undertake. That curriculum (not math, science, foreign languages, etc.) is best described with words like respect, honesty, compassion, self-discipline, service to others, being involved in noble endeavors that are bigger than one's self. That is the "stuff" that will best equip our students to navigate well the treacherous seas of life.

One of my mentors, Joe, describes himself as being the product of many fine folks who taught, coached, and mentored him through life.  Joe says those folks "left their fingerprints all over me."  School, in so many ways, is the process we use as a community, a society, a nation, to leave "our fingerprints all over" our most precious resource - our children.  What an honor it is to play a role in that powerful process.  Let the new school year begin, and let us make our world a better place through that LEARNING process.

(Oops! Gotta go, I think I hear the tardy bell ringing...).