Sunday, August 21, 2011

Happy New Year!

             Happy New Year!
             Few events bring with them as much positive energy as the start of a new school year. Schools are nice enough places in the summer, but they lack their essential buzz until the students return. They are, after all, why educators do what they do. The students see nothing but possibilities in the year ahead. And for the parents, the start of the school year is when all their hopes and dreams for each of their children crystallize in visions of amazing growth.
              To bring about such growth, schools need to provide plenty of opportunities for appropriate challenges. These stretch the students and encourage them to take risks. It’s all necessary to help them gradually develop mastery and autonomy. The process, when done well, helps the students to grow in confidence. At that same time, it inevitably brings stumbles, setbacks, and perhaps even failures.
              Our reaction as adults—whether as teachers or parents—often determines how the child deals with life’s tougher moments. We can try to help them put things in perspective, offer words of wisdom, point out the positives, et cetera. However, digging beneath even the most laid-back demeanor can unearth some natural anxiety.
              I recall my own concerns regarding my children when it came to two key developmental milestones—walking and reading.
              I wondered if my daughter, Kate, ever would walk. All the other kids in her play group were walking; the child across the street had started walking at an early age. Plus she showed no real interest in walking. Once Kate decided to give it a go, she didn’t exactly take right to it. Finally, when she was 16-1/2 months old, my wife called to tell me Kate had taken off running. The past two years she ran cross-country.
              I also worried that my son, Stephen, would have problems with reading. My concern arose because he has severe hearing loss, and there is a link between that and reading difficulty. Even though he proceeded pretty much on schedule, with each miscoded word I would draw a quick breath. He figured it all out rather quickly, as his teachers told me he would. Now Stephen reads a great deal, and he reads with unusual insight.
              In retrospect, while my anxiety was perhaps normal, it also was misplaced in many ways. Neither of my children had given any actual signs that they were not going to reach these milestones. And I certainly never gave up on them. Imagine if the first time Kate had pulled herself up and taken those initial, faltering steps, only to keel over…and I just decided, “That’s it. She’ll never walk.” Instead, at those times we keep encouraging, prodding, celebrating…confident in the knowledge the child will walk. Now I can even laugh about it, seeing it as a sign of intelligence. After all, I imagine her thinking, why walk when people are willing to carry you everywhere?
              I encourage you to keep the walking metaphor in mind through the year. Revel in all the myriad successes, and try to see rough patches for what they are. As one of my mentors keeps telling me about being a head of school, “Take the long view.” I try to do that as a parent also.
              Enjoy all the wonders of the new school year. There aren’t that many of them before your kids leave home. But there are enough of them for your kids to learn what they need to become wonderful young adults.

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