February 2019 Upper School Principal Column

Jon Leef, Interim Upper School Principal

Yesterday at our Morning Meeting I tried to give a bit of a "pep talk." I acknowledged to the Upper School community that February and March tend to be the "dog days" of the school year. It is cold. It is overcast. Our noses are runny. Our energy reserves are taxed. When I served as an advisor, I told my advisees that if they could only maintain their effort that they had back in November, they would appear to be superhuman to their teachers and the rest of the community! I don't have an advisory this year, so I subjected the entire Upper School community to "my two cents."

I also pointed out that small things can mean so much at this time of year. Holding the door for someone in order to allow them to avoid one extra moment in the cold or turning in a lost cell phone to the Upper School Office so that a classmate can be reunited with it goes a long way to thriving in the dog days. (Even the same academic effort from November leads to thriving in the classroom!) The challenge: do you have the will and energy to be a positive catalyst at this time of year?

In my first year as a teacher, right out of college, I was struck by how the Upper School Director picked up any piece of trash he saw on the ground or floor. Even the smallest—if he saw it, he picked it up. Had he had a bad experience with trash as a child? He even picked up trash in the cold, dark months of the school year. I don't think he had a bad experience with trash as a child. I think he knew two things: He wanted the school to look like a tip-top place of learning where students could do their jobs; He also knew the students were watching. How could he expect them to actively contribute, even in the smallest ways, to the positive spirit of the community if he was not willing to do so?

I had a moment of embarrassment in my math class the other day. All year (and most of my career) I have told my students that true understanding in math only grows out of a willingness to wrestle with the material, even in the moments of confusion. "I don't get it" is not a question. Students should struggle to form a question using the math vocabulary that they have as well as their pre-existing understanding. If they can form a good question, the current misunderstanding will be more effectively addressed. I realized that over the last week, I wasn't very good at helping (or demanding that) my students formulate these types of questions. They picked up on this because they have been watching. The good news is that we are in the process of righting the ship.

One of the seminal numbers from the Broadway show, Into the Woods proclaims, "Careful the things you say, children will listen. Careful the things you do, children will see and learn. Children may not obey, but children will listen. Children will look to you for which way to turn." Recently in the Upper School we hosted an evening program focused on the dangers of vaping. At this event, attendance numbered in the low 30s. Quite frankly, we should do better.

The students—your children—are watching.

PS—The Upper School Director mentioned above in my letter is still picking up trash—even in the dog days.