November 7, 2013

Stars Abound (Second Star to the Right and Straight on Till Morning)

"Second Star to the Right and Straight on Till Morning"
Lucca (Wendy) and Liam (Peter Pan) in the 5th grade production 
One of the many reasons that I have chosen a career in independent schools, and why my own children attend independent schools, is because of the unique culture that can exist within an organization that has the ability to decide upon its own mission.  At Friends’, we take our mission very seriously.  It is our raison d’ĂȘtre, the lens through which we make all decisions. It’s what we aim for every day, our North Star

Stars abounded at our school this week.  All of them connected to unique cultural events, all of them making me proud to be part of this great independent school.

On Monday, many members of our graduating class of 2013 (now 6th graders) returned to share their early middle school experiences with our current 4th and 5th grade families. All but one of these graduates went on from Friends’ to attend public schools (one travels daily from Boulder to Kent Denver).  Kids and parents from that class discussed the open enrollment process, what they looked for in a middle school, and how their transition had been. I was struck by their confidence and eloquence – and, no matter which middle school they attend, how well prepared they were leaving Friends’.  They are stars shining in their new journeys.

The very next day, our 5th graders were back in the Great Room starring in their production of Peter Pan.  Each year, it is one of my great joys to direct our 5th graders in a full-scale theatrical production.  We had a packed house for the afternoon show and a healthy crowd in the evening. (The title of this week’s column includes the address where Peter says he lives.) Our 5th graders, including their teachers, rose to the occasion spectacularly. For more photos, please visit our Facebook page.  In a time when so many schools have reduced drama programs, at Friends’ we strive daily to keep arts in the forefront. 

While the final production of Peter Pan was a smash hit, I was most touched by a comment one of the fifth graders made after the show: “I’ll miss our rehearsals.”  For this young thespian, who had caught the acting bug in a big way, the process of working together as a team to create something that was bigger than the sum of its parts was just as important as the final product. As her director, I should add that this fledgling actor, just like all of her classmates, was a total star.  I’m going to miss the rehearsals too.

On Wednesday, members of our Community Board came to Friends’ for two important events that we hold every couple of years.
The cast of Peter Pan, including Teacher Candidate Trevor McGill and 5th grade teacher Liz Richards

At our biennial Trustee Classroom Visit Day, I shared with our Trustees the kinds of things I look for when I stop into classrooms (suggesting they use this interesting chart as a guide). We invite our Trustees to see our mission at work because it helps them to guide our school to new heights.  After their time in classrooms, Trustees shared with each other how impressed they were at the diverse ways the students were learning, how engaged our kids are with their work and with each other, how many levels of learning were happening in classrooms – with our Teacher Candidates learning and practicing their craft alongside the kids, how welcoming and warm our classrooms are, and how much kindness and respect they observed between adults and children.

Later in the day, our entire staff and Board met together for two hours to discuss our school mission.  Every seven years, as part of our school’s re-accreditation process with the Association of Colorado Independent Schools, we are required to review our mission statement.  More importantly, it is a wonderfully helpful exercise for all of us to re-familiarize ourselves with our mission, and to reflect on our practice as educators and school leaders.

Throughout the discussion, which was too long and detailed to capture in this space, almost fifty dedicated souls, who are committed to the vision and future of this school, reflected and shared on what makes our school unique, what questions we had, and what might be missing from our mission.  It was an empowering and extremely thoughtful event.  That evening, I received an email from one of our long time staff members. It said: “One of the things I appreciated was how there was very little question of what we are good at and what we value; such clarity of purpose and dedication to that purpose. It made me wonder if all mission review conversations at independent schools look the same.”

I’m not sure about that. But I know that it’s been a week where our stars have shone.  Our Community Board will continue to reflect on our school’s mission over the year and will be in further communication with our greater school community.  Here at Friends’ we’re thanking our lucky stars!

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