November 10, 2016

Who We Are

Citizenship day with my daughters Emma and Leah
January 26, 2011
On Wednesday morning of this week, the morning immediately following the presidential election, fifth grade teacher Leigh Houser invited me into her class to speak with her students at morning meeting.  I began with a question: “How many of you experienced big feelings in your family in the last several hours about the election?”  Every hand went up. The election result has affected us all deeply. I gave any student who wanted it an opportunity to express him or herself freely and we all listened. 

Whichever candidate you voted for during this election, there is no doubt that the campaign season was filled with anger, disrespect, insults, and lack of understanding or appreciation for differences.

How do we as parents raise our children to be kind and to be respectful of others when they are seeing and hearing poor behavior on the national stage? 

The fifth graders and I talked for about thirty minutes about the election results and how each of us was feeling.  The conversation was not without rancor.  More than one student expressed strong opinions about the presidential candidates that were in opposition to those of other classmates. Several students expressed being scared for what lies ahead. On more than one occasion, I had to steer the conversation toward respecting our differences and maintaining relationships and friendships even with those who hold viewpoints that diverge from our own.

For this is who we are as a school. 

Our school theme this year is connection. From the very first day that our youngest preschoolers enter our doors, our teachers do an outstanding job of teaching children to express themselves appropriately, to be kind and respectful. Teachers work hard to ensure that we, and others, feel safe.

In Caroline Long’s third grade class on Wednesday, children came in feeling a wide range of emotions: disinterest, excitement, sadness, worry, surprise and nervousness.  Caroline’s goals were to be present, positive and reassuring. She shared President Obama's short video about the sun rising and this poem by Victoria Erickson. Her students reflected and asked questions.
 
In Liz Richards’ fourth grade morning circle, Liz let her students express questions, thoughts and feelings.  Her responses focused on the following three themes:

• The adults in your life will keep you safe.

Be the change you want to see in the world by continuing to be kind to one another, including family, community, and neighbors, regardless of race, religion, and nationality as that energy permeates out into the world.

  A review of our system of three branches of government and its checks and balances.

Too many times in this election season, issues have been presented to us as wrong vs. right, black against white.  As a nation, we appear to be losing our willingness or ability to think critically, to question, to allow for diversity in all its forms, and to accept nuance.

At Friends’ School, our teachers are very intentional about teaching our social and emotional curriculum. By consciously learning about inclusion, empathy, respect, kindness, and responsibility, our children are learning to see both sides of a situation and to make compassionate choices.  Our teachers give children useful and valuable language and mediation tools so they learn to navigate differences, first with support, and then on their own.  We challenge children to express their emotions using “I….” statements so they learn not to blame or hurt the feelings of their peers.

Friends’ School helps kids learn to accept responsibility if they make a mistake, and to explore ways to make things better. We encourage children to build bridges, not walls, with those around them. We embolden our students to speak up in the face of injustice and disrespect.

Unlike many in our Friends’ and Boulder community, I was not born a citizen of the United States.  After living here for two decades, I made a very conscious choice to become a citizen.  I took that significant step not only because I wanted to play a bigger role in the society in which I lived, but also because I believed wholeheartedly in this country and what it stands for.

As a head of school, I am proud of our teaching staff for how they talk with kids.  As a father of daughters and of a gay teen, I am thrilled to be part of a community that demonstrates respect and kindness each and every day. As an immigrant, I am grateful to be welcomed and to welcome all kinds of families to our school.

These are uncertain times, but I can say with certainty that your children are in a safe place, where kindness and tolerance are modeled. They are in a school where they are getting the tools and skills they need to be successful, and to play their own part one day, in shaping what this country will become.

Caroline and Liz both shared Mahatma Gandhi’s quote "Be the change that you wish to see in the world." with their classes on Wednesday. Several children shared what change they hope to see and how they are planning to put that into action. 

Friends’ School and I will walk tall with them.

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