I want to share two anecdotes from last week that I keep returning to fondly, even wistfully, as I sit in my makeshift office in my dining room. Last Thursday, a week ago and what seems a life ago, I was able to put all the pandemic response planning and worry aside for just an hour and be among our students.
I visited with the kindergartners to read a book and answer their biggest question: “What do you do as Head of School?” My teacherly retort of course was to ask back, “What do you think I do as Head of School?”
One boy said, “You talk to kids who get in trouble.”
Another proffered, “You tell people what to do,” index finger properly pointed.
I laughed and motioned to another raised hand. “You walk around and say hi a lot,” was next, and then this, the final answer: “You take care of us.”
That’s true, I thought. My job, when you reduce it to its essence, is to take care of your children. How unthinkable, then, to experience everything all of us are coping with this week, and to do so absent the inhabitance of your children on campus. What a difference from Thursday to Thursday. Yesterday, just a few of us were on campus, and surreal doesn’t begin to describe the feeling of a school empty of its students, empty of the laughter and clangor, the shuffling, the cacophonous buzz and clamor between periods and gathered communities of learning. Even the busiest office-bound day has windows onto the sidewalks of children passing, the reverberations of carpool greetings and recess gossip, the shuffle and thumps of students on stairs. A school empty of children is an aquarium drained of life.
But back to last Thursday, where next I had a rendezvous with the The Chive Room, one of our Pre-K 4 classrooms, who had invited me to do a show and share with them about things that begin with “N,” their letter of the week. By far the most popular word was Ninja because collecting Ninja figures in great variety is clearly a big thing right now if you’re four or five. You should also know that Nickels and Noodles and Narwhals and Nets also start with the letter N.
It goes without saying I’ve been busy, and when my reminder appeared on my phone that I was supposed to be in the Chive Room 5 minutes later, I realized I hadn’t picked out the thing I wanted to share that started with N, and so I started rifling through my office until I landed upon this little journal with a fleur de lis on the cover, a gift from my mom that I’ve had for years but looks so beautiful that I’d never written in it. I snatched it from my office bookshelf and hurried on to class.
I was fortunate also to have a pen in my pocket because when it came my turn to share what I had that started with N, I shared my beautiful notebook and then told the students about how wonderful it is to write in a notebook, how you can store there what’s important. I told them I’d never written in it, but I was going to do so now by writing on the first page my name: “Dr. K.” They watched intently as I wrote each letter. They, too, had recently written these letters and watched my hand movements carefully. Only one child gave me a thumbs down on how I formed my K. All said, I thought it was a wonderful moment I got to spend with four-year-olds in what was a tough week trying to take care of your children.
The moment, though, will always be attached to what a Chive parent told me the next day. She said her son enjoyed our visit and relayed my notebook moment. He had questions, though, about me being a “doctor.” Why wasn’t I at a hospital right now taking care of people? She explained there are different kinds of doctors who take care of different things, even doctors of words. “He’s a doctor of learning,” she told him. Her son gave that a thought and then asked the right question: “If he’s a doctor of learning, then why does he have an empty notebook?”
And there you have it. A head of school with an empty campus; a doctor of learning with an empty notebook. What has the world come to?
The truth, we know as adults, is significant and consequential. The enormity of COVID-19 is dawning on us all, family by family, school by school, community by community.
But let me say what I’m also learning in the enormity of this moment. Our StG Community transcends these campus walls.
As we have transitioned to our Continuity of Learning Plan and StG Community at Home, I’ve been positively amazed by the resilience and flexibility of our faculty and staff, by their brilliant ingenuity in refashioning the St. George’s experience and educational model onto an online platform.
As our Director of Technology Ryan Meyers marveled yesterday when reflecting back on the past two weeks with our faculty:
“I tried to convince you that we not only could convert our physical classrooms to virtual ones, but-- if we really are the school we aspire to be-- we'd have to. Starting at that moment, I've witnessed nothing less than an awe-inspiring commitment to our students and families from our entire staff. This statement holds up in reference to every educator at St. George's, be they an administrator, maintenance worker, teacher, counselor, or resource specialist. Each person has risen above every expectation of persistence, integrity, respect, and compassion. I'm floored. A week ago we thought we might. Today we did. And we'll continue to because it's what we do.”
Mr. Meyers’ own daughter, three and in the Dandelion Room, literally hugged her iPad after singing their morning song together that named each one of her friends and teachers.
"Why are they on the iPad?" she asked. She thought for a moment and said, "Hmm... Probably it's because they love me."
Another 8th grade parent shared with me that her daughter was beaming after participating in her advisory meeting yesterday, seeing not only her teacher but all of her classmates. It brought back a sense of normalcy, of comfort... the need for this now more essential than ever.
We are putting boldly reimagining education to the test, aligning our vision to our mission, reaching our students and families in innovative ways that will stick with us and be a part of how we continue to learn even when we return to campus. Even remotely, we are learning together, staying together, transforming this pandemic into an opportunity to provide our children a truly meaningful, quality education. What I’ve learned, even a couple of days in, is that I’ve still so much to learn. We all do. In profound ways, we are all first learners once more, first teachers once more, new parents all over, new leaders leading anew. And that is exhilarating and exhausting like the first day of school or the first day at a new job.
We are also more than ever a community. An StG Community, precisely.
We learn remotely and learn differently, but we still learn together. This is not a school empty of its students. It’s somehow, improbably fuller now. The enormity of it all wirelessly fills the rooms of our screened-in campus.
Indeed, what I’m learning about our school community just these past two weeks could fill a notebook. A whole shelf full of notebooks. I better start writing. We all should.
- 8th Grade
- Dr. Kreutziger
- Head of School