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From the Principal’s Office: Lessons on Learning, Life, and Parenting

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Getting Our Butterflies to Fly in Formation
On the first day of kindergarten for the class of 2015, die kinder were all over the playground swinging, climbing, and running. A few sat with their parents on the edge, and most of the adults were chatting merrily away, happy to see each other again. Some were making new friends.

However, as I went from knot to knot of parents to join in the chatting, the big theme was “My son was a little nervous this morning.” One parent reported that all summer long, every time the subject of school came up, her daughter would start jumping up and down and squealing with delight, but with two days left to go, she got quiet and talked about how nervous she was.

Another girl, who actually wanted to say “hi” to me on returning to school, talked with me for a while about the summer and then said in a low voice: “I have butterflies in my stomach.”

I said: “I know. I am nervous, too. Can you believe it? I have been going to school, now for fifty-eight years, and I always get nervous before the first day of school.” She looked at me with puzzlement and disbelief and ran off to the climbing structure.

Every first day, some kids cry or in various ways make like they don’t want to enter the schoolhouse, and some kids just run to be first in line. But don’t be fooled by the difference. We are all nervous. Our personalities and our upbringing have trained us each to develop our own special reaction to a new social situation. Me, I’m a run-to-the-front-of-the-line person. I just figure the best defense is a good offense. But don’t be fooled by the smile on my face—getting up this morning was a 51-49 decision.

It takes a bit of a looking ahead, painting different scenarios, and making a rational calculation of probabilities to decide that it is smarter to get up than to stay in bed:

“Let’s see. Option A: I throw the covers off, go to the shower. No. Bad impulse.

Option B: I could lie here and hope I will go back to sleep. Yes. That feels right. On the other hand, where will that lead me? Hmmmm. I could do that, but then I would be late, or not go in at all, and then people would be mad at me, and they might not want me to come to school at all. Since I am the boss, some Trustee will have to talk to me about my performance, and that would be bad, and then, I might even lose my job. That might be okay, but then what would I do? Hmmm. What was Option A, again?”

The wiring in my brain is so solid after fifty-some years of practice that it only takes me a split second to figure out that Option A is the only real option; so let’s get going. I also have learned (rightly or wrongly) that fast is better than slow. I hear my mother saying: “The sooner the better.” The bad thing goes away sooner the faster you go—like taking tape off my hairy arm. I have discovered that getting right on it is usually better than trying to delay the inevitable.

Others have learned that slow is a better strategy, and some are still working it out. To maximize the potential of our children, school must be a safe place to do it your way. In a good school, as die kinder get older, their characters get more divergent rather than more similar.

On their way into the building each kindergartner gives me a “high five” in his or her own way: some like to really give me a whack, some prefer an intimate pat; some hit my hand with their heads, and sometimes I get a dodge. There is more variety as the year goes on. In everything we do it is important that the principal, the teachers, and the parents give each child room to do it his or her own way.   

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Miss Lawson: Teaching Compassion

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Life Survival Skills: Teaching Communication

From the Principal’s Office: Lessons on Learning, Life, and Parenting
is published bi-monthly. Each column is written by Rick Ackerly, a distinguished educator with thirty years experience in middle and elementary school education, who is currently the Head of the Children’s Day School in San Francisco.

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