Wednesday, October 15, 2014

To Be Known

This week, I had the pleasure of joining Junior 2's morning circle to introduce myself to the students and tell a little bit about what a Head of School does. Before beginning, I asked if any of the students knew me. After all, I had been a middle school teacher and program director for over twenty years here at Princeton Montessori. To my surprise, only a few students were certain as to who I was. One student asked, "Are you Mrs. Stencel's daughter?" Another exclaimed, "You're so and so’s parent!" After a short exchange, letting them know what I do in my role at Princeton Montessori and who I am, I thanked them and was on my way.

As I walked back to the office area, to do the work I had just described, I thought about a book I had shared with faculty a few years back titled "To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey" by Parker Palmer, a well-known activist and spiritual educator. In it, he talks about the importance of knowing each other, not only as teacher and student but as an educational community. We take for granted that we are known, simply because we are familiar, but this is clearly not so. We pass each other in the halls and smile and inquire about weekends and children, but the day hardly allows for a true sit down and connect. Yet, being known is the basis for understanding each other, being able to empathize, and thus humanize, so that we can connect, make peace, and feel a part of the spaces we share.

From the vantage point I now have as Head of School, I can see more clearly the span of our community and marvel at the way connections are built over multiple years and conversations. I see the importance in this. Teachers earn the trust of parents over the several years they have to work with them, and this allows for true progress, honesty, and partnership. It is crucial in allowing us to do our work on behalf of your children.

And yet, I hope for more. I hope we can connect school-wide, in knowing each other. So many upsets through the life of a school year come from misunderstanding, which moves to judgment and assumption because we don’t truly know the intent, heart, and character of the other party. In helping your children to resolve conflict, a life skill crucial to master, we work gently and diligently to build the tools of language, reflection, good will, and forgiveness. It takes practice, and discomfort sometimes on the parents' end in allowing the solution to come from the child, with the teacher's support. Yet, by middle school, these children are equipped far better than most of us, with the tools to lead politely but powerfully in their relationships.

I think of the direct and inquiring questions the elementary students asked me in trying to truly know me. As we make our way through the year, let's follow the children's lead. Let's take a breath, reflect, trust, and check in. Let's take an extra minute or two to get to know each other. Let's create the community that can be. I, for one, am going to make my way into all the other areas of the school and take the time to have authentic conversations. I hope you will join me!

Have an idea for how to better connect as a community? Let me know!

“Relational trust is built on movements of the human heart such as empathy, commitment, compassion, patience, and the capacity to forgive. These come from knowing and being known.”
Parker J. Palmer