Clean Slates

This summer I spent a week working with a group of teachers in Denver who are embarking on an amazing adventure together.  They had come from all over the country to teach at a new charter school, and they actually met each other for the first time at our workshop. That meant I had the rare opportunity to help them build their adult community from scratch at the same time as they learned about Responsive Classroom practices that would help them build community with their students.

It was an inspiring week for lots of reasons, but I have been thinking a lot about how clean the slate is for them. For this group of teachers, there’s no established faculty culture, or cliques, or preconceived notions about what “that teacher” can or cannot do. They have not yet met the students they will be teaching, so no one is worried that they are getting “that kid” or “that class.” Instead, when they spoke of their students, it was with excitement about their potential and what the year ahead will hold. Even their building offers a clean slate: empty classrooms that they get to stock and organize from the ground up.

At first, I felt that they were uniquely lucky — and they are. Then I started wondering what it would take for the rest of us to wipe our slates clean. Why not decide to put aside resentment over that disagreement we had with the teacher down the hall two years ago? Why not commit to treating all colleagues with the same respect and courtesy we expect our students to give each other? Why not look at our schedules anew and try doing things a new way? Why not try to look at our classrooms with fresh eyes?

And most of all, why can’t we give each child a clean slate? Sure, we want to learn as much as we can about the children who are coming to us. But, sometimes we let past teachers’ perceptions color our own so much that we aren’t as open to a child’s possibilities as we could be. We all know that with the right care, attention and teaching, children can change and even make dramatic growth, socially, emotionally, and academically. Giving a clean slate to each of our students leaves open the possibility that this is the year that a child’s life will change.

We all deserve a fresh start, and the beginning of school offers that chance. So, I challenge you to clean your slate, open your mind, and embark on your own adventure as you launch your own school year. Good luck!

Margaret Berry Wilson is the author of several books, including: The Language of Learning, Doing Science in Morning Meeting (co-authored with Lara Webb), Interactive Modeling, and Teasing, Tattling, Defiance & More.

Tags: First Day of School