Posted Date: 08/09/2022
All over Kansas, in the next few weeks, there will be kindergarten students walking into school for the first time, seniors walking into their last first day of school, and parents reflecting on where the summer went. Teachers and administrators fret over the details to ensure the schedule and classes operate smoothly. The beginning of each school year for board members is an opportunity to see their vision take shape in the form of new programs and improvements across the district. There is a buzz in the air as everyone hopes for the best school year! It is easy to get caught up in the rush that comes with a new school year and overlook the critical function of public education, ensuring each student is succeeding and progressing; this is the "main thing.""
When we start thinking of the weightiness of what we do in public schools, that buzz of excitement with the new school year can quickly disappear. We get one opportunity for students to learn the fundamentals of reading so they can begin a lifetime of learning. One chance to help older students explore their interests and strengths. One opportunity to map a pathway to possibilities after high school and one shot at assisting students in building confidence that will translate to success later in life. These are all crucial parts to accomplishing the "main thing.""
We often get nostalgic thinking about the first day of school, the new backpacks, pictures, new shoes, and maybe some new clothes. However, other things often overlooked weigh on students when they think of starting school. They may have anxiety about meeting new people or entering a building, jealousy or shame because they do not have all the new stuff I mentioned above, and feel trapped in a rigid structure that does not meet their needs. Each student brings some of these struggles to school with them. Teachers and staff, with a laser focus on each student succeeding, ease some of these anxieties, jealousy, and frustrations that students face. As you govern and lead your school district, keeping the "main thing" in focus shows that you support the critical work of the staff working daily with students to help them succeed.
It is no secret that we have just come through a challenging couple of years in public education, and there are school boards that are working to heal their culture and get the focus back on the "main thing." Some struggles around board tables come from a longing to "get back" to what we were doing before the pandemic—returning to the way it was before the pandemic is not just reverting to the old ways. Accomplishing the "main thing" is now more complex than before the pandemic as we see an even broader range of student needs, both academically and socially. These challenges will continue to stretch our staff even further in already very challenging jobs. I encourage board members and educational leaders to reflect on the amazing feats that were accomplished and not be too quick to "get back" to how it used to be. We learned many lessons about the range of students’ needs as we put them through life trials and situations never experienced while leading a school district. We have seen a rise in the need for mental support as students try to adjust to their tumultuous experiences. We learned that some kids thrive with greater flexibility in their days and schedules while others need the traditional consistent structure of schools. We also discovered that learning and sharing knowledge could come in many different forms, both virtually and in person. These experiences must be built on and used as school boards agree on a new vision necessary to accomplish the "main thing."
There may be confusion and disagreement around some school board tables as they are working on blending the "way it used to be" with the new learning and necessary supports that we experienced the past two years. The only way school boards will succeed in supporting and governing a system that ensures success for every student is by unifying and agreeing to keep the "main thing" the main thing. There is an old movie titled City Slickers, where the old wise cowboy shares with the city slicker visiting the dude ranch for two weeks that the secret to life is figuring out your "one thing," then everything else takes care of itself.
This advice is accurate with school boards working together and keeping the focus on the "main thing." As we launch into this new school year, school boards will still face complex issues, but clarity will come when the school board agrees on a vision for accomplishing the "main thing."
As this new year launches, enjoy the traditions and the energy that comes with the launch of another school year. Also, reflect on the needs of students and the stress on staff as they have never been greater. All students succeed because great teachers work in great schools governed by great school boards. As you sit down at the board table next meeting, how will you work to keep the "main thing," the main thing?
Let's have a great school year!