Welcome Back to School

I was very excited this week to greet faculty and staff returning to school for the 2014-15 school year. We kicked off on Wed with a convocation focused on the need to work in harmony, like an orchestra, to serve the needs of all of our students. An excerpt from the opening speech is below:

I love the orchestra metaphor. It expresses so well what I value most about collaborative human endeavors. An orchestra has many parts: the strings, the woodwinds, the percussion section, etc. Each instrument, of course, has a defined role and must be fully prepared, but the real beauty of an orchestra, in my view, is when all of the instruments play together in perfect harmony. To the audience it sounds so elegant and simple. To those who spend hours and hours practicing, tuning their instruments and staying on pitch, it is anything but simple. It is a labor of love.

I think we can relate the metaphor of the orchestra to our work in our schools and in the SU. Each of us has a vitally important role in educating children. And when we play in true harmony with one another, we can accomplish more together than any of us could accomplish as soloists.

Throughout the school year, I want you to remember the sound we just created together, especially on difficult days when it seems an uphill battle to get anything done, when a barrier may be hard to overcome, when you haven’t reached a child in the way you had hoped. Remember the orchestra!

Your jobs are not easy ones. Together, we have over 1500 children in our charge. They come to us in all shapes and sizes and colors, and from every walk of life. Meeting the needs of all these children takes courage and grit and a very good sense of humor. I have great respect for the work you do every day.

And on top of that diversity in our classrooms, staying with the orchestra metaphor for a moment, the 21st century is handing us new music to play. It’s our job to prepare our young people for a world that is very different from the one we grew up in. Whether you have been in the field for many years or just entered it, it’s not easy to be the generation of educators whose job it is to reinvent American education. But it certainly is rewarding.

To help get you ready to tackle these challenges and opportunities, I want to now introduce you to a young boy from Dallas, Texas. This young person reminds me of what our kids can do when they have opportunities, experiences and relationships that help them develop into the solid, decent young men and women who will lead our community and our country forward. I hope he inspires you, too!

What does it take behind the scenes for a child like Dalton Sherman to take the stage so confidently? What does it take to create a system that is truly student-centered?

It takes collaboration. The research is very clear that teachers who learn together are better equipped to improve student outcomes.

I am confident that when we practice our parts, when we work hard to play in harmony, we will reach every single student in our district. We will be in tune with every kind of learner who is counting on us to help them thrive in the years ahead. The community is counting on us; a strong community requires a strong educational system. Remember that no matter what position you hold in this school system, you are also an economic developer and a citizen builder.

In order to serve this mighty calling, in order to serve our students well, you must also take good care of yourself. Just as the flight attendant tells you to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others, you must remember to take the time to rest and reflect, to re-tune your instrument, as it were.

Before you leave, I’m going to ask you to turn to someone you might not know and ask each other: “How will you take care of yourself this school year?” Once you’ve finished this, change partners quickly, and ask a second question: “What is one thing you will do to improve your professional practice this year?”

I wish all of you a productive, meaningful, and enjoyable school year.

(You can watch this convocation at PegTV on demand  http://www.pegtv.com/video-on-demand)

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