ES Perspective: The First Six Weeks of School

As we head into the second month of the new school year, classrooms around the Trail Creek Campus are humming along. The momentum and engagement might seem a basic accomplishment by well-trained teachers on any given day of the year, but what’s not apparent is the significant and essential work that has been ongoing beneath the surface to build community and create this vibrant energy.

At Community School, students and teachers start the year by working together to build trust, to learn about what works (and what doesn’t) for each person in the room, and to start to create the understanding that we are here for one another. These are invaluable lessons in these early weeks, and the process cannot be cut short; it takes the full six weeks at the start of each year to lay this foundation.

Why do teachers devote so much time to these “non-academic” lessons? Because it sets the tone for the year; it lays out the expectation that community building is important at our school, that we are connected to one another, and that we can have a significant impact on our classmates, both positive and negative. With the social-emotional pieces solidly in place, there is then room for the academic pieces to be added into the puzzle.

This vital work takes different shapes and happens in many different places. This fall, each class will have spent time together both indoors and outdoors. They will have had camping trips, cross-grade meetings, classroom discussions, and divisional assemblies. They will have learned bits of trivia about classmates and teachers, and they will have shared something about themselves. Throughout the year, they will share more pieces of themselves, and it is this vulnerability that allows a true community to form.

Last week, I saw a vivid reflection of community when I watched this year’s fourth grade class explain their mandala project to the larger elementary community. I was astounded by the self-assuredness with which each child spoke. The children had only been in school together for 13 days, and here they were, on the morning of day 14, with completed projects in hand, explaining the very personal symbolism of their artwork.

Some of the projects were exactly as the children had planned; others had small revisions or tweaks; and, some were nothing like the original drafts—complete “redos,” the result of mistakes, accidents, or the changing mindset of a 10 year-old. However their individual final project turned out, reflecting the lessons they had learned about diverse cultures, geography, math, and themselves, was only one outcome. The other, perhaps most important result, was the knowledge they gained about one another and their collective spirit. They learned to share, to collaborate, to be patient. They learned to take risks, to be flexible, to listen to others. They created an excellent foundation for their classroom community.