It’s easy to have gratitude walking the halls of SAMS these days. Not because it’s been a particularly slick year (though it has been a pretty good one), not because the grades have all been As (though there has been deep learning going on), not because no kids are getting in trouble (let’s be real, they are middle schoolers). The feelings of gratitude I have about SAMS is rooted in a deep knowing. A knowing that allows me to speak with certainty about the ways in which we are a school where all will learn and contribute. I can share stories and lift up student voices as evidence of the ways in which we are growing, moving, and getting better at authentic learning in a caring environment. Every kid, every day. Every family welcome here. This is what I know about SAMS, and this is why I’m grateful.
This deep knowing that gives me gratitude doesn’t mean we get it right every day, every time. And it’s uncomfortable, to say the least, when we get it wrong. But, as Renee and I learned from Dr. Tyrone Howard (look him up, seriously, he’s brilliant) last summer, that’s where courage comes in. I’m grateful to be working with a school and a community where we have systems and networks in place to learn to do better and do right by our kids. Just this past week, as a group of CORE teachers led staff development for the rest of us, and the conversations were designed to get us to examine all the ways we can overcome barriers while doing our work. This reflective practice helps us guarantee we will find the courage to do what’s right by our kids, all kids. For this, I am grateful.
This deep knowing that gives me gratitude doesn’t mean our SAMS team doesn’t have important learning still to do. At the end of the first quarter earlier this month, Mr. Anthony Galloway joined us to help us understand more precisely the patterns and practices that have existed for centuries that guarantee an inequitable, fragmented, hurtful experience for many of our students and families not just in our schools but throughout our St. Anthony community and beyond. As one of our teachers wrote in response to the learning we did with Mr. Galloway, “The past matters, people’s stories matter, and there’s so much I haven’t learned.” Yet that wasn’t a bad thing, our work together that day was an experience that focused our team’s work toward building classrooms and a school where all belong, where systems of racism and whiteness are interrupted. Community leaders were there, even a neighboring educator, and our experience together built our sense of collective efficacy. As another teacher wrote, “We have a group of largely willing learners, which is pretty fantastic.” And this is why I’m grateful.
Lastly, this deep knowing that gives me gratitude doesn’t mean only serious, contemplative work is valued here at SAMS. There’s joy here too. Six men grew beards throughout the past month, and they are allowing kids to vote on who among them should be the pie-in-the-face victim in front of the entire school at our Thankful assembly (while raising money for cancer research simultaneously). 8th graders stayed after-school with Ms. Schwintek and Mr. Geske to start a Pet Rock Club. 6th graders had a whole science lesson on what type of Halloween candy is the most dense. Research shows us again and again that non-cognitive skills are MORE important than cognitive factors when it comes to raising and educating successful, engaged citizens and grown-ups. In these light-hearted, jovial opportunities, our students and staff share themselves more completely with each other. So great, and so, more gratitude.
Dr. Jay McTighe spoke to a group of metro area teachers last week at the West Metro Education Program (WMEP). Four of our teacher-leaders, Renee, and I attended (plus some school board members and a few staff from our other schools). He opened his workshop with a quote: “Do not confine your children’s learning to your own experiences for they were born at a different time.” I can’t remember who said it, but I can’t forget these words. This is a different time. The information our kids have access to is wide and vast, the messages they get from media can seem scary and toxic, and the future is unpredictable. At SAMS, we are more focused than ever to do right by every kid, every day. We are more committed than ever to stay engaged in learning, reflecting, and refining our practices to become more open, equitable, and welcoming for all . We are more eager than ever to pursue this hard and important work in a school where it’s okay to be silly, have fun, and be ourselves. This is what I know about SAMS, and this sense of deep knowing is why I’m so grateful to be a part of the SAMS family.
And so with gratitude, we say thank you to all of you, our larger SAMS community. Thank for your partnership, your trust, your hard work, and, most importantly, for your kids. Wishes for a safe and healthy holiday season to everyone.