In my professional life as an educator, I have worked at three independent schools. My first stint at The Park School in Brookline ended on June 11, 2004. Generally speaking, I am a big believer that dates matter in history, and this one was significant to me because the very next day, my first child was born. Four years later, he enrolled at The Meadowbrook School, the second of my three schools, in September 2008. Thus began a stage of my career in which my children attended the school where I worked.
When my daughter graduates from Belmont Day this Wednesday, her home for the last seven years, it will mark the end of an extraordinarily special run for my family and me: fifteen years of working where my children learn. Not a day has passed in those years when the privilege of this circumstance is lost on me. (In fairness, my children may look differently on this than I do. I certainly don’t envy the potential challenges of being the child of the head of school.)
But over these past fifteen years, I have learned a few things about how schools work for parents, students, and teachers. Wearing the two hats of a parent and educator can bring out your very best and, from time to time, your not-quite-best. So, before my youngest graduates, I decided to use this space to comment on a few lessons I have learned as a parent over these years of living a double life.
School of 300, N of 1. I get the question often: what’s the biggest challenge of sharing school with your children as the head of school? Truthfully, I work hard to keep those hats as separate as possible. When they blur, however, the greatest challenge for me is balancing the feedback I get from a community of nearly 300 families with the experience of and feedback from my child. It is a unique experience hearing my daughter explain—to sometimes exhaustive and painstaking detail—what is ‘wrong’ with BDS. I work to hold the perspective of 30,000 feet, even while she and I discuss things at ground level. It is equally interesting to know of systemic challenges and see how they play out for her and her friends.
I would tell other parents that the feedback they or their children provide based on their lived experiences is never brushed aside. In fact, it is often the N of 1 that gives the most crystalline clarity to the experience of the 300.
Never underestimate the power of the morning commute. Few moments rival those spent between places together, despite the challenge to get everyone in the car, on time, with all of their requisite stuff—sports equipment, last night’s homework, lunch money for Belmont Center, the science project, and did I mention last night’s homework? Ridiculous stories of classmates, teachers, and teammates. Hard moments of navigating friendship or a disappointing result on an assessment. Joyful moments of anticipation or triumph. And all of it with a soundtrack of their choosing. Once they get to the front seat—a fourth grade rite of passage in the Largaymobile—control of the radio dial is lost to the kids’ whims.
As my daughter and I make our last few commutes together, I find myself tearful at the thought of how I have taken each of these in-between moments for granted. I will miss them. I counsel you to capture the moments somehow—the first day of school pictures in front of the carpool, bus, or garage. The sleepover invitation that results in a carful of ebullient sixth graders. The early morning wake-up for the special breakfast or field trip. These moments will flash by, so grab them while you can. They are worth the price of a few years of the Jonas Brothers.
Trust this faculty. Whether your family is in year fifteen or year two, the Belmont Day journey is your child’s. As much as we parents seek to be the helping hand along the way, much of that responsibility falls to the BDS faculty. Allow me to say, wearing either hat, that you are in excellent hands. The faculty sincerely care about every one of the students in the school. So, my guidance here would be to trust them. Not everything they tell you will be positive. Not everything they tell you will be critical. But, everything they tell you will be honest, and everything they tell you is borne of their professional experience as educators dedicated to children this age.
Consider that they have been in the less than enviable position of occasionally delivering hard news to their head of school about his children. Yet, the professionalism, care, honesty, and thoughtfulness with which they have done so should give us all the confidence that they are willing to have the sometimes tricky conversations because our children are worth it. I say it a lot, but they really are the best.
Trust your child. Even though I work at the school and have a handle on what is best for all our students, not just my children, sometimes what I think they need and what they actually need is different. I found this to be especially challenging in the early childhood years as I wanted to protect them however I could, and sometimes that got in the way of my ability to trust that either they or their teachers saw something different. Parenting is, ultimately, the most humbling profession we have, and these were the most humbling years of all.
Borrow their perspective from time to time. The grown-up world can be stressful. We can sometimes carry an emotional weight because of the challenges of a work decision or some other conflict in our lives. The quickest antidote to that weight is to take a moment and cherish our children’s joy, curiosity, and wide-eyed perspective. Too many times to count, my children have been the ones at the dinner table or in the car ride to ask, “What are you spacing out about, Dad?” The honest answer may be a loose thread from the workday I’m still trying to tie up. The best way for me to work through something is usually the time with my children, reflecting on their day and hearing about their challenges and triumphs. That brief respite to enjoy the story about an ensemble rehearsal, a friend’s success in math class, or tomorrow’s psych for the big game often provides a better insight into my work challenge, primarily because it puts it in a much clearer perspective.
As a parent, you are meeting some of your closest friends. I use the same line each year at the first pre-kindergarten social: “You may not know it yet, but you are standing among some of your closest friends.” Invariably, throughout your time at Belmont Day—from second grade showcases and Greek festivals to Friday Night Lights and Winter Concerts to sleepovers and pool parties—you will find your own social life is shaped by your child’s. For my part, I couldn’t imagine a better group of parents with whom to have enjoyed this ride. Whether I worked at the school or not, the pride I felt in each of my daughter’s friends as they delivered their Capstones and how the whole parent body celebrated their success together is something I won’t soon forget. As our children graduate together next week, I take heart that BDS lives on for them in our relationships as much as our children’s.
Gratitude matters. The list of things I have learned is so long; this column could continue forever if my editors let me. Rather than put them in that spot to cut away, allow me to close with this: From time to time, my children have thanked me for something having to do with their Belmont Day experience. My middle child graduated in our first full year of navigating the pandemic. You might recall that it was a tiring year. Out of nowhere, right around this time of year, unprompted, my son offered his thanks for the school year. I nearly drove off the road through my tear-filled eyes. The students here—your children—really are grateful to you and their school for everything that goes into a year of growth, challenge, opportunity, and learning. So, in that vein, I wanted to return the favor here to my children and wife.
Thank you. Thank you for fifteen years which I will cherish forever. Thank you for enduring a change of career that moved you all from one school to another and taking that risk with me when let’s be honest, none of you were ready to join me at first. Thank you for believing in what Belmont Day could be with me as the head of school when my parental track record of remembering to get the groceries or ensuring that everyone had packed up their stuff for the day or surviving during the weeks your Mom was traveling would allow for some genuine doubt. In short, thanks for taking this ride with me. I will never forget it.
Have a great summer, everyone.