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Deborah Brissenden, Assistant Head of School and Director of Curriculum and Instruction

Here?s to a Quieter Year Filled with Sounds of Joy, Learning, and Discovery

This past summer felt luxurious. I had time to walk, read, spend time with friends, feel safe, and spend two weeks away from campus. I also spent a lot of time reflecting on what I had learned and rebuilding the stamina to start this fall. After 18 months of nonstop planning, tension, anxiety, and heavy lifting it was amazing to feel like I could breathe again, the long sustaining breathing that guides the body out of constant movement and reaction, into pausing and thinking. It was the opportunity to dwell on a challenge put forth by Elena Aguilar in her May Educational Leadership article, “Emerging Stronger” Her challenge to leaders was to reflect on four questions:

  1. What did you learn about yourself as a person? As a teacher, coach, leader?
  2. What did you learn about creating the conditions for learning?
  3. What did you learn about your students and colleagues?
  4. What did you learn about your emotions? Your resilience? What do you need in order to thrive?

I love her questions because they are easily transferred to any role in life–parent, spouse, doctor, artist, student, friend, or colleague. If you are a visual thinker or journal writer, find a clean page and begin your own reflection!

My reflection brought together much of my recent reading, leadership master’s work, strategic planning, and experience through the unexpected challenges and joys of an ever-changing career in education. This year, through Scoop articles, I will answer each of these questions and share a deeper look into the BDS community and the courageous professionals with which we learn and teach.

What did you learn about yourself as a person? As a teacher, coach, leader?

Jumping into this year, I look forward to the sights and sounds of children in the playground and classrooms. I imagine the chatter and laughter and a high-pitched excited, “Ms. Brissenden, look!” or the thoughtful comment of a teacher, “I wonder if ..” Even after 28 non-stop years of learning, building, innovating, and nurturing at BDS, I still love working in a school setting with the busy sounds of children and faculty working, creating, and sharing. As an educator, there are few things more joyful and invigorating than collaborating with a team of creative and dedicated professionals to provide a child with the opportunity and environment to make discoveries, stretch their developing physical and intellectual muscles, and join in marveling at a treasure or experience.

As I think about the coming year, I know there will also be furrowed brows of concentration, the broad smiles of accomplishment, and the wide eyes of wonder. I also picture seeing those honest moments of frustration, worry, and sadness that come with navigating childhood, teacher-hood, and parenthood. And I look forward to the individual connections with the children and adults I know well and the hesitations of those individuals I am about to understand better.

I envisage, and hope for, opportunities to move more slowly through the sounds and sights of the school with more time to listen to the student, teacher, or parent with information or concerns to share. I trust I will be able to occasionally answer their questions successfully, problem-solve, and gently push them to try on a new perspective or approach. My calm exterior frequently disguises my inner voices and the vulnerability of someone who is privileged to share my colleagues’ challenges, as well as their triumphs. This past year I learned to find more moments of color and joy in the smallest of experiences and through the lenses of others’ stories and accomplishments.

I am eager to embrace many more days that include time with both children and adults. The year will no doubt have curriculum meetings, strategic planning, question-posing, and goal-reaching. This is the hard work that provides opportunities to reflect, debate, celebrate, and most importantly, moves us closer to excellence. However, I hope this new year is not only full of meetings but includes time for quiet, to reflect, plan, and breathe deeply.

I also know now that each day (even if it takes all day!), I need at least one item crossed off my to-do list, and, at least, half a mug of tea drunk, to feel a sense of accomplishment. It does not have to be easy, but it does need to feel like we are moving forward and improving our practice of teaching and leading. Our work should feel strongly connected to the values and mission of a school and have children at its center. I yearn for the problems and crises we face to stretch us but not divide us. They should instead help us grow, innovate, and be better at what we do.

I plan to be in classrooms more this year and to continue to develop my presence as a leader, embracing my quietness and voice. I hope to spend time as an educator and school leader refocusing our efforts on excellence through curriculum review work, scope and sequence development, and the implementation of our faculty feedback and evaluation plan, GOAL.

While last year was indeed a year of nimbleness, struggle, and hardship, it was also one of revelation, spotlighting, honing, and building. I saw in myself and my colleagues a steely resolve, the ability to give wholeheartedly, and the recognition of the power of community and connection. I hope you will spend the year reflecting on your own journey and partnering with a deeply committed, skillful, and passionate faculty this year.

Have a great school year, everyone!

Giving Thanks

On Tuesday, we will gather for our annual Thanksgiving assembly—an opportunity to express gratitude as a community.

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