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Brendan Largay, Head of School

When 1000 Words Can Make a Great Photograph

I spent the weekend and the first part of this week at the Elementary School Heads Association retreat with 50-plus heads of school from across the country. We heard from great speakers and shared the experiences that have helped to shape the start of the year. We were also reminded, again and again, of the importance of the work happening in our schools to guide our students in navigating the powerful social forces that they face in an increasingly complex world.

The theme of the conference was “Lead with a Story,” and much of our time was spent examining our role as the author or audience to our own stories, whether we are school leaders, teachers, parents, or children. Too often these days, the world is working hard to write our stories for us. For anyone who has done any online shopping lately, it is impossible not to notice that many of the websites we visit follow us in our digital travels. This is the work of AI, shaping our narrative by making assumptions, applying an algorithm to them, and waiting for us to engage. A virtual pen, poised for the next opportunity to contribute to the authorship of our story.

While at the conference, we were shown a video clip made by the camera company Canon that finished with the tagline, “A photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than by what is in front of it.” This is an important reminder that we bring a pen of our own to all of our interactions with others. We arrive at every conversation and interaction with a pre-constructed sense of who the person is that we are speaking with before we even begin.

So, as we arrive at the first set of parent conferences, I want to pose this question for parents and teachers alike: Are you, as the photographer, aware of the implicit ways that you shape the picture?

To mix metaphors for a brief moment, I offer this critical reminder—everyone here is trying to row in the same direction. Teachers and parents, together, have the best interest of the child at heart. So, as you arrive at conferences, I trust that all parties hold up the most positive frame they can imagine for the child at the heart of the discussion. Our students are amazing—full of life, vibrancy, and potential.  

Throughout my career in education, I have sometimes experienced the challenges of the artificial construct of parent conferences: “You have 30 minutes to tell me everything I need to know about Petunia … Go!” And I have seen how this construct can lead us to frame this “photo session” with the struggles and weaknesses first. “My child really isn’t understanding how to…” from a parent, or “Petunia seems to struggle most when…” from a teacher.

What if, instead, the conversation was informed differently by our parent and teacher photographers? What if the photograph of Petunia’s progress is filtered through the lens of Belmont Day’s core values? “Petunia is at her most respectful when…”  or, “my child is nothing if not profoundly honest with us as parents.” Think of the foundation of trust that we can build! We are here, together, to discuss the wonder of this child. That doesn’t make them perfect. That doesn’t mean we can’t find a few things for them to work on. But it does mean that the spirit of our meeting, the intent behind the photograph is to show something authentic about them because there are no two photographers who better understand this subject than parent and teacher.  

We all know a photo is worth a thousand words. It is my hope for you all that during your conferences, a thousand words provide an incredible photograph.  

Have a great weekend, everyone. (And go, Sox!)


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