Dear Gateway Families,
I relished the opportunity to speak with many of you at Back-to-School-Night last week. Just as the children burst with excitement during Preview Day and joyfully engaged in the year’s first First Friday, the chance to connect with new and returning families energizes our faculty and staff. Back to School Night is such an important step in shaping the family/school dialogue into a strong and aligned partnership, and as one of the central rituals of the beginning of the school year, it helps us establish the meaningful connection and community that supports student growth over the year to come.
At Gateway, success is defined as much more than academic and intellectual skills. We want children to know how to make and keep friends and solve conflicts, and to have a sustaining portion of self-esteem and resilience. We know that success often comes in a journey that includes failures — by being tired, hungry and wet, a child learns to appreciate being rested, dry, and warm. We want our kids to learn how to deal with difficult people, so we continue to hold them accountable even if they feel challenged by a classmate or uninspired by a teacher. By doing so, they will learn valuable lessons that will help them throughout their journey towards adulthood.
With this in mind, this year at Back-To-School-Night I offered some advice to new Elementary families as well as Middle School families. I am pleased to offer those same thoughts here, condensed and consolidated in blog form, for anyone who was unable to attend last week’s events.
- Most children are very sensitive to time. Please arrive on time or even a little early in the mornings, and try not to miss a day next to vacations.
- Resist the temptation to over-schedule. We want children to have lots of opportunities, but free play is essential neurologically; it makes kids smarter, and helps them learn to solve problems, iterate, imagine, and develop stronger social skills.
- Keep “the long game” in mind. Raising a school-aged child can be hard, especially when a child has a hard day or bad experience. Please be careful of mistaking a snapshot for an epic movie, and avoid catastrophizing. Remind your child that tomorrow will be a new day.
- Hold your child accountable. Your child will mess up — whether it’s not doing homework, or being disruptive, or speaking rudely, or not being truthful. If we tell you that there’s a problem with your child’s behavior in school, remember that we want the best for your child. It’s important for children to see that we have standards and expectations, and that when they don’t meet those, we expect better from them.
- Hold all of the children, including your own, with compassion. Growing up is hard to do, and children should not be shamed for their struggles to mature. For many people, early adolescence is a very difficult time to be kind. It’s also a hard time for many kids to learn to follow through academically, to manage their emotions, and to navigate a shifting sea filled with peers experiencing their own intense identity formations.
- Model the behaviors you wish to see. This includes how you talk about other people, including children, parents, teachers and staff; how you reach out to build an inclusive and loving community; how you resolve conflicts and settle disagreements; how you use phones at home around the family; and how you celebrate successes, share worries, and set goals for yourself.
- Expect your child to struggle academically at some point, and don’t freak out when that happens. School work won’t always be easy, and it also won’t always be hard. Certainly don’t conflate quantity and quality. And please, please don’t ever do your child’s homework for your child — we need to know what your child can do on their own.
- Learn to speak adolescent. If your child says they are “bored”, it doesn’t usually mean they are bored. It does mean they have some unmet need, or are anxious, or that they are struggling to understand the work (and yes, in some rare cases they are actually bored). Similarly, if your child says “whatever”, they don’t mean “I don’t care what you say.” They mean “I care so much about what you say, and it’s different from what I believe, and I’m having cognitive dissonance about this and I don’t know how to resolve that.”
- You probably know less about devices, social media, and the online world of children than you think you know. Online behavior is a tattoo, not a footprint, because it never goes away, and social media is extracting data you probably don’t even know you are providing (that’s how they make money off us). There’s also new research on how screens affect brain development. So take the time to do the research, and make intentional decisions. Check out last year’s parent education even with Lori Getz on the school’s Youtube channel for more.
My hope is that all of our families engage in an ongoing conversation about our beliefs and values as families, think carefully about the parenting choices we make, and don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees when it comes to the hard work of raising children. We are confident that your children are poised to become outstanding adults. While they are here at Gateway, they will have an extraordinary experience, and an aligned family/school partnership is an essential part of the supportive environment that our children deserve.
Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School