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  • Writer's pictureMike Vachow

Seen and Known

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

If you've been in a classroom that employs Responsive Classroom practice, you know that Morning Meeting always begins with a greeting, a moment for every member of the classroom community to be seen and welcomed into the day's work. Closing Circle at the end of the day provides the classroom community with a chance for reflection and a moment to bid each other farewell. In the very same way, Heads should treat the moments of arrival and dismissal as critical, daily opportunities to build community.

Or, as one of my mentors often said, "Nothing good happens in the Head's office at the beginning or end of the school day." This aphorism was the lead off to an admonition to take advantage of the high-touch time that the edges of the school day afford by being out of the office and abroad among the gathering/dispersing members of the school community. I learned over time to protect these times of the day on my calendar whenever possible and to develop a set of light weekly goals, typically a lot of thanking--the donors who improved their annual gifts this year, parent volunteers who supported the school picnic, hospitality and maintenance staff for staying late for Curriculum Night, etc.--a lot of checking in--the new faculty member who finished her first set of parent-teacher conferences, the Development Director whose son was having a rough entry to college--and a lot of introducing--the Head is one of a handful of people on campus who has the opportunity to know everyone in the community and can help people connect by making introductions.

I emphasize "light" goals for two important reasons. First, it's unfair to ambush teachers, parents, kids, staff with heavy stuff in moments that should be joyful and informal and which have tough time constraints around them by their very nature. A Head who too often uses these kinds of informal moments to buttonhole people will soon find herself lonely. Second, it's just as important to be open to the opportunities to know better kids, parents, teachers and staff in these flexible moments and to be available to help with dismissal duty, campus clean up, campus security, all key opportunities for Heads to build cultural capital.

Conversely, the Head bunkered in his office at the end of the day is a sitting duck for the impromptu meeting with a parent or teacher on his last nerve, and even in the occasional scenario in which the visitor bears happy news--a funny story, a new baby on the way--the ratio is still grotesquely lopsided because in meeting with one constituent, the Head has missed the opportunity to connect with hundreds. Likewise, these moments are excellent opportunities for other key administrators--particularly the Director of Enrollment--to remain connected with families, teachers and staff. Making the Head, Director of Enrollment, and Division Directors visibly available (ideally "at large") at these times of day should be a concrete part of any school's retention strategy.

This same mentor also said, "You can tell a lot about a school and its people by seeing how they arrive and depart," and that's as true a statement as I know about the beautiful mess that is a school where most seeming truths are quickly eroded by a lot of subjunctive and conditional phrases. I like to tilt this aphorism to sound something more like this: "You can tell a lot about a school by seeing how they greet people and bid them farewell." Any member of a school community should expect to be seen and known, to be missed when they're gone, to be celebrated with the happiest of goodbyes when they graduate or move away, to be welcomed as an essential part of the community every day. In fact, without this core expectation, any curricular innovation or exciting new program will feel inauthentic.

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