Behold this day. It is yours to make.
Black Elk 1863 – 1950 – Oglala Lakota
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave behind.
I love the first day of school and all the promise of renewal, fresh starts, and opportunity that awaits. This is the 3rd school year in a row that I have not been standing in front of a group of students wide-eyed with excitement, trepidation, and nervous smiles. Of all the things that I miss about being at “the chalk-face”, the first day back is probably the annual event I long for most.
It didn’t matter the age group, the message was and still is pretty much the same. In fact, I would offer the same words of advice and encouragement each year to my teachers and fellow administrators then as I do now.
Whether it is January the 1st, or 1 Tishrei, 1 Muharram that you are celebrating, the notion that there is a fresh start offered each and every year is pretty much universal. Similarly, no matter where you are in the world, the celebration of a new year revolves around gratitude, cleaning, eating, and a heartfelt appreciation of family and friends. It is seen as an opportunity for renewal and new beginnings. Out with the old and in with the new.
And this is the thing that excites me about a new school year. Though obviously not as steeped in meaning and significance, every year we as educators, students, and lifelong learners are afforded an opportunity to start fresh. What a gift!
And though every new school year is similar in terms of events and preparations, this one seems even more special than those of the past. For one thing, most students will be returning to in-person learning for the first time in many months. No doubt those opening day jitters are even more pronounced this year, but so too is the excitement of reuniting with friends and interacting with teachers, coaches, and yes, even principals and vice-principals! As a principal, my door was always open to staff, students, and teachers and I know that I miss both the casual drop-ins, as well as the serious planned meetings. No matter the reason for their occurrence, all were and are opportunities for growth, reflection, and learning.
This year is different from all others in that many students will once again be able to participate in the co-curriculars that so often are the highlights of a school year. Clubs, bands, teams, plays, musicals, and all the rest doesn’t only look great on a résumé, but they also define individuals and allow them to shine in ways they can’t always achieve in a traditional classroom. It’s what makes individuals unique and what offers them a sense of who they are or who they want to be.
And that is so much of what the new school year offers to students and teachers alike. It is the chance to seize or behold the day and to make it yours. To create fresh tracks not for others to follow, but by which we define ourselves. The start of a new school year allows us to build on both the missteps and the surefooted moments of the past. Unlike a religious or secular fresh start, one need not lay out pious or passionate resolutions to hold firm throughout the new year. Instead, it enables one to set realistic goals. To take small steps towards becoming the student or teacher that reflects your best self.
So, as I would if I were standing in front of a gathering of nervously excited students or teachers, I wish you all the best for this new school year. Take the opportunity afforded to you and make a fresh start. Learn from the past, but don’t spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror. Push yourself to be the best version of yourself. Know that it won’t or shouldn’t always be easy and that there will be challenges and mistakes along this new path you are blazing. Be determined to learn from these teachable moments and to persevere both inside and outside of your comfort zone. It may not be easy, but it will be worth it