Renewing a Call for New Understandings

Principal Search Parent Focus Groups

Thursday, January 21 – 8:00 am
Tuesday, January 26 – 7:00 pm (PTO Meeting)

The purpose of these focus groups is to get input from community members on the type of person and leader our community wants as the next principal. Please try to attend one of theses sessions.  Your voice is welcome and valued.

Renewing a Call for New Understandings

A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece reflecting on issues of race in our country.  I cited a quote from an educational journal:  “The health of our society depends on our ability to engage others’ perspectives and come to new understandings through dialogue.”*

Last Friday, as our school recognized the Martin Luther King Day holiday during Community Meeting, I was reminded of this message, as well as my belief that educators have an opportunity and a responsibility to make the world a better place – by teaching respect, promoting understanding and working to change inequities in our society.

During Community Meeting, I spoke to students about Dr. King’s legacy and his ability to foster change through his powerful speeches and nonviolent protests.  Making a connection to our third grade students who have been learning to write “brave and bold” speeches to advocate for viewpoints they care about, I cited the example of Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” song that helped sway popular opinion and bring about the passage of a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King in 1983.

Following my remarks, students from 2SC each shared a line from the “I Am” poems they had written. After reading a line, each student placed a paper on a display board. The papers came together to form a beautiful mosaic of Dr. King – demonstrating both the power of their words and how each one of us contributes to the mosaic of our community.  Then two buddy classes (1C and 3K) performed a children’s song together called “Mr. King.”  Their words range out with a hopeful message, “Oh yes we do believe…we believe that everyone is equal…. we believe.”

Teaching respect and promoting understanding is work that must be ongoing throughout the school year.  Our school vision states “students learn to respect themselves and others and to value and honor the diversity of cultures, backgrounds, and learning differences.”  Community Meeting provides a public way for us to make a statement about this vision.   However, there is other, less public work, that is happening every day.  When we help students resolve a conflict at recess, we are teaching them to engage through dialogue. When we discuss issues during class meetings and advisory, we teach students to listen with understanding and empathy (a habit of mind).   When our third graders write speeches with reasons and supporting evidence, we teach them to think and communicate with clarity and precision(another habit of mind). And when we give them choice in their topic, we help learn to develop a “voice for self-expression” (also in our school vision).

Sadly, the issues that led to my writing a year ago have continued into 2015. As recently as November, President Obama was still trying to help people understand why the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is important (http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2015/10/obama-defends-black-lives-matter/412066/).   Our own town of Brookline is grappling with recent allegations of racism within the police department.   And the rhetoric from some presidential candidates has included unconscionable statements about excluding people based on their country of origin or religion.

As we observe the Martin Luther King holiday, I invite you join us in the ongoing work to teach respect, to promote understanding and to address inequities.  Working together, I believe we can help our children arrive at new understandings. Yes, I do believe.

Rick Rogers
rick_rogers@brookline.k12.ma.us

*  Tyson et al (Educational Leadership November 2014)

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