A Time for Reflection
By Head of Lower School Marna Weiss
As the 2016–2017 school year comes to a close and retirement looms large, I find myself reflecting back on my career in education and trying to figure out exactly what it is I have learned. From my first teaching job in a suburb of Chicago with a master’s degree in hand at the ripe old age of 22, and 36 kindergarteners in my morning session and 36 more in the afternoon with no assistant, I was convinced I could conquer the world. Or, at least be able to teach 72 five-year-olds.
Needless to say, I had a lot to learn. I have taught many grade levels, was an admission director, took the lead on a year-long accreditation process, and have spent the past 21 years as principal/director of Lower School at two independent schools. It has been an amazing journey, and I think I finally figured out, at least for myself, what’s most important when it comes to educating young people.
First and foremost is character education. Every person matters, and what matters most is how we treat people. Children need to have empathy and be able to see things from someone else’s perspective. They need to understand that they are part of a bigger community, where collaboration is vital. There is much value in working toward a common goal. Children need to learn to be accountable for their words and actions, understanding that no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Everyone begins life with a good name; keeping it should be a lifelong goal.
Now in today’s world, mindfulness is necessary to keep kids healthy. Children cannot learn if they feel stressed or don’t know how to regulate strong emotions. They need to learn strategies and techniques to help them feel comfortable and be in the right mindset to learn. Our teachers at LJCDS have become experts at making sure there are many “brain breaks” during the day and enough down time to create the optimal environment for learning. Parents can help by not over-programming their children with too many afterschool activities and allow time just to let them play.
The relationships and connections that children have with their teachers are of utmost importance to the learning process. Children who feel loved and trusted by a teacher will return those feelings and know they have a cheerleader on their side no matter what the challenge. They will be willing to take risks knowing they are in a safe environment. Most importantly, their self-esteem will remain strong and intact as they navigate the many complexities of school life.
You may notice that I have not yet touched on academics. This is not because I don’t feel they play an important part, but because I have learned that unless all of the above are in place, children will not be able to reach their potential in the academic arena. The drive toward academic excellence should always be there, with teachers constantly learning and putting best practices into place. The students who best take advantage of the program are those who feel connected, get along well with their peers, and feel good about themselves. LJCDS is a wonderful place for children to grow and thrive.
I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with the Lower School families and faculty. When I reflect on my years as an educator, La Jolla Country Day School will always hold a special place in my heart.