Together, we know as the adults caring for children’s lives and guiding their journey, that they need and deserve the space of school. They need to be introduced to what it means to learn, what it means to experience structure, what it means to begin to develop executive functioning skills, what it means to discover new passions, and what it means to develop deep and meaningful relationships. We also believe deeply as a progressive Quaker school that this learning includes our values of service, our full identities and the complexity of those identities, working toward a more just society, and that when we are really in community, we see each other. We know one another, and we recognize the why in each other—the why that establishes the reasons why we choose to be here at Brooklyn Friends.
This school year has brought forward many experiences that showcase just how the mission and philosophy of BFS come to life. In my role as Head of Lower School, I often receive questions about what our identity as a progressive school means and how it comes to life. I often think about the way in which teachers acknowledge student thought, how they offer guiding questions, and how they amplify student voice as a part of the learning process. There are many examples I could cite in regard to leadership positions in classrooms and the ways in which academics and passions come forward in students. However, it is important to note that not all of those passions take place in the classrooms.
Recently, I was in the cafeteria with third and fourth graders while they were eating lunch. When lunch is in action, there are many different things occurring all at once. Some students are in line to make a choice about hot lunch, others are creating a salad at the salad bar, others are socializing at tables with peers—the space comes alive as everyone gathers to eat together each day. I found myself alongside a group of third grade colleagues observing the scene and looking for students that might need support.
One of the third grade students had chosen a bagel after eating some of the hot lunch. She independently walked across the cafeteria to where the many condiments are set out for students to select from—cream cheese, butter, ketchup, ranch dressing, etc., just to name a few. This student chose to pick up a packet of the BBQ sauce.
We observed with curiosity as the student carefully pulled off the top of the barbecue sauce to top her bagel. There was a definite amount of deep concentration happening as she began to tip the container to pour out the contents. Just then, her third grade teacher with a kind and curious voice asked, “Friend, is that that flavor that you are interested in and looking forward to eating today?” This direction came from a place of guidance and was supporting how we make selections when we are intending to eat an entire bagel covered in barbecue sauce. The student paused, considered the question, paused again, and then made a different choice.
The reason I share this story is that I want to recognize how our teachers make meaning out of every teachable moment. In a different school setting, this child may have just been reprimanded or a judgment may have been made about the choice and the child could have just been told to pick something else and had the BBQ sauce taken away. Instead, at BFS, our teachers help to guide with questioning, curiosity, and support. This is where our progressive nature comes forward, and how the child’s decision and voice has a place to grow and lead. I am also now thinking about the flavor of a bagel with BBQ sauce—it’s not something I have experienced yet.
What we know about children, is what you already know as families, our children need close connection with each other, with their teachers, and those that they form deep bonds with. In moments like this we get to see and experience the full breadth and humanity and skill of each child. Children are deeply sophisticated, and they remind us of the awe and wonder that is found in our world. We also know that this time and this experience is what will build up the independence and full depth of the person that each child will become.
Jason Novak is the Head of Lower School at BFS.