How was the first day of classes?
The familiar question, asked in the hallways at school and over phone, email, and text from everyone close in my life, feels particularly poignant this year.
In short, Tuesday, September 7 felt to me like a celebration. Students donned dress code outfits—not without much debate and perhaps some consternation on the part of a few students—and found their way to classes in Amos, Founders, and O’Brien. Teachers enjoyed coffee and breakfast pastries in the new faculty room. And all our beautiful campus spaces—no classroom tents this year—were gleaming and ready for the learning to begin. Great anticipation, planning, and energy went into our collective preparation for the first day and for the 2021-22 school year.
Teachers and students alike have been thinking deeply about the opportunities and the challenges before us. All our students, faculty, and staff are back together again on campus, and we once again have the ability to hold immersive, 75-minute in-person classes. Because we’re returning from a period of interruption and distance, we’re noticing with fresh eyes what it means to learn and teach here at St. Andrew’s. It’s almost as if all of us are new this year.
During our opening meetings, faculty focused intensively on ways to build and rebuild our inclusive, collaborative academic culture, and how to teach the habits and skills of genuine intellectual engagement. With those goals in mind, on the first day of class, teachers talked a lot about:
- how to listen
- how to take part
- how to support
- how to concentrate
- how to manage time
These skills are the first rails on the scaffolding we will build for our newest and youngest students as they learn to problem-solve, reason, write, debate, and deduce. But after the dislocation of the past 18 months, even our VI Formers—indeed, even our faculty—may need to dust off their intellectual toolkits. As teachers, we attended closely to where students are in their learning of these core skills and content—or, as we say in the Faculty Handbook: we worked to get to know each student as a learner. Our job as teachers is to adapt and build from there.
We asked III Form students in a survey this week what they most looked forward to; the top responses were building relationships with teachers and classmates. And in our meetings with new faculty in August, teachers explained that they joined St. Andrew’s to be part of a school where positive teacher-student relationships, strong engagement, and respect and trust between all members of the community are the foundation of the culture. The “joy of learning”—something we talk a lot about here—is always going to be rooted in that moment of discovery, or that feeling of understanding or doing something that you previously thought you could not. However, this year, I think all of us appreciate more than ever the type of intellectual joy that is rooted in making connections—not just between concepts, but with other people. We are even more aware of the joy of togetherness—the joy of listening, taking part, and supporting each other. Of course, all of those skills can be practiced over Zoom, but there is a kind of irreplaceable intellectual alchemy that occurs when humans occupy a space together.
So what will we do with our togetherness this year? That’s what we’re all here to find out.