What Being a Kindergarten Parent Has Taught Me

Posted by Ryan Liese - 27 August, 2018

After ten years of working at Randolph, and all of the experiences I’ve had here, I thought I was pretty well versed in what the School has to offer. But this year, our daughter, Hannah, started Kindergarten, and it's given me a whole new perspective. Every day has been a learning experience for me, and my eyes have opened to the amazing parallels between what happens in Kindergarten (the basis of all important life lessons) and our work in the Upper School, so I’d like to share with you, “Lessons I’ve learned (or re-learned) as a kindergarten parent.”

Sharing is Important

erOpening Convocation 2018 - 7730605-1For Hannah, like most kindergarten students, her favorite part of Opening Convocation was eating cookies afterwards with her Senior Buddies. I used the word “with” loosely, as I’m pretty sure she stuffed at least five cookies in her mouth before everything was said and done, but at one point she looked up at me, and then looked at her buddy and offered her one of those cookies. Now, lucky for Hannah, her buddy wasn’t hungry, so she still got the cookie, but it was good for her to understand why it’s important to share.

For the Upper School this year, we’re focusing on ways in which we can share more about ourselves. We’ll continue to utilize advisory for some of this work, but we’ve also started a new program called Senior Speeches. Seniors have an opportunity to volunteer to speak at Community Time about something they believe in or value deeply. Our first two speeches took place recently, and they were incredibly powerful opportunities for both of those students and for our community as a whole.

Embrace the fear

Opening Convocation 2018 speakerNext, it’s okay to be scared or uncertain. Our SGA President, Sarah Whelden, delivered a speech of her own at Opening Convocation in which she said: “Most of the time, becoming independent is viewed as a sign of maturity and responsibility, or at least that is what we are told, but for those of us going through it, the small steps can be just as scary as the big ones.”

It struck me that while her intended audience may have been her peers and fellow Randolph students, this may have been as meaningful a message for the parents—that was definitely the case for me. For some of us, parents and students, we’re joining a new school, or arriving on a new campus. There are new classes and clubs and teams. For some of our students, just being a teenager is a bit scary—and it’s definitely scary to be the parent of a teenager. I have years of personal research on that topic.

Our work is to support our students’ growth, challenge them, put them in positions to feel as though they are being asked to think more deeply or commit more fully, but empathize with how that makes them feel and work with them to keep going. It’s okay for us to be scared, because it’s all part of the journey we’re on together.

Learning Takes Time

Hannah's picHannah came home on the second day of school with her first bag of library books. We sat at the table, and I asked her which book she wanted me to read first. She pointed to the book on the top of the pile and said, “Let’s read I Love the Rain.” So I grabbed the book and then stopped and looked at her and said, “Did you just read that?” And she said, “Yes.” And I said, “When did you learn how to do that?” And she said, “I don’t know, I just know those words.” And I just remember thinking, “She’s been at school for two days and she’s reading…Randolph is amazing!”

Now, I know that I might have overreacted slightly in this instance—she doesn’t know every word yet—but it’s been really rewarding to watch her try new things, grapple with something which is challenging, and get something wrong, but realize how to fix it.

Our Upper School students will still go through this. We might think that since they’re older, they won’t face these same obstacles, but our job is to continue to challenge them to help them grow. Many times that growth will be slow, but it is that slow growth that builds the foundation for the greatest learning experiences.

And our last lesson for now:

Words matter, but actions matter more

gratitude tweetHannah’s class uses Golden Tickets to highlight when they’ve been kind or helpful in class. I’ve loved talking to Hannah about this, about the tickets and, more importantly, why it is that she got a Golden Ticket to help reinforce that behavior and how good it feels to do that.

At our opening Community Time, I challenged the Upper School to focus on gratitude, and that while it’s important to tell people when we are grateful or thankful for something they’ve said or done, it’s even more meaningful to show them through our actions.

Later that day, I needed to bring Hannah over to the Upper School for lunch because the Lower School dismissed earlier that day. We went to the lunchroom, and Hannah saw one of her senior buddies. She ran right up to her and gave her a big hug. And then her buddy asked if she wanted to eat lunch with her and her friends—and it made Hannah’s day, which of course made my day, too. I made sure to tell them how meaningful that was, but then I decided to share my gratitude for this moment with others.

I’ve been sharing those moments ever since, my own moments of gratitude for something that happens during the day. I’ve tried to tell people, and show them when possible, how grateful I am for their contributions to our community, and how their actions are impacting me and the other people around them. Our students often say we are a family, but I want that to be more than words.

We will reach out to the person who is not feeling good and make sure they know how much they mean to us. When it would be easy to think about ourselves, or how something makes us look or feel, to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and make sure they feel validated. I want all of us to show and share and demonstrate our gratitude for being here, for being a part of this community, because even though we’ll learn all of these lessons this year (and probably a lot more!)—and some of them will be hard lessons to learn--there’s no better place to learn them than right here with this community, and for that, I know that I am personally very grateful.

You can learn a lot about our Upper School by following Mr. Liese on Twitter @rmliese.
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Topics: Kindergarten, reading, Kindergarten/Senior Buddies, kindness

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