Preparing for the New School Year by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School
There is excitement and anxiety for a new school year—for students, faculty and parents.
In 25 years of working with high school kids, I have never slept on the night before the first day of school.
I know this makes no sense—yet I have come to understand why this is so. Most importantly I am excited to get going; to meet and get to know a new group of students and to immerse myself in the daily action of Nobles. But I’m also nervous about teaching an engaging first class, developing connections with new advisees, planning a challenging yet fun practice.
When our own kids were at Nobles, my insomnia around school opening was magnified. How was the year going to go for them? Would they like their teachers? Could they make good decisions? How were their grades going to be? Were they going to make the team they desperately wanted to make? Would I achieve the right parental balance?
One of the most emailed New York Times articles of the summer—“Raising Successful Children” (Click here for the full article)—addressed the challenges we all face as parents heading in to a new school year, and I’d strongly encourage Nobles parents to click the link and read it (even more than I’d encourage you to finish this newsletter piece!).
There has been significant research done of late around “optimal parenting”—being a parent who is “involved and responsive, who sets high expectations but respects her/his child’s autonomy.” Achieving this balance is easier said than done but clearly revolves around the need to give children (especially as they mature into mid- to late-adolescence) the autonomy they need to make mistakes and to learn from them.
At Nobles we work hard to create a supportive environment where the challenges of school life provide a modicum of regular discomfort. The new math theorem, the complex passage of a novel, the service outreach to a new neighborhood and myriad other experiences provide opportunities where the greatest growth can take place (as Madeline Levine says, “In this gray area of just beyond the comfortable is where resilience is born”). But we have to remember that part and parcel of such growth can be moments of confusion, unhappiness and frustration.
A true adage to me is that we are only as happy as our unhappiest child. It is normal for us to be anxious about our children and what is in store for them. Yet, as Levine asserts, “…the child’s job is to grow, and our job is to control our anxiety so it doesn’t get in the way of his or her reasonable moves towards autonomy.”
I know the coming school year will provide many opportunities for our students (your children) to continue their move towards autonomy. There will be exciting and anxiety-provoking moments along the way for all of us. Yet when our kids work their way through them, it will mean important growth for them—and some deep satisfaction and pride for the adults who care about them.
Welcome back to another school year!