What do you do when you barely have a few seconds to breath, let alone write a weekly blog? This has been a wonderfully jammed packed week filled with amazing Torah and General Studies learning, new classes running above expectations, a visit from Yeshivah University, a freshman class that I am so proud of, a back to school bash to top all previous bashes and the usual day to day principaling. I am not sure what you do, but I reminded myself how much I enjoy communicating with our parents and getting their amazing responses and stopped everything, sat down on my sweet office couch, popped open a cold can of Diet Dr. Pepper and wrote.
Yes, we had a great week. Yet, with all the greatness, there is one aspect of our first day of school that I can’t get out of my mind. It represents a message that is an important focus for us this year, which is students being front and center.
Over the last couple of years we have been focusing more and more on student leadership. We have done this through our work with integrating the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People into our day to day learning. We created the Student Lighthouse Team last year for students who want to get involved with school growth and improvement. We have increased the ways in which a student can explore their personal interests and passions through clubs, the Principal Project, Mishmar Club Program and co-curricular classes. Our staff has been learning and implementing Project-Based Learning which is a model that allows for more student voice and choice in how they learn and illustrate their learning. This summer we designed the VT I.D.E.A. Lab to continue our focus on student innovation and creativity. The list goes on and it is very clear we have being doing a fantastic job putting students first. However, it was not until a short announcement after davening on the first day of school that I realized something is different.
It was right after davening and seniors Joseph Bral and Avishai Mermelstein were asked to address the student body. At first I was concerned, because shortly into their address, Avishai said the words “there are no rules here.” YIKES! Thankfully they did not end there.
Their message was about responsibility and leadership. They encouraged the students to remember that they come to school to learn, grow, mature and develop into the unique young adults they will be when they leave here. They addressed some of the rules of the school and pointed out how they believe they exist to keep everyone safe and comfortable. At the same time they pointed out that students should not see the “rules” as “rules” and rather as a “cause and effect.” In fact, they suggested that the administration would prefer to have less rules and more personal responsibility making some of the rules obsolete. They are correct. For example, the dreaded cell phone policy was mentioned, but so was an understanding that if the phones were used responsibly in school we would happily relook at our current policy and any and all policies for that matter. Joseph and Avishai made it clear that that we are all in this together. I could not think of a better message to help students understand that their voices matters and we want more of it.
Now this may not seem like such a big deal. It was just one student address. However, to me it represented an important shift. Students addressing the student body about school culture and asking that we all work together to continue making Valley Torah great is the best way I could think of starting the year. We want the students to be front and center and that means all of us working to give the students a platform for an impactful voice. It also means that students take advantage of that platform and use it in a mature and responsible manner in service of their education. It is their school and they are here to learn so they can be successful in Yeshiva, College and Life. It is that last bit, life, that most schools seem to forget about. We can’t. We won’t. We haven’t.