Sending Light to Our School Communities

These remarks are adapted from a talk I gave at our recent International Teaching and Learning Conference

As a writer I often think about approximations. What are the words we use to approximate the multitudes we mean? One of my favorite approximations is “sending light.”  Light is the magic that makes both life and art possible. It is powerful and ubiquitous: a guiding streetlight, a sparkling birthday candle, the first pink rays of a new day, Shabbos candles on Friday night, twinkling Christmas lights framing a house, the Kwanzaa kinara, fireworks…  In this holiday season, we celebrate so many festivals of lights. 

My school community recently held an international teaching conference on light bulb moments. We focused on the strategies to find, ignite, honor, and sustain the sparks that make learning happen and keep scholars engaged.

What are the things that matter most in education?

These guideposts shine a powerful and practical light on the decisions we make, the projects to focus on, the skills we develop, and the values we strive to cultivate in our schools. 

Our annual teaching and learning conference is a special occasion to gather together as a global learning community and explore these shining lights. Last week, educators joined us from eight countries to ask big questions about teaching, learning, and resilience. 

Resilience is the ability to persist, adapt, and emerge anew. Our conference both celebrated these acts and explored the conditions needed to make resilience possible. On the dawn of what we hope is a bright new moment in education, I am inspired by countless ways educators in our community continue to persist, adapt, and emerge anew. 

I am reminded of my first trip to Brazil more than six years ago. I had just joined this school community and had the opportunity to travel to Brazil and work with some of the teachers in our program.  One day, I met a small child on the beach. She asked me questions in Portuguese and I answered in fragmented Spanish as it was the best I could do at the time.  Her older sister, who was maybe six, tried to translate. We soon gave up, instead giving in to giggling as the surf tickled our toes, cooing at the beautiful shiny shells along the sand. I went home and started studying Portuguese–language learning matters deeply to me as a school leader. 

My first teaching position was at a school that served primarily English Learners and newcomers. There I developed a healthy practice of greeting my students in their home language: sabah alkhyr, bom dia, buenos dias, habari …

In these words, I wanted to create a connection that felt like home. To put it poetically, I want my students to know that in our classroom, someone will always leave a light on for you.

A Moment of Reconnecting

My writing and research talks about safeguarding the sacred space between people interested in connecting. With hope, we are in a moment of reconnecting. The prefix re means again or back. This year our school is reimagining and revisioning, just like you. We know that the classrooms we are preparing the next generation of educators for look different from the classrooms we learned in. They are more technology-mediated, global, and connected.  

These connections transcend school walls. In fact, I believe the best way to shine a light on what matters most in education is to pay attention to the ways our students are changing the world. I am thinking of our student leaders who are organizing initiatives to support the housing insecure population in Sao Paulo, students who have partnered with cancer hospitals to perform music and collect food, and the middle school scholar who reaches out to someone new to say: “Sit here. We can always make room for one more at our table.”   It all comes back to relationships.

To close, I want to offer a revision of a famous line by the poet Marianne Williamson: As we let our own light shine, we intentionally give our students permission to do the same. 

Sending light and care to you and yours. 

-Dr. KFW