By Richard Kaufman
Earlier this week, as ‘Welcome Back’ by John Sebastian blared over the Performing Arts Center speakers at Greenwich High School, faculty and staff from around the district streamed in for the annual back-to-school gathering to kick-off the new year.
This year’s convocation program featured several speakers, such as new superintendent, Dr. Jill Gildea; GHS Student Body President, Greg Goldstein; Greenwich Education Association President, Carol Sutton; Greenwich representative for the CT Teacher of the Year Program, Bridget Suvansri; and Thomas Murray, author and Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools, who gave the keynote presentation.
In her opening remarks, Gildea said she’s excited to serve as superintendent, and that she’s hopeful to continue the district’s “laser-like focus” on student success.
“I’m just absolutely honored, pleased and thrilled to serve as your superintendent of schools and to join this amazing learning community,” she said. “The work that you do is known nationally and I’m really looking forward to us building on our strengths and all of the work that you’ve done to date.”
Goldstein addressed the packed auditorium and quoted William Arthur Ward.
“A mediocre teacher tells, a good teacher explains, a superior teacher demonstrates, a great teacher inspires,” Goldstein said. “I can state with confidence and experience, in this district we have teachers who inspire.”
Goldstein compared a student’s immediate family to their second family at school, with teachers serving in the role of parents, and fellow classmates as brothers and sisters.
“Like our parents, you give a little piece of yourselves to us everyday,” he said. “You have provided us with the tools necessary to succeed as young adults. Can there be a more invaluable gift? I don’t think so.”
Goldstein thanked every teacher on behalf of the student body for showing up to school everyday with enthusiasm, encouragement and wisdom. “Thank you for striving to make us reach just a little bit further than we thought we could,” he said.
Sutton, who perhaps gave the most rousing speech of the morning, explained how she recently attended a social function with her husband and engaged in a conversation with a non-teacher.
“[The conversation] went something like this: ‘What do you do?’ ‘I’m a teacher.’ ‘Oh, good for you,’” as the audience filled the auditorium with laughter.
“What’s that about?” she exclaimed to the audience. “What other profession gets that kind of comment? What is it about teaching that leads to that little sort of dismissive pat on the shoulder?”
Sutton explained how those outside of the school walls have little knowledge as to what teachers actually do, and that there’s a perception that teaching is an easy job with great hours.
She then went on to outline the many hats teachers wear on a daily basis, and described a litany of responsibilities teachers undertake, all of which come before actually teaching the specific curriculum.
“What you do is not easy, but it is always good. Good for our students, good for our families, good for our town, our state, our nation and good for our interconnected world. And from someone who knows what you do and what it takes to do it well, I say this to you with the highest respect and admiration and good wishes. Good for you,” Sutton said as she received a standing ovation.
Distinguished Teacher nominee and the Greenwich representative for the CT Teacher of the Year Program, Bridget Suvansri, took the stage next.
She challenged her fellow colleagues to push themselves outside of their comfort zone in the classroom because of the rewards reaped by the students.
“I challenge you to push yourself, because when our students see us put ourselves in vulnerable positions and negotiating our way through them, they rise up and are more likely to take risks, too,” she said. “Say yes to something that you immediately want to say no to.”
Thomas Murray, who has testified before Congress and works alongside the U.S. Senate, White House and Department of Education, led the audience through an hour and thirty minute presentation which highlighted his book, Learning Transformed, and his experiences as a teacher.
Murray discussed the increasing role of technology in the world and in the classroom, and how it allows students to explore, design and create.
He urged the teachers to make a strong impression on the first day of school. “You’ve got an incredible opportunity on Thursday to make such an amazing first impression for kids that it causes them to run back to you on day two,” he said.
Murray also talked about the importance of communication between teachers and students as well as strong relationships. “If there’s one word that’s most important in all of our work, it’s relationships. Our job is about loving and caring about kids. We can never, ever lose sight of that,” he said.
Murray stressed the need to “fail forward” as teachers when things don’t go as planned, and teaching students to learn how to fail-forward as well.
Gildea gave closing remarks and thanked the audience. “Definitely harness all of the wonderful convergence of energy and enthusiasm that brings forward the start of an amazing year,” she said. “I will see you again in our classrooms soon.”