What is the best way to get to know a new school community?

By Head of Lower School Marybeth Heyd

As a new member of The Pike School family, I approached my first few weeks and months here this summer with this question at the forefront of my mind. Despite having worked at Pike as a teaching intern 14 years ago, I had spent the intervening years across the country at an urban school in the heart of Los Angeles. I knew I would need to get up to speed quickly on all things Pike so as to effectively lead the Lower School division and meet the needs of its students and their families. How would I learn the culture of the school? How would I navigate the systems that make Pike tick and the relationships that support them? Who would guide me through this essential process, giving me honest feedback and time to reflect on it?

I found the answer right under my nose on the very first day of school: the children. Our youngest students have been the ones to help me understand how Pike works, how they view their own learning experience, and what my role is within the school. And it makes sense, of course – as the ones around whom this whole place revolves, our students have the most authentic perspective and we have much to learn from them. The good news is, like most 4- to 8-year-olds, Pike Lower School students are more than happy to voice their opinions and express their emotions; it is my job to listen carefully and learn from the wisdom woven through their thoughts and ideas.

I spend time listening and learning whenever I can, from greeting students in the morning to checking in at the end of the day before opening the car door for them as they head home. But there is no time that is more fascinating, more enlightening, and more educational for me than the hour I spend every day with our Pre-K students. In order to give our dynamo Pre-K teaching team some much-needed quiet time for planning and preparation, I eat lunch with the children and join them in their yard for afternoon recess. What started out as a nice midday “break” has become the part of my day that I look forward to the most, that feeds my soul and reenergizes me for whatever comes next. Further, it grounds me; there is nothing like the brutal honesty and total innocence of 4- and 5-year-olds to bring perspective to life’s most pressing problems and dilemmas.

The hour is chock full of reminders about why we do the work we do and examples of Pike’s mission and values in action. Children try on different roles – leader, upstander, observer, rebel – and process the experience in real time, usually out loud, sometimes with vivid color commentary. The gems that are revealed are treasures for us as educators, insights and clues that help us better support them as learners. Children engage with their peers, with their teachers, with their environment, and with their food! All of it gives them feedback and highlights the ways that these relationships are vehicles for learning. And children play, play, and play some more, tapping into their imagination, finding their voice, and solving countless problems. Watching them reminds me daily of the importance of play and fills me with gratitude that I work at a school that views play as essential to children’s growth and development.

So for me, the best way to get to know Pike has been through the eyes and ears of these young children. Whether they’re sampling new foods or digging in the sand, zipping their coats or climbing the play structure, they are teaching me about what it means to be a student here. Their triumphs point to the benefits of a child-centered environment like Pike, and their struggles and challenges push me to look for solutions on their behalf. That they do all of this with such unadulterated joy and infectious laughter is the icing on the cake, of course. I am deeply grateful for my daily dose of Pre-K magic, and for the inspiration it provides me as someone fortunate enough to be part of their Pike experience.

The Pike School is an independent, coed, day school for Pre-K through ninth grade in Andover, Massachusetts. Visit pikeschool.org to learn more about Pike – and visit our blog for more thought leadership. To learn more about admission to The Pike School, visit our Admission 


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3 Comments on “What is the best way to get to know a new school community?
  1. Great work! How wise to look to the children for the truth. I always remind myself that the best way for educators to stay grounded is to keep the children at the center of their thinking. A great piece.

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