Always at this time of year, I think about the many thoughtful ways teachers and students in schools honor Thanksgiving, or “Dia de la Accion” in Spanish. (I like the Spanish term: Day of Action since it reflects much of the way I think about this holiday).
For many years when I was co-director of Fenway High School, after having a Thanksgiving breakfast with students, faculty would gather with Vito Perrone who was a Lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education. We would have a “Thanksgiving retreat” with Vito in which we would discuss some of our most intractable problems. We had made it to Thanksgiving. Something about getting to Thanksgiving without losing hope seemed more powerful than the phrase we often heard, “crawling towards Christmas.” Vito always helped us see that even as we felt our problems were unsolvable, our questions were getting better. He would remind us that we were thinking better and more creatively together, and that we would continue to make a difference in the lives of young people. We would leave those annual gatherings feeling stronger about facing our classrooms after the short break, and more re-assured that we could use one another to grapple with the complex array of student issues we faced everyday.
When I founded BAA, we began a new tradition that also revolved around a Thanksgiving breakfast with students, and then transitioned to a Thanksgiving play that the faculty would perform for the students. It was often a silly rendition of a fairy tale but stylized to match the times. In later years, various teachers would write an original play. The point was to amuse our students before sending them off on a holiday break which for many signified tension, trauma and sadness. In addition, it was a chance for the entire faculty to collaborate together on crazy and fun project while displaying an array of artistic talents. After the play, and the hugs and goodbyes for students, the faculty gathered in a large circle and individually gave thanks. Although we sometimes had to remind individuals not to speak in paragraphs, the chance to share a “thanksgiving” thought with colleagues was a powerful way to mark the end of the term. Faculty often thanked colleagues for a specific action; sometimes teachers gave thanks to their own “home” family or thanks for their health. The specific thanksgiving mattered less than the fact that we gathered annually in this way.
My thanksgiving message is to all teachers and leaders who work diligently every day with students in school and classrooms. Your job is incredibly difficult. It cannot be measured by test scores. You do not get told thank you nearly enough. Thank you for all you do for young people and their families. As Vito would say, “I know your questions are getting better.”