“Um, excuse me, Mr. Adler, but can we bring in food for our discussion on Friday?” I was an English teacher in my first year and my students were three weeks away from taking their AP English exam.
We had just finished reading Isak Dinesen’s short story, “Babette’s Feast.” Including some snack during the discussion of a story where food plays such an important role seemed fair enough to me, so I said, “Sure, why not?” When I entered class on that Friday, the students were there early. Some were rearranging the desks so that the tablecloth would fit. A few came in from the cafeteria area where the microwaves were located and they had heated up bowls of warm crab dip. Before I was able take attendance, students led me to my chair, handed me a plate with a crust of warm French bread, and gave me a copy of discussion questions that they had created. I took a bite of bread, wondered if I should have lit candles in my classroom, and listened as the students began to analyze religious imagery from the story. I began to realize something special had happened during the past year. I did not directly prepare for the feast, but I was seeing the effects of a group who felt motivated to take ownership of the classroom. These students were celebrating something important– their own learning. I was a relatively new teacher when my students treated me to that feast, but what I learned from the experience I have carried with me as a teacher and as a school administrator.
As a teacher, I learned that if my students were invested in an idea, they could get excited about it and empowered by it in a lot of different ways. It was my job to build a sense of community within the classroom and to help students get excited about making the classroom into a wonderful place to learn. My teaching style continued to evolve over the years. Overall, I became a good listener rather than a lecturer, and that made all the difference.
Every day at St. James Academy is a ‘feast’. Parents bring their precious children to the school’s door; students walk through the door with bright eyes, great potential, and good questions; teachers prepare their classrooms so that students can discover, explore and grow through experiences; administrators make sure that the workings of the school are running smoothly; board members work behind-the-scenes to help shape the school’s future. Each group brings something important, and special, to our school community. As Head of School, I try to create an environment where everyone in the community wants to bring his or her best “to the table.” I listen to people, encourage people, and empower people, as we all work together to make our school, St. James Academy, a special place.