"So ... it’s time."
I announce this just about every night during our supper. It doesn’t matter if we have just our three kids here -- or if it is a whole group of varying ages. I even say this when I’m not in my own house, but I’m dining with my children -- and other adults who are not familiar with this little family tradition. l pose the same question all the time.
"Tell me two good things about your day."
Sometimes I’m met with playful groans from the crowd. When I put this question out to adults that are unfamiliar with our conversation, they are sometimes stumped and have to replay their day, holding up their daily tasks to the different light of examination for the fun and playful in their waking hours, instead of the normal meter of accomplishments and checklists.
Usually, someone clamors to go first. This is important, as that same person typically invokes the rule of "no repeats!" He is then gleefully triumphant, for by going first, he will get the easy answers like "Being with my friend over here today," or "Going ice skating." Those that go later will have to dig deeper, stretching to remember more specifics.
There is a similar process going on right now, a careful look at where we are in our Brattleboro elementary schools. As a board, we are asking some questions of the children in our schools ... of the staff that works with them daily ... and of the parents of the children that attend. We are surveying them with just two questions: What do you like about your school? And what would you change?
At the same time, we are hosting the first in a series of community conversations with the Brattleboro Town School Board about "Learning in the 21st Century." We want to hear from the community at large. We’ll be asking -- and taking notes on the answers -- just three questions: What’s working? What do we want more of? Given budget realities, where should we focus?
Just like our dinner table answers, the next part of the conversation will be derived from the first answers. It even takes us all back to that question that was posed back in May: "What do you want your children to know?"
The answers that I get around the dinner table are mostly fun -- but pretty revealing sometimes, too. During the school year, one of the answers must be "academical": one of the answers has to be from something that they did in school that day. From a quick, one-word answer of "math," we hear all about the actual work that they are doing in seventh-grade math classes at BAMS. Or, sometimes, we hear entire dissertations on the work being done in third-grade class. (Ask our family about the Wamponog Indians and the pilgrims and you’ll see two responses: a mass exodus from the room ... or a long, thorough explanation by the third-grader that may go on for at least 15 minutes, comparing the clothing, the cultures, the food, the living conditions ... explaining -- in great detail -- the work that was done on the iPads with this unit ... dragging you to the computer to look over the class’ website and its links out to the information from Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts.)
The "two good things of the day" tell me, as a mom, what is important in my kids’ lives each day. These answers make us laugh. They bring us closer. They make us think about each other’s daily lives in a deeper way. They make us more observant.
There was some concern from some attending our school board meeting while we were planning our "community conversation" that we should dive right into specific topics, especially ones that had been raised by some that had attended the meetings before. It’s probably true that many others have similar questions, and that we’ll likely be talking more about these same things again. I think it is similar to our hearing that one of the "two good things of the day" was "having friends over" ... some themes are jumping out in all cases.
At the same time, I know that in around our family dinner table, asking such a broad question leads to some unexpected insights.
We’d love to have you join us around the dinner table with our "community conversation". (Yes, we are even feeding all those that come. We will also have child care available. RSVP’s would greatly help us out! Just send me an email at email@example.com if you are planning on attending.)
Learning in the 21st Century: the first in a series of community conversations with the Brattleboro Town School Board is set for Wednesday, Jan.. 22, at Academy School at 860 Western Ave., from 6 to 7:30 p.m. You can even have your assigned questions early:
What’s working? What do we want more of? Given budget realities, where should we focus?
(And if you want to personally tell me your "two good things of the school," I’m all ears!)
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools-now at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.