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Starting with Joy

September 7, 2010. My first day of school at GDS. I stand in the forum of the High School with a carefully crafted speech, prepared to meet the moment by drawing on words and inspiration from Shakespeare, Dr. King, J.K. Rowling, and more. The start of a new school year in a new school calls for soaring rhetoric, and I am ready.

I step up to the podium. “Good morning, High School.”

A murmur of “Good morning, Russell” comes back as the students settle in. It is then that I notice that a huge section of the forum, the top left corner, is empty. Puzzled, but undaunted, I launch into my talk.

Minutes later, as I am preparing to make an allusion to the new school year as an epic journey, I hear a dull roar behind me. I turn to see what it is, and within moments, I am engulfed in a sea of adolescents who are cheering, throwing candy, shooting silly string, and dancing up the stairs of the forum to the vacant space in the top corner. The group assembles in a pulsating mob, leaping up and down and shouting in unison, “Twenty-Eleven! Twenty-Eleven! Twenty-Eleven!” The seniors have arrived. And I have experienced my first GDS “Run-In.”

On Tuesday of this week, I witnessed my ninth Run-In, no longer surprised, but still awed by the energy, the intensity, the unbridled joy of the moment. The Class of 2019 selected the theme of “Superheroes.” To further charge the moment, the class kicked off their Run-In with a “breaking news” story on the video screen, which reported that extra exams were being added to the High School schedule. With great fanfare and in costume, the seniors then burst into the forum to rescue the underclassmen from this outrage. You can get the full 360 degree look at this year’s Run-In on our YouTube channel »

The GDS Senior Run-In is like no other start of school I’ve experienced. Neither, for that matter, is the first day at our Lower/Middle School, where students are greeted by teachers dancing to hip-hop music alongside our grasshopper mascot giving out high-fives. This year, we added a portable photo booth, where students and parents could have their photo taken by our roving Hopper Cam. Be sure to check out some of the great pictures from both the Lower/Middle School and High School!

In schools of education, new teachers are taught, “don’t let them see you smile until Christmas.” The idea behind this dictate is that if students see their teachers smiling, they’ll see them as pushovers, adults who can easily be manipulated or steered off track.

GDS takes a different approach. We start the school year with joy by design. We believe that learning, friendships, and community are things that should bring us joy, and that school should be a happy destination, not a place to be dreaded. We know that the school year will bring its share of challenges—academic challenges, emotional challenges, community challenges. We also know that these challenges are best engaged from a place of trust, joy, and optimism. And so from day one, our teachers work to know students, to see them, to smile at them, to celebrate them, providing a foundation for all of the important work to come.

Even back-to-school class work can bring joy. On the first day of school, Todd Carter and Mandy Kimlick challenged their second graders to use flexible thinking in creating a drawing—one that required them to add clothes and a background to my free-floating head. If you would care to see what I look like with a unicorn’s horn, very stylish clothing, or a rainbow on my head, check out some of the awesome artwork. I trust the second graders enjoyed the activity as much as I enjoyed the results!

Wishing the GDS community a year of joy, growth, and purposeful work.

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