Sue’s News 9/11/19

A blog from the Head of School
Vol. 2, No. 2 – September 11, 2019

OA Website and Mascot – Last Spring the community chose the Blue Jay as the new school mascot, replacing the eagle as the symbol for OA. We spent the summer working with a design team to create a new logo, and we are close to rolling it out on the website and signage around school. Last week we invited students to vote on a design for a school t-shirt, and soon all students will be able to wear the new design with pride. We are also working to create a school “store” where all manner of OA Blue Jay swag will be available.

In addition to the new logo, we are in the process of making some significant enhancements to the OA website that will provide an easier, more user-friendly experience. Once the new format is live, I will be asking for your feedback. Stay tuned!

Sue’s Muse

This fall I am teaching a Psychology elective, and it is an exciting and exhausting endeavor. I love teaching, but it is incredibly hard work. So hard, in fact, that after teaching for two years in my mid-20’s, I decided to return to graduate school to get a degree in clinical social work. I figured dealing with people with chronic mental health issues would be much easier than managing teenagers every day. And I was right.

Teaching at a school like OA involves much more than just mastering content. It means understanding adolescent development, neurological diversity, different learning styles, and the pedagogical techniques that can best reach a broad bandwidth of students. It means having patience, curiosity, and – most of all – humility. 

I like to joke that high school teachers never need psychoanalysis because teenagers will give them feedback every single day about how they’re doing; teenagers let teachers know with a roll of an eye if they’re off the mark. In this way, teaching adolescents is a lot like parenting them. But, as you parents know, being around teenagers is also incredibly rewarding. Their minds are on fire, and watching them make connections and learn new things about themselves and the world around them is one of the most gratifying experiences there is.

Here is something I am learning about OA students in Psychology class that sets them apart from all of my former students: OA students are incredibly self-reflective, often because they’ve had to be in order to manage challenging social and academic situations. They know themselves in a way that the average teenager simply doesn’t, and they are accepting of each other in a way I have never experienced before. Last week in class we explored attachment styles (baby to parents), and the important skill of self-soothing. I asked students to recall the transitional objects they used as kids (such as teddy bears, pacifiers, etc.), and to share with each other how they soothed themselves then and now. The students spoke freely about their blankets, stuffed animals, and even imaginary friends. They also spoke openly of experiences of separation anxiety when they were young (one student followed an ice cream truck down the street and got lost for hours). It was the most poignant, honest, and authentic conversation among teens I have ever witnessed, and the fact that it came in the second week of school is nothing short of miraculous.

And here’s the other thing. While the students were able to self-disclose freely, the class didn’t devolve into group therapy, which is what can happen in these situations. In my experience, often when students self-disclose other students will jump in to rescue their peers from feeling exposed and vulnerable and thus inadvertently introduce an uncomfortable power dynamic, or worse, they will mock the disclosure. But the thing about the OA classroom is that the students don’t feel overly exposed and vulnerable because they are all at very similar levels of self-awareness.

And it gets even better. The following day, after our conversation about transitional objects, several students bought in pictures of their teddy bears or blankets, or they brought in the objects themselves. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to see a student hold up a blanket (that he called Moo Moo) and have the rest of the class accept it as though it were no big deal. But in fact it was a big deal. It was a huge deal. And this is what sets OA students apart.

So, teaching is the hardest job in the world, but it’s also the most gratifying.

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