Not an hour ago I received an email from our secondary school principal. The subject line was “homework over break” and I swallowed hard in apprehension that we were about to get the shot across the bow announcing a big press on the kids to get their projects started and completed over break. In the insanely high-pressure DC suburbs, it would not be unheard of.
Much to my astonishment, I read on:
Dear Parents and Guardians-
I am sending you a copy of an email I have sent to all of the Robinson Staff regarding homework and assignments over breaks. All of us need breaks in our life and we want to honor this going forward from today. I want to wish everyone a healthy and happy Thanksgiving.
As we reach the first quarter mark of the year and as Thanksgiving and the winter holidays approach, I would like to share some guidelines for assignments over breaks. There is no doubt that many of you feel pressure to maintain the momentum of your curriculum by assigning homework, projects, papers, reading, and/or studying over breaks. The pressure that you feel, often driven by standardized tests and pacing guides, translates likewise into student stress. This stress compounds as families compete for meaningful time with their children over the holidays. Subsequently, many students return to school after “break” with as much or more stress as when they left.
Children and adults (You) need breaks from the many demands of school life. Going forward, I ask that you be mindful of student stress when determining due dates for student work. Here are a few guidelines:
• Students should not be required to complete work over school breaks.
• Be reasonable with due dates. Provide enough time for students to complete their work within the normal school calendar without the need to work over school breaks. Though you may have a long-term assignment that spans over a school break, no work should be due immediately after a break.
• Pace yourself to avoid major assessments immediately upon return from breaks.
The guidelines above are in the spirit of honoring family and family traditions as we simultaneously address issues of student stress. These adjustments provide us another opportunity to reach out to our community with a united, student-centered philosophy.
In today’s crazy-competitive world, this note, and his stand on the state of the chaos, is refreshing, brave and so needed.
Here is my reply to him,
I hope you’re getting lots of grateful and encouraging calls and emails about your mindful and gracious letter to parents today about your email to your staff regarding overloading the kids during breaks.
As a yoga teacher, I couldn’t possibly agree more with your intention in that note. I have found that really little kids — ages 4 and 5! — tell me that doing yoga with me helps them lower their stress.
Four and five! What should they know about stress? But they do.
When our minds and bodies relax, creativity in innovation flows. We can not possibly subsist in a hyper-competitive, limbic-brained state all our lives. While academic success is important, we must remember that while we are today shaping the minds for tomorrow, we must be careful to foster growth. If being a parent has taught us anything, it’s that the human form grows when it rests. Muscles build and form after the workout. We have to look up from the grindstone in order to see how we can improve upon it.
We cannot grow in a state of hyper-vigilance and reactivity; if competing with China is what this is all about in America, we’re doomed. That country’s youth is in very fragile state. If you did not see the NYTimes report on the teens in China who are addicted to the Internet, now might be a good moment to see it; the kids there are overloaded, overtaxed and fracturing due to the nation’s aggressive growth and parental pressures to outdo the others.
I applaud you, most sincerely, for the missive you sent today. It takes guts, character and courage to do what you did. You’re on the right path.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Kinds regards and namaste,
I feel that his move to send that note was a clear and compassionate message about a tragedy which befell the school earlier in the fall.
A sophomore tragically took her own life in an apparent suicide on a railroad track not three miles from my home. Kids need to relax. Adults need to relax. The world needs to relax.
The sentiment coddled and honored in our principal’s email is exactly what the world needs more of. So tell your school administrators about what’s on your mind, catch them doing something good and praise them for it.