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15th September

Aspirations and Expectations

Fifty years ago today, four young girls were attending Sunday School at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Their lives were tragically cut short by a bomb that became a symbol of the civil rights movement. Denise McNair, one of the four girls, is pictured here. Her sweet smile reminds me of the sacred nature of our work.


Indeed, we often refer to our work at HVA as the work of social justice. It is worth thinking deeply about what we mean by that. To me, it does not mean that we talk about social justice in our classes. It means we act on our commitment to social justice by offering an educational experience at HVA that is equal to the finest in the world.  

So as we begin the second week of school, it feels like a good time to reconnect with our aspirations for our students and the instructional expectations that we discussed back in the summer.  

In department sessions, team meetings, and even informal chats at Harlem Shake this summer, I loved listening to teachers talk about your dreams and aspirations for our students. We are bound together by these shared aspirations. We want our students to be curious, creative, and independent. We want them to love reading and writing, to be articulate and reflective, open-minded as well as skeptical. We want them to be motivated and tenacious, to take initiative, to care about the quality of their work. And we want them to be kind, respectful and compassionate. 

But as one of our math teachers said a few years ago, “Words are just words. What are you going to do about it on Monday?!” Our shared aspirations for our students must be reflected in our approach to instruction.

At HVA we expect instruction in which every student is deeply engaged in complex, sophisticated work that involves reading, writing, speaking, thinking, and creating. What does this look like? Students are doing the intellectual heavy lifting:  the constructing, grappling, delving, revising, and discovering. Students are self-directed rather than controlled. Students are well-behaved as a result of engaging teaching methods, not fear of punishment. Questions are meaningful, interesting, and challenging. Pedagogical practices foster and require the aforementioned habits of mind and character traits. Lesson planning revolves around designing a learning experience rather than creating materials. Evidence of good teaching can be found in high quality work that students produce.

I recognize all this is difficult. So I thank you for your willingness to struggle. Thank you for caring so much. Thank you for your determination to learn and grow. Thank you for your commitment to ensuring our instruction is worthy of our students.


  1. deborahkennyhva posted this