I have worked in schools for over a quarter century now (…not counting my own years as a student!) and I have always enjoyed the opportunity to “experience” a unique place of learning. When I visit a school, I am quickly struck by the traditions and rituals that communicate the school’s identity. A school’s traditions signal its values and weave a school of individual students, staff, and families into one community. In the best schools, the focus of such traditions is on all-school formation. In the oldest schools, this focus can usually be traced back to its foundations. While the best traditions are not mutable according to the fashions of the day, they are flexible enough to adapt and evolve along with the humans that animate them. It is this quality that tends to make them lasting and worth preserving.
When it comes to school traditions, there are as many out there as there are schools, but they all essentially accomplish the same thing – they help students feel that they are on familiar ground. Some traditions are annual events and some happen every week or even every day. They give us ways to greet each other, to learn about each other, to celebrate and say farewell. They are events or moments that mark our comings and our goings and affirm our common interests. At Matthews Hall, our traditions strive to create, promote, and preserve a truly human “culture of learning” in which everyone can do his or her best possible job.
The “Name Game”, for example, is a very important unspoken tradition at our school. Our ability to learn and use the names of all of our students and their family members (… sometimes even including their cats and dogs!) indicates how much our community values one another.
What if everyone could “name a school”? Not name the school building, but name all of the people in the school from the youngest to the oldest, including parents and siblings?
Each year, we strive for this to become a reality for as many people as possible. From working and playing in House Team events and athletic competitions to recognizing faces in choir, band or in the hallway, the “Name Game” is an important unspoken tradition for students and teachers in schools like ours that embrace community and reject anonymity.
What could be better for our students than to feel part of a place where they know everyone and everyone else knows them?
If we agree that calling people by their rightful names and telling the truth about them is important, it begins at home – and, by extension, at school – where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.
Ric Anderson, Head of School