Lessons Learned from My First Year

At this time last year, I was full of so much anticipation for the huge change to come. After 14 years working for Albuquerque Academy and living in the NE Heights, I was preparing for what felt like a BIG move, across the river to Bosque School and to a new home in the North Valley. I was sad saying goodbye to the students I had seen through two full cycles from wide-eyed 6th graders to confident graduates, and my colleagues who educated students alongside me for more than a ¼ of my life. But mostly I was giddy with excitement for what felt like such a RIGHT move to the RIGHT school that felt like my perfect fit. It has been proven to be just that for me, and I have such powerful feelings of gratitude and pride for joining the Bosque community this year.  As we transition to the final weeks of this school year, I have been reflecting on the lessons learned in my first year as Bosque’s Head of School: 

  1. Feedback is a gift: I spent a fair bit of time at Bosque last spring introducing myself to the community;  visiting students at morning meetings; and meeting the seniors prior to Commencement, seeking their perspectives and advice as I prepared to assume my new role on July 1st. For my first day on the job, which fitingly was Canada Day (If you don’t know yet, I’m Canadian), I launched into the first of over 200 1:1 meetings this school year with staffulty, alumni, trustees, parents, and community supporters to ask them what they most loved about Bosque and opportunities they saw for improvement. I sent out a survey to all Bosque constituents in the fall, to gather further perspectives in preparation for the Board of Trustees launching a strategic planning process. I solicited feedback from the staffulty in December on what I was doing well and could improve on and reported back on those themes in January. In recent weeks, I have once again requested feedback from our students and tomorrow will be launching the annual Family Satisfaction Survey to our parents and guardians, as well as our annual Employee Health and Wellness survey the following week.  I have always considered feedback to be a gift, especially because in my role as Head of School, it is CRITICALLY important for me to ensure I am doing my best job for Bosque and for each of you. I hope you will take the time to continue to share your feedback with me. We all want the same thing—the strength and excellence of our beloved school. Your perspectives will help us support that goal. I can’t wait to be able to report back on all that I have learned when we come together again in August. 
  2. Community is our “special sauce”: In all of my conversations asking people what they loved most about Bosque, the common denominator is the strength of our community. When I would have coffee with prospective families visiting us for their child’s “buddy day” and ask what had resonated with them as they attended morning meetings and visited classes, the strength of our community was always at the forefront of the conversation. Community does not happen at Bosque by default, but by very intentional design—through the daily adviser/advisee touchpoints of Morning Meeting check-ins, where spirit-building games and activities and sometimes hard life lessons launch each day; and especially through the depth of relationships and trust built between students/alumni and staffulty, between colleagues, and between staffulty and families. Connection is a basic human need, one that can have significantly positive impacts on learning and growth, and Bosque creates and cultivates community in an unbelievably powerful way. If you haven’t yet, I hope that you will take a few minutes to read about our recently launched Community Commitment Fund, in observance of  #givingtuesdaynow. It would mean so much if you would stand with me in support of keeping our community intact, as so many of our families are facing devastating financial losses due to the COVID-19 crisis. Any dollar amount is of value and shows our belief and commitment to our “special sauce.” Please click here to give today and help us raise $75,000 to support the increased need of Bosque families impacted by COVID-19. To date, we have already raised over $35,000 and I hope you will contribute to help us close the gap, or better yet, take us to another level! Thank you to everyone who has already donated—your gift truly matters. As a note, all gifts will be included in the Grade Annual Fund Challenge! Winning grade, with the highest participation, will be announced on 5/15 and EVERY member of the grade will win a really awesome prize!.
  3. Joy is all around: What has been most challenging over the past nearly two months of remote learning and teaching, has been the loss of the daily infusions of joy that normally surround all of us on campus every day. Whether it was a casual conversation I had with a sophomore about our weekends while walking out of Morning Meeting, or the gaggle of 6th graders parading through my office on their candy and conversation run at lunch, or the impromptu choir concerts occurring in the Schoolhouse lobby, or observing students swinging in hammocks and throwing footballs on the Quad over lunch, or the special notes and gifts showing  up for all staffulty, compliments of the BPA—right when we needed them most—or celebrating our students’  performances and athletic accomplishments. Bosque is truly a joyful place. No matter how hard the day might have been, I had a huge daily grin across my face, thanks to our wonderful community. 
  4. Bosque truly is Challenging Education: When I saw Bosque’s tagline of Challenging Education, I immediately knew that I had found my professional home. I have been “challenging education” my entire career, by pushing students past their comfort zone into transformative growth, as well as by observing and speaking out for the need to redesign the current “traditional” education model of passive teaching and learning that is no longer serving today’s students or world. A highlight of my year has been the time I have spent in Bosque’s classrooms, learning alongside the students and teachers, as they asked really important inquiry questions, often without an obvious answer. Learning to think is far more important than learning what to think, and I see our students wrestling with big questions in micro, meso, and macro moments of each class from 6th through 12th grade. A favorite moment of mine was attending Ms. Holdsworth’s 9th grade English class early in the fall. The students had just read the Pulitzer Prize-winning series of short stories, the Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Moving far past the standard “English class questions” of plot, character, theme, etc., the students had been assigned a five-page research paper on a topic of their choosing, inspired by what had piqued their interest in the stories of Indian immigrants to the United States. I worked the room, asking  each student to share their research question and why it resonated with them. Their answers showed the diversity of their interests and passions as they considered everything from how food culture can help ease assimilation challenges, to how colonization impacts long-standing relations between neighboring countries, to how culture shock manifests on brain scans. Two freshman boys, deeply engaged in their research, lamented to me that they had been given no more than five pages to write their paper, and this was insufficient to effectively cover the depth of the topic with which they were so fascinated. Ninth graders complaining about restrictions on a research paper length?! Seriously?! Welcome to Bosque. 

Most recently I have seen the resiliency of our students, staffulty, and families as we all had to shift, virtually overnight, to a completely different way of doing school. This time of remote learning and learning has really tested patience and stripped away the daily known joys we all experience in being together, but it has also shown the power of our community to rise to the challenge of doing what is right for public health, still engaging meaningfully with our model of Challenging Education, and going above and beyond in service of the larger community. 

I am filled with so much gratitude that Bosque believed in me as the school’s fourth head of school and for each of you who believe in Bosque for your child’s education and your community. 

I can’t wait for the lessons to come in the years ahead. 

All the best,

Jessie Barrie, PhD
Head of School