Today wraps up SLA’s annual Summer Institute, where our incoming freshmen spend a few days getting to know each other and the basics of how SLA works. They go out in Expedition Groups to as questions and explore sites near the school, and then have to collaborate on a presentation for their fellow freshmen on the last day. (Sound like SLA’s core values? Good, you’ve been paying attention.)
Here are some reasons the week is special, for them and for me:
– Freshmen are still adorably astonished at how friendly, relaxed, and empowering the environment is here. Upperclassmen volunteer in droves, teachers play roles in their skits, and laughter is an explicit goal.
– We help them unlearn some of their ingrained “schooliness” — when we explore the city, there is no “right” answer; the goal is ask questions that lead somewhere interesting.
– They begin to rely on each other, not the teacher. While working on their presentations, freshmen would sometimes leave their groups and come to me seeking approval on a idea. I would send them right back.
– They bring us new energy. This is my fifth year teaching full-time, and also my fifth year at SLA. Last year, my first advisory group graduated, and the door is open for some “I’ve seen it all before” mentality. That is the opposite of true. My new kids are a whole new world to discover, and this week I had time to learn that they keep chickens, and hate candy, and speak Urdu at home. We’ll drown in paperwork next week, but for now we just have each other.
What do you do to help freshmen feel comfortable? How do you avoid making it all paperwork and procedure?