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Giving Thanks by Head of School Emily Miller

Posted on: Tue, November 21, 2017 at 1:18

Giving Thanks by Head of School Emily Miller

Like most of us, I find myself racing busily through life. The practice of offering thanks is one that research has shown to have positive emotional and physical health benefits and still I find myself facing November, Thanksgiving specifically, and feeling remiss that I have allowed so much time to pass since intentionally giving thanks.

As I consider all the things for which I am grateful, my list feels long and always begins with my family. I am grateful for the support of my husband and for my children who are happy and brave and learning to navigate the world with the autonomy and skill that reflect their age; I am grateful for my parents who play such an important role in the life of my family; I am thankful for the love and unconditional friendship of my sisters and for their children and spouses; and I am grateful for my friends and the many members of my extended family.

Reflecting on last week's workshop with educator and author Meenoo Rami, I was also reminded of my teachers and mentors, people who profoundly influenced my childhood, my professional life and my understanding of children. From some, I learned what kind of educator I don't want to be, and from others, I have been undeniably inspired.

Last month, I recounted a story about a very challenging year I had teaching, but it was one in which I learned and grew the most. One of my students had a difficult time managing his emotions, and he suffered from the isolation it caused with his peers. I was young and determined, didn't have children of my own, and still I found that most days were hard and long. What worked one day, didn't work the next. When it seemed that there was movement forward, it was always followed by steps back.

The interim principal in my building was a retired superintendent of schools, and he acted as a mentor and helped guide me, not so much with answers or specific strategies, rather with insights I find myself applying today. On one of my hardest days, he offered, "Let him go in his door and out yours," thus offering this struggling young boy some dignity and a sense of control over the things that I should just let go. If my goal was to help him stay in the room so that he could at least overhear a discussion or lesson, then I needed to be alright with him sitting away from the Circle. As the year progressed, his position ten to fifteen feet from the group shortened to five, then just outside the Circle, and by the end of the year, he was in it and participating with all of us. This was not the end of the road for him, or for me, but I do know that without the support and modeling of compassion and humanity that I would not have been able to do it on my own.

Within days of recounting this story, I read in the Inquirer and Mirror that my mentor and friend had passed away. It broke my heart, and at the same time, I was grateful that we had crossed paths at such an important time in my development as a teacher. With hindsight offering the gift of clarity, I wish I had thanked him for reaffirming my belief in the possibility of all children and for guiding the journey that ultimately led me to Nantucket Lighthouse School.

As I reflect on this experience, I consider my fellow Lighthouse educators. I imagine your children will hold them in their hearts for many years to come, as the relationship between Lighthouse students and their teachers is undeniably rich and worth remembering.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Warm regards,


Emily Miller
Head of School