By Brian J. Ricca
We have turned the calendar to 2023. Our holiday season is behind us, which is honestly bittersweet. There was so much anticipation for our family as we traveled to see little cousins who still believed in the “magic” of the end of December. While my heart yearns at times for those moments in our home, it fills me with joy to see Our Boys make sure the traditions of our family’s holiday live on.
I’m not one for resolutions at the new year because, in 48 years on the planet, I’ve yet to find one that I can stick with for the entire year. Instead, I approach the new year with a unique perspective in a new way. The new year is a time for new beginnings and a different view of what we’ve done in the past.
I was listening to a podcast recently, and Martin Sheen was being interviewed. Mr. Sheen has played various roles as an actor, but for me, his role as President Josiah Bartlet in the television series The West Wing inspired me the most. During the course of the interview, Mr. Sheen touched on a great deal about what was unique for him and the other actors on the set of The West Wing. What spoke to me most was when he said that everyone, not just the actors but the writers, directors, producers, and the entire crew did their work “with grace, humor, and confidence, putting relationships above all else.”
If that worked in television, I could not think of a better way to approach our work in education. We need grace: the reality of the past three years in education (and our world) has touched all of us somehow. We have all been impacted and continue to feel how Covid has disrupted our worlds, personally and professionally. Giving others grace honors that reality for students and for adults.
We need humor: for me, this is simple; I take my work seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously. I love laughing with others and not at them. Already I have had moments in East Greenwich that have been highlighted by lots and lots of laughter. These moments have happened in classrooms, offices, meetings, and hallways. They’ve happened with students, adults, employees, School Committee members, Town Councilors, and community members. Humor dotting the landscape of East Greenwich Public Schools is good for everyone.
We need confidence, and given some of the national discourse around public education, some educators and employees in education may feel discouraged. The guiding principle in EGPS is “All Means All” with no exceptions. I’m proud of the educators I inherited when I joined EG in July. I’m proud of the educators we’ve hired since I’ve been serving as Superintendent of Schools. We have the employees with the necessary expertise to teach and learn with our students and families as we look forward.
As far as putting relationships above all else, I am proud to do that. It’s how I approach my work. It’s something I want us all to do. To be clear, this is not about being “soft” or lowering expectations. It is about realizing that people are doing the work in East Greenwich. Teachers, paraeducators, facilities, technology personnel, administrative assistants, and food service personnel. Every one of them is something more than their role in EG, and they bring all of themselves to this work. When we put relationships first, we are honoring the person before their professional role.
As we ring in the new year, I hope Martin Sheen’s words can become a reality for us in East Greenwich Public Schools. We have a chance to make a fresh start, with more than one hundred days left in this school year. Grace, humor, confidence and putting relationships above all else. Wise words from a fictional president!