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An Authentic Career

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Over the years I have heard Steve Goldenberg use the word authentic nearly countless times. While he used the word in different contexts and settings, it always referred to the experience of children. More specifically he was describing the type of learning that is the hallmark of his classroom. Further, it describes a must for all classrooms, a bar for all of us to reach toward. Substitute words might include real, serious, legitimate, pure, credible, accurate or convincing. These words are all similar but do little to describe the depth or power of an authentic learning experience. For 37 years at The Little School, Steve has been creating classroom communities in which students feel deeply known, trusted and cared for. They have also felt challenge, high standards, clear boundaries and even the occasional no! Steve’s classrooms and teaching philosophy are about student ownership – that is the process of helping kids understand their own learning profile and develop the personal agency to build usable skills and to pursue fully ideas of interest and importance. His approach is all about the child.

Now Steve has decided to stop teaching at The Little School. Not exactly retirement, it might more accurately be called a professional pause. He has given 37 years of his professional and personal life to The Little School … an extraordinary career. Here is a very recent example of the way Steve talks about children and their families:

They are truly a wonderful group of children – so bright, creative, hard-working, spirited, and collectively as kind-hearted as could be. I really love working with them, and I also greatly enjoy working with families as thoughtful, supportive, and collaborative as yourselves.

This is an authentic example of the frame of mind Steve brings to his work. His mindset is one of consistently positive hopes and expectations, a generosity of spirit and a non-stop belief in the power of children.

In Steve’s email to colleagues announcing his plans, he closed with the following: “Keep the faith baby!” For those old enough to remember, it is a quote from the 1970s that spoke to efforts to remain strong against injustice and discrimination. My interpretation of Steve’s word choice is to commit to work that keeps children at the center. It is an admonishment to keep focused, to not lose sight of the rights of children – the right to learn in an atmosphere of respect, trust, openness, equity and generosity.

Somewhere in Steve’s classroom is a piece of paper hanging on the wall with the words, “This is a safe place for our bodies, feelings and things.” Steve’s classroom is a safe haven for all children. It is a place where learning is inspired, guided and nourished. It is a place in which children learn to expect what they deserve. I suspect while Steve’s time at The Little School is coming to a close, his work is not done. There are children everywhere that need what Steve has to give. While there will be time to celebrate Steve before the end of the school year, for now, it is important to pause and reflect. 37 years, a powerful legacy for an authentic educator – Steve Goldenberg.