During Primary School Back To School Night this year, I had the opportunity to reflect on excellence in teaching. Great teachers invest a great deal of thought and preparation in their work with students and families. I used the symbol of the rainbow to organize my remarks as a way of honoring the outstanding work and capacity of Lowell’s teachers and upholding our school’s commitment to Ally Week, which was happening the same week.
Ally Week and the Symbolism of the Flag
As you may know, Ally Week, a week that gives space for a national dialogue about how everyone— both in and out of school—can work to become better allies to LGBTQ youth, is being celebrated nationally. GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) states that allyship is about more than broadly supporting LGBTQ people; it's an operating, continuous process of advocating for LGBTQ youth, as well as other marginalized groups, without speaking for them or speaking over them. During Ally Week, we challenge one another to think critically about what being an ally means, how we can be allies to others, and what kind of allies we are seeking out for ourselves.
In thinking about the allyship work that is occurring here at Lowell in our Middle School, as well as the important questions some of our Primary School students are beginning to ask, and knowing that a group of our Middle School students raised their voices to make sure Ally Week came to Lowell, I have been reminded of the importance of the symbol of the rainbow and what it represents to us at this time. For some, the rainbow can symbolize a place of peace, for others the sighting of a rainbow creates wonder and awe, and for others the rainbow is something beautiful to gaze upon as it grows forth from combinations of water, light, and reflection.
The original rainbow flag was first created by Gilbert Baker and flown on June 25, 1979. Gilbert Baker was charged by Harvey Milk with the task of creating a symbol for the gay community that would establish a sense of pride. The original flag contained eight distinct colors, each with their own meaning. The colors of that 1979 flag included hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, and violet.
The Colors of Excellence in Teaching
Hot pink was used in Baker’s original flag to honor the complexity and importance of sexuality and identity. Great teachers commit themselves to creating safe spaces where children can speak openly and where their voices are heard in creating projects, unpacking classroom lessons, and investigating the important questions that come forward each day. Identity is also the starting point of how a child begins to understand the world and how its moving parts come to work in synchronization. Lowell teachers know this and intentionally factor it into their planning.
The color red comes next on the flag to honor life. Our teachers know deeply that each student is on a lifelong journey to access their strengths and their gifts, to be challenged in their pursuits, and to express themselves through their curiosity, service, and passion.
The color orange stands for healing and compassion. At Lowell, joy is felt throughout our campus. Our students learn to encourage each other and gain confidence in advocating for themselves and for others. They learn and display compassion when their teachers guide them to take care of the tadpoles in our creek, walk a friend to Nurse Mary, or reach out to a new student. I recently witnessed a brand new student to Lowell skip joyfully across our front playground hand-in-hand with a child who has been here for many years. I stood with a few teachers and together we allowed ourselves to enjoy that small but important moment of the day.
The color yellow brings sunlight to the flag. Its partnership with the other colors links optimism, a sense of warmth, and creativity. Yellow is found within all of our Lowell faculty members as they build both relationships and language to enable our students to be active and accountable participants in their education. Our teachers hold high expectations and help our students work to reach them.
Green reflected nature on the original flag. Here at Lowell, green is our school color. We have a beautiful, nature-filled campus near Rock Creek Park where we take many hikes, and children flock to the stream that runs through our front field every day at recess. Our teachers both value and honor environmental education in planning curriculum and activities for students. As a result, our students advocate for animals that live here at Lowell in their natural habitat and share their voices from a place of activism in caring for our outdoor spaces.
Turquoise represents the magic of the arts. Our specialist teachers at Lowell prepare our students to express their creativity; lift their voices in song; skip and dance through movement; and discover new passions, capabilities, and pathways to actualize the talents and unique gifts they each possess. In fact, all teachers at Lowell work to bring forward the artists, scientists, athletes, and innovators whose creative thinking and problem solving will impact generations to come.
Indigo stands for the harmony that the rainbow hoped to symbolize and create. At Lowell, teachers form committed partnerships with families to support children and their development. Teachers model language and behaviors that bring about and uphold harmony throughout our community.
The final color, violet, embodies the attribute that is most recognized in the faculty here at Lowell—our spirit. Our teachers are energetic and insightful, and they, in turn, recognize the spirit of each child. They take time to celebrate special moments in children’s journeys throughout the school year and over the course of their experiences in the Primary School.
If you are a Lowell family, or you have the opportunity to come and visit our school, I hope you take the time to be fully present here at Lowell. Connect with our teachers, engage in conversations about the curriculum and learning experiences we offer children, ask that the questions that are on your mind, and delight in the spirit of all that our teachers provide children with each and every day.
Like the rainbow, our teachers are a mighty symbol for our youth. They think about how they can guide and encourage children every day. Teachers foster the wonder, curiosity, and awe children bring with them as they walk up the steps to our main building. I have a great deal of pride for each one of our teachers and know the impact they have on our students here.
Jason Novak is the director of Primary School at Lowell School. He received his BS in music education, K-12, from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, and his MA in educational leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University, NY. In addition to his work as a music teacher and school administrator, Jason has also worked closely with educational and child advocacy groups such as the National Association for Independent Schools (NAIS), the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators, the Human Rights Campaign, the Friends Council on Education, and local and national chapters of the American Orff-Schulwerk Association.