Best foot forward

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Get those pencils, get those books, and leave at home those dirty looks.

Think of it as a new spin on an old rhyme. In case you haven’t noticed in the bombardment of broadcast and print advertisements, it’s back-to-school time. Actually, a good chunk of the country’s students are already in the classroom, and Facebook feeds are filling daily with the smiling faces of youngsters dressed in their back-to-school best — well, most of them are smiling.

On Martha’s Vineyard, school begins after Labor Day. That makes this a good time of year, refreshed from a summer of fun in the sun, to consider what’s ahead.

For students, you’re starting fresh. You only have one chance to make a good impression. Use it wisely. If you struggled in a subject last year, this is an opportunity to work a little harder, stay on top of it, and ask for the extra help that will get you off to a good start. Instead of complaining about school, find ways to make your experience better. Try a sport, get involved in a club, join an activity. Embrace your school community. Make new friends and nurture old ones.

For parents, you’re starting fresh, too. Make this the year to up your game as well. Check in with your kids; ignite conversations around the dinner table that will enhance their learning. (Maybe even make a point of putting away the electronics, at least for that conversation.) Make this the year you give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. Instead of firing off an angry email — or worse, a fired-up social media post — reach out to the teacher to have a conversation about what’s troubling you. Get involved in your school community. Volunteer, even in short spurts, in an elementary school classroom. Show your children that you’re invested in their education, too. Your kids may even surprise you by enjoying the experience.

For teachers, make a good first impression, too. Set expectations without scaring your young charges. Be a calm, welcoming presence, even as you’re letting students know who is in charge. Give clear directions that let students thrive and grow. They want teachers who are approachable and compassionate without being pushovers.

For administrators, let staff flourish and be as creative as possible within the parameters of educational guidelines. Worry less about tests and achievement.

In his welcome letter to the faculty of Martha’s Vineyard schools, Superintendent Matt D’Andrea indicated he wants to focus on the well-being of students in the coming year by providing a safe and welcoming environment where students can be successful. “With this in mind, we look closely at our health and wellness programs to evaluate how we are delivering information to our students around making healthy choices,” he wrote. “By reviewing how we deliver this instruction, and the protocols we follow to address mental health issues, we can begin to analyze how to best serve our students. Keeping our students healthy is a priority.”

We all contribute to that environment in one way or another. By all doing our part, by all trying just a little harder, the year will end with the same good feelings we see in those Facebook snapshots.

It’s not the grade that matters, it’s the effort put in along the way. Give it your best, and the rest will take care of itself.