Message from the Director: First Days and Next Steps

by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director

“It’s not up to you to finish the task… neither are you free to ignore it.”  –Ethics of our Fathers (and Mothers) 

The first bell of a new school year signals a fresh start for millions of families, students, and teachers. Beginning a new year is a natural moment of transition and reflection as well as a shared human experience that evokes many emotions. 

Our first-year Bucksbaum Academy students arrived last week, a momentous first day for them. A week later, our upper-class students returned to campus. It is energizing to have students and their fresh approach to learning in our midst. 

As an educator for over four decades, I have experienced many unique and energizing first days. This year, my professional first day of school coincided with a personal one. My grandchildren had their first days of preschool, kindergarten, and fourth grade! When the current 4th grader started school four years ago, I was entering my 4th decade as an educator. 

At that time, I offered my wishes for her as she began her academic journey: 

  • Find challenges in learning, both in and out of school. Learners, and those who teach them, know the optimal learning environment contains challenges. Challenged learners are neither bored nor frustrated but empowered. They seek new knowledge and develop further the sense of curiosity with which we are all born. 
  • Build resilience to become an empowered learner. She will need to recognize that there will be favorite subjects and those that are not favorites. She will have good days and days that are not as good. The latter is important to practice bouncing back to enjoy the good days and revel in great days! 
  • Develop leadership skills for a meaningful life and a positive impact on society. Sure, that is a tall order for a kindergartner, but it is an important aspect of learning and becoming. When she looks back on her career someday, I hope she will be able to see how her leadership benefited society. 
  • Hone a sense of humility to be grateful for her opportunities and gifts and mindful of privilege. 

These last four years – like the preceding 40 — have flown.  

This year juxtaposes my own educational path with that of my family’s young learners. They are setting out on their journeys of lifelong learning. My professional journey is nearing the end because, after 45 years as an educator, I will retire at the end of the current academic year.  

Thus, the start of this school year was a momentous first day for me as well.  

I will always be an educator. But with the support of family, colleagues, University of Iowa leadership, and our visionary advisory board, it is time for new leadership at the Belin-Blank Center. Although I will step aside as a professional, I will continue on a new personal path of lifelong learning. 

I am pleased to say I have not “ignored the task,” and I find it reassuring to know that I am not obligated to complete it.  

I am enthusiastic about the opportunities that a new director will appreciate. They will lead an exceptional team dedicated to nurturing potential and inspiring excellence. Together, they will bring a fresh perspective to a well-established center.  

I will always be grateful for my energizing, creative, and dedicated colleagues. They made my career possible, and I look forward to acknowledging and supporting their creative endeavors throughout the year.  

As I look back on a long, yet rapid, journey and ahead to a new one, I have a few more wishes for all lifelong learners. From those starting their educational journey as preschoolers to those nearing the end of a career in education, I hope you will: 

  • Continue to be curious 
  • Keep a sense of optimism  
  • Express gratitude each day 
  • Convey a sense of compassion  

Astute readers note that I focused on the cognitive aspects of learning four years ago but am now placing an emphasis on the psychosocial. The COVID-19 pandemic makes me appreciate their equal importance to a lifelong learner’s educational journey. 

As I embark on the next stage of that journey, I wish you a happy, healthy, and fulfilling year.  

One response to “Message from the Director: First Days and Next Steps

  1. Dr. Assouline, Your commitment to education and advocating and supporting gifted and 2e learners, their parents, and their educators is deeply appreciated and inspiring.

    Best wishes for a wonderful year and all that the future holds for you!

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