Director of Communications Amanda Darling sat down with Lakeside’s new Middle School Assistant Director Robert Blackwell to learn about his approach to education, his connection with middle schoolers, and where you can find him on the first day of school.
What about the job at Lakeside was compelling to you?
First and foremost, an opportunity to work at a school with the history and the level of success as Lakeside has had over the past 100 years. And middle school is an area of school life that appeals to me: I get the mindset of the age group.
What do you like about working with middle school students?
Each day is different. I joke and say that if you ever want to be entertained, get a bag of popcorn and take a seat in a middle school hallway. But seriously, what I enjoy most is students’ honesty. They’re able to still see that there is so much they can learn. They’re sponges. But they’re also old enough to understand, old enough to reason. They’re maturing and growing all the time …. Multiple times within the school year – academically, socially, and emotionally – there are these eureka moments where those dots start to come together. That’s awesome to see.
What has been a powerful learning experience in your life?
In my first job in education, I worked with students who were dealt a bad hand in life: they didn’t have the role models they needed, they made some poor choices, and they got in trouble with the law. But they still wanted to learn and do better.
Over the course of my professional journey – in the public sector and at three other independent schools – I learned that all children want to feel safe and want to have a circle of adults they can trust. It’s great when everyone can work together and help a young person be successful. Irrespective of a child’s socioeconomic background, what part of the country they live in, or whether they have a blended family or not, all children deserve the best education.
It’s the first day of the 2019-2020 school year: Where can we find you?
In the hallway, shaking everyone’s hand, getting to know the students, putting names with faces. Visiting classrooms and watching teachers start to develop a rapport with their students. I saw that during my [visits]. It’s really genuine. Students believe in their teachers; they feel safe and take risks in the classroom, and really listen to one another.
What do you think students should know by the time they graduate from middle school?
This may sound cliched, but I think a foundation for success is that they gain a strong self-awareness, a confidence, and a belief that they can accomplish anything they put their mind to. That is developed by knowing how they learn, knowing how to study, how to be organized, how to stick with something … how to have that grit. From a cognitive sense, they should have an awareness of the time and effort that it takes to be successful. It may not happen at the same time and speed as the person next to them, but they will get to a level of success and accomplishment.
Starting in 5th grade, students start to see a history of their successes and failures. But I think it’s incumbent on middle school educators to teach students not only to fail fast but to fail forward and to get back up. That level of resiliency is important for students because it’s an attribute that will serve them well all throughout their lives.
What about living in the Seattle area are you most excited about?
There’s this awareness of the environment that I’ve always appreciated about Seattle; I love the fact that the air is clean and fresh. And the multiculturism, the opportunities to taste it in food, and learn about different cultures that aren’t too far from your doorstep. I think that’s really cool …. And the seafood!
What inspires you?
My family inspires me, beginning with my wife. She’s an unbelievable person, a strong person, a tremendous listener. I’m also inspired by the fact that there is still so much to learn about education! This will be one of the larger schools I’ve worked at and [I’m looking forward to] seeing, operationally, how it all connects. It’s a reminder of what a student goes through each year. Hitting reset with a new opportunity is a reminder of some of the challenges our kids go through when they enter a new school or new grade.
Cake, pie, or ice cream?
Ice cream. I just can’t seem to put the spoon down.
What’s your secret talent?
I think patience. Listening. Not getting emotional about how someone says something but attempting to understand the message they’re trying to convey. That’s been very helpful to me and others. And not jumping to conclusions; getting all the information.
What else do you want parents/guardians and students to know about you?
That I will always do what’s in the best interest of their child. That I’m approachable. And that I love school life.
Robert Blackwell, Lakeside’s new Middle School assistant director, can be reached at 206-440-2721 and MSassistantdirector@lakesideschool.org.