A Conversation with D.J. Thistle, Head of Lower School
Q: You have taught across a number of grades at MTS, why are you interested in leading the Lower School?
Thistle: Most importantly I strongly believe in the mission, vision and direction of the school. These convictions inspire me to take on this new challenge and lead the Lower School. Having taught almost every grade level at MTS over the past eight years has allowed me to see the remarkable progress our students make over the course of their careers here. I love working with our younger students because of their energy and enthusiasm. I love how they come to school with a smile on their faces and are always eager to learn something new.
Q: You were recently in graduate school. How do you think this work will help you be an effective Head of Lower School?
Thistle: Yes, I recently completed a Masters degree in Educational Leadership and Administration in January of 2017. In that program I studied leadership, design thinking, diversity, curriculum design, and instructional leadership. I can see all of these directly impacting my day to day leadership as we grow and evolve the Lower School program. Through my program I also connected with an invaluable network of fellow school leaders. I have already leveraged this group to set up visits to peer schools and explore other program best practices. Finally, my culminating project was on improved teacher collaboration in the classroom. I believe the research and analysis of the topic will help me guide our lower school teachers to be even more effective with their students.
Q: What changes are you most excited to make in the years ahead to the MTS lower school program?
Thistle: Ooh. This is a tough one. We are taking on a number of great new programs next year and I am excited by all of them. Our trio of new Social Emotional programs–Toolbox, Responsive Classroom, and No Bully–will provide the language, strategies, and time for our students to see increased value in being a part of the MTS community and to resolve the normal conflicts that arise. These programs will also help all of the adults in our community, parents included, teach students how to self regulate and step in effectively when necessary. I am also looking forward to the Columbia Readers and Writers Workshops. I believe the professional development and consistency of this program throughout K-4 will strengthen our Language Arts program. The program will also give us more data allowing teachers to more effectively communicate with the parents and benchmark student progress. Across the board I am excited about having the opportunity to be in the classrooms to develop stronger relationships with the students and dig deeper into how each individual student learns best, and support, collaborate with, and evaluate teachers.
Q: How do you hope to be known with students and parents in this new role?
Thistle: With all constituents, I want to be known as a leader that is in the classrooms daily and making decisions grounded in what I experience and in collaboration with the teachers that work with our students every day. I hope that every student can confidently say that DJ knows me. I also want the students to feel comfortable enough to approach me with any questions, ideas or concerns. Frankly I want parents to feel the same way–that I know their child and that I am an open partner in communication and problem solving. Finally, I want parents to see me as someone who is working hard to build community among the grades themselves and the lower school.
Q: What is something students and families might not know about you?
Thistle: I didn’t believe I was “good at math” until I had that teacher that turned it all around for me in 7th grade. I hope to make a difference of this scale with every student at MTS.