A car pulls up to the carpool porch, the car door opens, and a student hops out, saying, “Hi, Neal!” Neal responds, “Hi, Jane! Have a great day!” Perhaps a unique scene elsewhere, this is just another morning at Green Acres. To our students, this is a normal daily exchange, with students and teachers addressing one another by their first names. This first-name basis is a long-standing aspect of our school culture—an important and intentional one that reflects how the children and adults at Green Acres interact and what we value as a learning community.
Our first-name-basis tradition centers around the idea that respect between children and adults is mutual. We respect children’s voices and choices, no matter their age or developmental stage. We care about each of our students as individuals and cherish the process of learning all that we can about them. Reciprocally, the students in our community respect adults and see them as individuals. The way that our students and adults interact demonstrates the mutual respect that each feels toward the other.
Calling adults by their first names reinforces for children that the adults with whom they spend their days are individuals with important jobs to do as teachers and staff members, yet they are also people outside of school: they are friends, neighbors, and community members. Our students see that adults are multi-faceted people, just as they are. This understanding enables children to grasp that adults and children are all just learners at different life stages. Rather than treating teachers as monoliths of knowledge, the first-name-basis tradition creates an environment in which the teacher and student are partners in learning—an essential cornerstone of progressive education.
When children call adults by their first names, it creates a level of comfort and familiarity that enables children to develop close relationships with those adults. The distance created from calling teachers by formal titles can hinder the strength and depth of those relationships, which exist at the heart of what we do in our community. We want children to feel comfortable asking adults questions and seeking help and guidance from them, and being on a first-name basis helps to remove barriers for students to fully access their teachers as mentors and facilitators of intellectual and social-emotional growth.
The familiarity that the first-name basis tradition fosters, along with the relationships that adults build with each student, encourages children to approach adults and advocate for their ideas and pose thoughtful questions. They know that those ideas will be heard, valued, and possibly implemented. Students at Green Acres are not hesitant to approach administrators, whether it be a child presenting a plan for a student talent show or a student reaching out for help navigating a conflict with a friend.
The ways in which we develop and nurture close relationships with children signify everything that we value at Green Acres: respect, collaboration, and community. While we realize that being on a first-name basis is not the only way to promote these values, would we be the same place if our students addressed us as Ms., Mr., Mx., etc.? This would be hard to imagine. We know each child’s name, personality, preferences, and learning styles, and our students know us as the people and adults who help them learn and thrive. We wouldn’t want it any other way.