16 pairs of weepy eyes stare at me as I stand before my pre-K class for the first day of school. Lingering sobs and controlled sniffles, feet tapping their own discordant rhythms along with fingers drumming desks like Buddy Rich proteges – this is my view as I hold my trusty frog puppet to introduce myself.

“Hi everybody! I’m Miss Lisa and this is my very special friend Keeper! He’s so happy you’re here today.”

Keeper leans on my shoulder to try and hide his face.

“I forgot to tell you that Keeper is a little shy and he gets nervous when he’s meeting new friends for the first time. But I bet you can all help him feel so much better. Will you try with me?”

Slow nodding.

“I think if you start clapping your hands he might look up.”

The clapping begins tentatively at first and then gathers steam. It encourages Keeper to look up and take a quick peek before retreating to my shoulder. The clapping continues along with some “Come on Keeper” coaxing.

Keeper does his best imitation of “my shyness is slowly vanishing” act. He plays to the crowd. The classmates grow wild with excitement. Before long puppet and teacher have an engaged audience.

“You guys did such an awesome job! Can we tell Keeper he did a great job too?”

A cacophony of praise comes flooding out. Keeper whispers something in my ear. I smile.

“Keeper says you are all his new special friends and he wants to give each of you a big high-five! Can you line up by the wall so he can come and meet you?”

Moving along the squirmy wormy-shaped line there are high-fives and squishy hugs for Keeper and more than a few for the teacher.

“Can everyone please go find their seats?”

A few grumpy sounds accompany the short walk as Keeper and Teacher escort everyone back. A little more conspiratorial whispering and teacher and puppet have garnered attention.

“You’re right, Keeper. I forgot to tell our new friends how much you love to play the tambourine and the bells and the maracas and the drums! Everybody! Keeper wants you to play in his marching band.”

Cue my assistants who come from the back of the classroom to hand out multi-colored instruments. A few tug of wars ensue as those who get bells are less than thrilled. Drums rank high in popularity.

In the end we are ready to perform and away we go! Out the classroom door and into the hallway we bang and shake with intent (with major prodding from Keeper), making sure to disrupt the organized chaos in the front offices.

Our parade is a smashing success and as we head back to class I thank all our band members for their solid musical contributions. Keeper’s mission was to replace sobs and sniffles with smiles and giggles. He is triumphant. More so are those sitting before me.

“Before we break does anyone have a question for Miss Lisa?”

A hand shoots up. I point to a mom in the back row.

“It’s not a question. It’s a thank you. I feel much better than I did an hour ago.”

And with that I dismiss the parents and special grownups and head over to my other classroom to begin their very first day of school.

I realized long ago that I have two sets of students. One group I consider scholarly as they are the best resources around when it comes to knowing and shedding light on the children I teach. If I listen well to their insights I create what I call growing paths.

It’s reciprocal. I need these parents to trust me and work with me and believe in my efforts. Without them on my team it’s hard to rack up points in the winning column.

I take a gulp of Gatorade and a bite of cereal bar and open the classroom door.

“Hi everybody! I’m Miss Lisa and this is my very special friend Keeper!”