Thursday, November 17, 2011

Giving Thanks

     Each work day, I finish by making a mental list. I select the three best things that had happened that day. There are no specific criteria. One might be some way I believe I had helped someone. A finished task. A great meeting. Positive feedback. Even negatives can usually reveal a positive glimmer if you look hard enough.
    I do this somewhat for practical, personal reasons. It helps me sleep better at night, and it keeps me optimistic. But there also are some larger philosophical reasons: as I've written previously, I think our society--individually and collectively--is losing a sense of gratitude.
     So here we are, near Thanksgiving; and at the risk of being totally cliched, I want to share with you some of the things for which I am grateful. Since this is my head of school blog, I'm going to stick to professional points. I could go on and on about my family and personal blessings. For many reasons these also will be generalities. More than anything, don't want to hurt anyone through inadvertent omission.
  • I feel very fortunate to head a school with a meaningful mission--and that the school is true to its mission. At a time when many schools are cutting programs and taking a very narrow academic approach, we continue to take a truly holistic approach. We work on every aspect of human development: intellectual, physical, artistic, social, emotional, spiritual...and probably some I'm forgetting. We also see them as totally integrated.
  • The faculty here (and when I say faculty, I refer to all the adults who work at a school and thus somehow influence kids). They work tirelessly and truly care about the students. Even though many have extensive experience, they are quite growth oriented, always seeking ways to improve their craft and thus better serve the students. The relatively long average tenure speaks to their dedication.
  • We have a committed board of trustees. Individually and collectively, they take their responsibilities very seriously and provide tremendous support. Their talents mesh beautifully. I always feel enlightened--and a bit in awe--after watching them in action, either working on a task force, doing committee work, or convening as a full board. Like the faculty, they strive to grow even stronger.
  • Our school community is a very generous one. People here give and give in many ways--time, talent, and treasure. Two amazing statistics bear this out. A recent study revealed that approximately 85% of our parents volunteer in some way at the school. That's an amazing number, and it doesn't capture how much energy and time so many of them give. For some it's like a second job. The second is our five-year streak of 100% family participation in our Annual Fund.
  • Parents here are involved in their children's education, and they place great trust in the school. Many studies show that parent engagement is perhaps the most important factor in a successful school.
  • Great kids, who work hard, act respectfully, and inspire everyone mentioned above. Two quick stories. Recently our dean was talking to a student about a small disciplinary issue. Rather than make any excuses, the student simply said, "I wasn't being a very good person." In the second story, a teacher heard during a class from an alum whose mother has died. A student instantly wrote a letter for the teacher to deliver.

      I wanted to avoid being cliched in taking on this topic, and now I realize that my list of items is rather cliched. There's a lesson there. The things that make for a great school are not that complicated. But they can prove elusive. Often at least one is missing, or they are out of balance in some way. It comes down to culture. So, along with being so thankful for the opportunity to head this school, perhaps I'm most grateful that our culture is so healthy. It's what will enable us to keep growing better and better as a school and as people.

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