In the fall of 1951, St. Martin’s Headmaster Ellsworth O. Van Slate addressed his faculty with powerful words: “We must always be on guard lest we become preoccupied with the letter rather than the spirit of learning..."
This memo is dedicated to the Class of 1962. I had the pleasure of getting to know several members of this class (and their spouses) on the occasion of John Lehman's induction into the Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame earlier this month. John is a humble man whose classmates hold him in high esteem. A number of them gathered on campus to celebrate his many accomplishments...
Let me begin by wishing you a warm welcome to the 2016-17 school year! In my opening remarks to our faculty last week, I shared a message I read years ago, which for me has never lost its meaning. The message is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but a little research leads me believe that someone else might have written it...
It's the Fourth of July weekend and today I read a news story about American flags being burned. Feelings are strong and emotions are high all over our country right now. People are responding to hurt, uncertainty, and fear. There is much to pray about. But, the flag? My mother taught our family to love and respect the flag. I have written before about the little ceremony my sisters and I participated in each holiday as we marched our flag down to the end of our driveway, posted it in the holder on the giant elm tree, and saluted as we sang patriotic songs. It was another world back then. We were not worried about what our friends would think, because they were raised to be patriotic as well. Each year, on the 4th of July, we decorated our bikes and rode alongside the Veterans and First Responders through the center of town for our local parade. Our firefighters were honored citizens, and flags and buntings decked the porches throughout the town. We were taught flag etiquette, and in our public school, we pledged allegiance with pride. Like so many things, our mother's training about respecting our country's flag has never left me.
When my son was in 5th grade he was assigned to read (over the course of a semester) about a dozen “chapter books” from a group of books carved out for his class in a special section of the library. At that time, Curtis was not a reader, and the after-school coaxing match to help him find something he wanted to read from that special section was not a contest either one of us was enjoying. My parental embarrassment gauge spiked when I visited the classroom midway through the contest and noted that all of his classmates had numerous stars behind their names, streaming across the posted chart on the wall, and Curtis had none. None! His father and I were avid readers and we couldn’t understand why this fine example of parental modeling wasn’t transferring into a household of kids (we had four) tripping over each other because their noses were in books.
It has been some time since I wrote a memo. I've missed sharing my thoughts. Currently, I am reading a very interesting book, which I wish I had read when my children were growing up. The book is Overschooled but Undereducated: How the Crisis In Education Is Jeopardizing Our Adolescents, and it is written by John Abbott. Reading this book has reminded me of the many things my parents, and my school, did right, back in the day. It also reinforces my thinking about where our schools need to take our youth to secure their success in the future. What first captured my attention was a story in the beginning pages. The author tells about a young geography teacher who took a group of boys in the 1960's from a private school in England to spend six weeks living with nomads to study agriculture in rural, pre-revolutionary Iran.
It is hard to believe that this is already Thanksgiving week. Before it slips past us, I'd like once again to share one of my favorite memories of giving. If you read my memos you have read it before. For me, it is a reminder to cherish each other, and to be present with each other, so I like to revisit it.
Do you ever experience those periods in your life when the bad seems to outweigh the good, when a sense of heaviness holds you back, and when you just can't see past the problems on your plate? It happens to me sometimes. Recently, when I was feeling particularly down and perturbed, engrossed by the problems which were facing me, so much so that I was actually considering borrowing my daughter's flannels which have "cranky pants" written down the side, I turned to prayer for answers and discovered the following:
So much of my reading lately has to do with preparing our children for the future. And, so much is about parenting. My favorite new term is "parenting for competence." I read those words in The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, by Jessica Lahey. Well, I don't know about the whole "best parents" thing, but I do think that when we over-shelter our children, we are not setting them up for independence, or for success. Lahey clarifies the difference between over-parenting and parenting for competence. In part, Lahey defines "parenting for competence" as parenting for tomorrow and not just for today. She points out that parents today are so focused on making sure that their children's every moment is flawless and comfortable; we are setting them up to fear failure and discomfort as they move into an independent future.
I begin this memo with a caveat. The article you will read below is a repeat of a memo I wrote last year at this time, so if it reads familiar, it is. Once again the student chairman of our Race for the Cure team of volunteers has asked me to write to you to promote awareness and volunteerism for this important cause. Last year I wrote the following memo in support of volunteering for our St. Martin's team. Once again, we are concerned that we won't have as many as we hope to staff our team. It is our tradition to field the biggest school team of volunteers for the race. I am sharing the same message because it explains exactly how I feel about this critical event. So please, read on:
Welcome back to school! It's the first memo of the 2015-16 year. Those of you who are new to St. Martin's will soon learn that I enjoy writing. I started writing memos when I first arrived at St. Martin's three years ago. The memos are my vehicle for helping you get to know me, and what I believe in. As you read them you will learn about my educational philosophy, my observations, my family, and especially my hopes and dreams for our students. They will sometimes come on Mondays, but not every Monday. I will write as often as I can, when I have a message I feel to be worthy of your time.
It's a simple philosophy; children learn to read by reading. Teaching our children to turn to books for pleasure enhances their desire to read, and the result is improved reading, comprehension, and writing skills. I am a believer in schools encouraging pleasure reading and one way to do this is to allow children to select their own reading materials. We need to do more of this.
ou may have noticed that I keep writing about the importance of teaching "soft skills," and you may be wondering why. Why focus on teaching skills such as empathy, resilience, adaptability, teamwork, and self-confidence? And, how will learning these skills help a child get into the right college? An article in Forbes Magazine* opens with these words, "Empathy matters. And it needs to be taught in schools." An article I read on the Edutopia website had this to say: "Right near the core of education, just past tolerance and just short of affectionate connectivity, is the idea of empathy." In the Forbes article, a study is cited which offers evidence that test scores actually improve with the teaching of empathy. Empathy is a skill, a competency which can and should be intentionally taught.
Greetings from New Orleans! It is good to be back in the country, and at St. Martin's. Our trip to China and Hong Kong was exciting! Our adventures were fruitful and inspiring. A world of opportunity is out there for our students and our school. Next year we will add a few "home-stay" students to our Upper School. In addition, we look forward to a summer program in which teachers and students will visit from our partner school in Hangzhou, and to online curricular exchanges between our classes and theirs. We anticipate teacher exchanges and student exchanges in the future.
I am writing tonight from the other side of the world! Three St. Martin's administrators, Michelle Scandurro (Upper School Division Head), Laurie Stewart (Director of Admission), Jennifer Wang (Director of International Program), and I are traveling through China to develop our international student/teacher exchange program. This trip has reinforced for us the importance of exposing each of our students to a global education.
I hope that everyone had a fun Mardi Gras! And, as we move into the Lenten season, we will continue to focus on teaching our students to dig deeper spiritually. Kim and I spent our week away on another road trip to visit my family in California. It was a great epic drive, and while there I found out a little bit more about personal learning networks, the old fashioned way.
February certainly crept up on me. Once again, the school year is speeding by. I love the pace and the excitement, save for the realization that our seniors are winding up their time with us. Last week they had the opportunity to showcase their many talents during one of my favorite traditions at St. Martin's, our annual Senior Leadership Day. Each year the seniors select a member of the faculty, staff, or administration to represent for the day.
When I was growing up, my family enjoyed reading the Chicago Tribune each Sunday. Our dad would read aloud his favorite comics (we called them "funnies") and then he would hand them to us to read and play the puzzles and games. One of my favorites was Dick Tracy, a square-jawed, forward thinking, intelligent police detective who sported a wristwatch that was also a two-way radio. Other iconic forms of entertainment throughout my childhood were cartoon families such as the Jetsons and the Flintstones.
Happy New Year! It's been a nice break with lots of fun family time. As always, it's good to be back at school. It promises to be a great second semester and a great 2015.
Each year at this time I wrestle with whether or not to renew my tired old New Year's resolutions. They never change much. I usually start the year determined to begin each day with a healthy dose of spiritual study. This resolution re-appears each year and though not consistent, it is the list topper and manages to stay on my radar throughout the year.
Earlier this summer I read a story that I could hardly wait to share with you. The Rev. Daniel R. Heischman, D.D., Executive Director of NAES (the National Association of Episcopal Schools) wrote of this story in one of his weekly meditations. I read his message and was intrigued enough to read the book, explore the story, and re-tell it here. It's the story of a great Olympic race, one you may never have heard of; most people haven't.