Being new to a community can be a daunting experience. For the newcomer, any community seems to have its unwritten rules and expectations that are not clearly explained during an orientation period or in a handbook. When I travel to other nations and cultures, I know that there are cultural attributes that are unfamiliar to me. My tactic is always to watch, try to learn, and be grateful for any redirection that is politely directed my way. In any experience in life, those of us who are new are always grateful for the guidance of those who, by their experience, can confidently navigate the cultural norms of their surroundings.
The opening of the new school year saw the arrival of 106 new students to Trinity-Pawling School. The health of any community is always revealed by how it responds to the arrival of new members.
As a new freshman (or any new student, for that matter), being assigned to be the waiter for the first week of family style meals creates a daunting challenge. The new boy doesn’t know the routine. He doesn’t know the physics involved in stacking dishes and food on a tray. He hasn’t yet exercised the spatial skills necessary to pack up empty dishes and platters of food back onto a tray and navigate his way back to the kitchen with the burden of 20 pounds of breakable china. He doesn’t know the order of how to dispose of dirty dishes once he has safely navigated himself to the kitchen area where the image of dropping the tray in front of 300 peers seems to have subsided a bit. Every new boy assigned to be the waiter during the first week of school wishes he had been tasked with this responsibility at a later time.
Yet, what each new boy could not anticipate before assuming his responsibilities as a waiter during that first week of school was the outpouring of support from old boys, the veterans. Surveying Scully Dining Hall that week, I saw older boys helping new boys learn the skill of waiting on the table. I also saw many new seniors helping new boys negotiate the challenges of being a waiter even though their newly established status as a senior exempted them from this duty. Of course, each old boy has been, at one point, a new boy and had to learn how to cope with the challenges of this responsibility. It was an immediate, visible reminder that this is a community that reaches out and welcomes the newcomers and teaches them how to navigate certain idiosyncratic cultural norms such as being a table waiter.
During these opening weeks of school, this type of transference of cultural competency occurred in places other than the dining hall as well. Older students helped younger students deal with homesickness and the laundry system, and what to do with flex blocks in their schedules. As I observed the transfer of cultural competence from the veterans to the newcomers, I was struck by what was absent in this dynamic. What was motivating this transfer of cultural competence was not the reward received by the giver of knowledge to those seeking it. Egos were not being stroked and the status of older boys or returning boys was not being bolstered by such interactions. Rather, the transfer of competence emanated from a place of kindness, from a desire to promote the common good of this community. This was quality, effective leadership.
There is an observable difference between leadership skills that develop through the accumulation of status versus those skills that develop through being regarded as a nice, likeable person. Adolescents crave status and they regard it as an invaluable commodity that will guide them through the challenges of teenage and adult life. Research, however, confirms that leadership skills that develop based on status (roles, positions of authority, popularity, etc.) do not serve individuals well as they become adults.
Status, unless it is grounded on something more meaningful, can only go so far in one’s life. Rather, leadership that is grounded on a foundation of likeability, or being a good and kind person, is the type of leadership that matures over time and leads to later adult success. Research also indicates that such acts of kindness also promote greater health, happiness, and a more positive outlook on life.
One of the distinctive attributes of the Trinity-Pawling community is that the vast majority of the students value likeability over status. When the student body speaks of “The Brotherhood,” they are talking about those elements that bond the students to one another. It is the type of bond that allows older boys to reach out to a new freshman to ensure that he knows how to stack dishes on his tray during the first week of school. And, it is this type of kindness that research illustrates will lead to a healthier and happier life. Watching a freshman learn how to stack a tray full of dishes during the first week of school is to be reminded that the depth of the common good found in any community is built on kindness rather than status. Let it be so.
Did you make good grades in high school? As a parent, do you want your son or daughter to make good grades? Do you believe that the role of education is to make a meaningful life for the learner? Is it the responsibility of Trinity-Pawling School to make its students learn?
In his insightful book, Let Your Life Speak, the educator and spiritualist, Parker Palmer asks thoughtful questions as to how we regard education, learning, and meaning in our lives. Do we make our lives, he asks, or do we grow our lives? As a history teacher and Headmaster, I am intrigued by these competing questions and believe there are profound differences between the two. I suggest that the first question reflects an industrial perspective of looking at our lives; whereas, the second question reflects more of an agricultural perspective. In terms of education and school culture, I believe there are significant differences between these two perspectives.
I am not alone in suggesting that, for more than 100 years, the state of education in the United States has been distinguished by its correlation to the industrial age and an industrial way of looking at the world. Learning and schools have been departmentalized. Too often, there is an assembly-line approach to teaching and learning in the sense that students must learn this or that at this age or that age. In the world of high stakes educational testing, there is a “seal of approval” that a student has or has not received the necessary amount of knowledge in a particular area. Students are often segregated into different categories, or classes, based on an assessment of the quality of the product of knowledge.
In many learning environments, there are both explicit and implicit messages that students are given that can reinforce a culture of perfection -if I do not (or my child does not) make good grades, then is there something wrong? If students and teachers are responsible for “making” something, then should this be without blemish? Increasingly, students and parents in schools are entrapped by this perception of perfection.
By contrast, a growth oriented approach to teaching and learning acknowledges that there are stages, or seasons, involved in the cultivation of learning. Lessons are reinforced and the learner is challenged to take ownership of the material through meaning and experience. Mistakes and shortcomings can be seen as seeds of new learning and growth, rather than blemishes that point to something that needs fixing. Challenges are opportunities for growth, rather than solely an exercise to fix toward a goal of production or an image of perfection.
Recently, I spoke to the students in Chapel about my experience in chemistry. I failed most every assessment that I took in my junior year of high school. Nonetheless, I worked harder in that class than any other in high school. In terms of my grades, the effort was to no avail. I received low grades on most every exercise. I learned important lessons, though, in this process. I learned that pre-med would not be the course of study that I should pursue in college. More importantly, though, I learned that I possessed an ability to persevere, to stay committed to something despite disappointment and failure. This emerging self-awareness helped me to grow an understanding of the role of resiliency in my learning and maturation process and how it cultivated, in time, the emergence of greater self-confidence.
Trinity-Pawling aspires to be a growth-oriented school. What a student knows is not nearly as important as how that student learns and the meaning that is derived from this learning. This is why project-based and experiential learning are increasingly playing a deeper role in the learning environment at Trinity-Pawling. Progress is not something that is made at Trinity-Pawling. Rather, progress is the result of growth that has many different nutrients, including challenge, care, compassion, confidence, creativity, and character.
Perhaps most importantly, true joy comes from the discovery that we are learning and growing as human beings. Learning that is directed toward growth leads to opportunities of self-discovery, a deepening sense of self-awareness, and joy. To be sure, there is satisfaction that comes from achievement and goals are important to compel growth. True joy, however, comes with the revelation that life has meaning and is a journey of growth. At Trinity-Pawling School, we aspire towards such growth to reveal the greatness that exists in each of our students as learners and as Children of God.
When you drive south from Trinity-Pawling School on Route 22 you eventually hit Brewster, NY. Nestled amongst the various strip malls sits a building with a sign that reads “Wholistic Physical Therapy.” The sign immediately catches my eye because of its spelling. In fact, the sign is somewhat of a joke for many of us at Trinity-Pawling as we wonder how the owners of the facility could have spelled holistic with a “w.” Teachers are trained to pick up on such details. Catching a spelling mistake provides us with a Pavlovian-type reflex to look for our red pens.
Perhaps the sign’s spelling attracts so much attention for us at Trinity-Pawling because we often tout the benefits of the School’s holistic approach to education: the growth of the mind, body, and spirit through a student-centered approach to teaching and learning. While Trinity-Pawling is certainly not alone in its holistic approach to education, it is a value that we deliberately and passionately pursue as educators. It is because of this that the sign’s spelling catches our attention so quickly as we drive south. Each time we pass, we wonder why the owners of the facility don’t correct their sign’s spelling.
The reason they do not change their sign is because it is not spelled incorrectly. In the world of language geeks there can be fierce debate over the usage of wholistic versus holistic. While the two words have similar meanings, some argue about their specific usage. Wholistic generally refers to the whole of the body. Holistic, on the other hand, originally referenced the philosophy of “holism” which is the treatment of different parts of the body to impact the whole of the body. Despite their slightly different meanings, the words “wholistic” and “holistic” are often interchangeable. One is neither right, nor wrong in terms of their usage. Their use is a matter of preference or, perhaps, perspective.
This sign is a strong reminder for me to never assume my perspective is solely correct. This is particularly relevant for educators in our work with young people. Teachers at Trinity-Pawling have a profound impact on the growth of each boy. Trinity-Pawling is grounded in a mission that compels its teachers to challenge young men to grasp the greatness that each possess. As a faculty, we are guided by this approach to teaching and learning. As individual teachers, however, we each bring our own individual perspectives and, at times, preferences to our craft of teaching. Sometimes these perspectives will differ from those of our colleagues. Often, they will differ from those of our students.
Different perspectives that are part of a larger framework of a common purpose are healthy components of a learning community. They are not to be feared, nor should one perspective seek to shape or mold another. Teaching is a dynamic process and learning is the product of mutuality. As a teacher and as a school leader, I discovered long ago that I learn more from my students and my colleagues than I have probably taught. Their perspectives inevitably enrich and inform my own. And, hopefully they have found some value in my perspectives.
And, to those students who I corrected their spelling of “wholistic” to “holistic:” I apologize.
At the age of 11, I received my first “real” job. Once a week I delivered a newspaper to about thirty homes. I was paid poorly, but it was a job and I was proud to have it. When I was in sixth grade I received a much larger paper route, delivering a daily newspaper. I had this paper route for over three years, and during this time I made a sizable sum of money for a boy my age. In the 1970’s, to earn close to $75 a month at the age of 12-14 years old immediately distinguished me from most of my friends. To be sure, though, it was hard work.
Over the years of my working life, I find myself thinking more about the impact this early work experience had on my life. I have come to realize that this experience, perhaps more than any other in my youth, provided the foundation for my attitudes and approach toward work and commitment. Upon such reflection, certain key themes come to mind that relate my experiences as a paperboy with the world of work and commitment.
1. Responsibilities are a Priority:
My paper route was a priority for me. The papers would be delivered by 3:30 p.m. each day. I would need to fold them, put a rubber band around each one to make it easier to throw, stuff them into a bag and then deliver about 90 papers by 5:00 p.m. Wednesday, and Thursdays were always supplement days which meant that I had to stuff inserts into the paper before they could be folded.
This schedule and the routine became a priority. It affected what I could do after school and when I could do it. When I wanted to be with friends, it meant they helped me with the paper route before we could do something else.
Obligations with work will most often dictate the limits of one’s personal life. While work should never become the most important thing in anyone’s life, it will limit certain things you would like to do. The key to happiness in one’s work is to find the balance between a rewarding and enriching job, and a rewarding and enriching life away from work.
2. In Bad Weather Plan Accordingly:
The papers had to be delivered in the rain. On those days, they had to be placed inside the screen doors to keep them dry. If someone’s paper was wet, it was my fault not the weather’s.
Sometimes, conditions are not great. Outside factors force us to change routine. It is important to be prepared for this. These conditions will make the job more difficult and will require more time. But it doesn’t happen every day. It is always good to remind oneself that the job has its better days.
3. Be Polite When You Ask People For Things:
As the paperboy, it was my job to collect the monthly bills from those people on my route. The district manager would then collect the money from me. I had to record a list and keep track of the list’s accuracy and the money. Each month, I would knock on the doors and ask people to pay for their month’s worth of delivery. Most people gave me tips that I would keep in a separate pocket.
When asking people for money, or anything else for that matter, how one asks for it will have a great impact on how well the task is accomplished. This is true for anything, even when asking for something that you think should be expected without having to ask for it.
4. Sometimes, it is Necessary to Work at Odd Hours:
My route was an afternoon route, with the exception of Sundays when the paper came in the morning. People like to read the paper on Sunday morning, and adults tend to get up earlier than kids. Therefore, my paper route began on Sundays before sunrise, and I was usually done by 7:30 a.m.
Sometimes to get the job done and to get it done well, it is necessary to get up earlier or stay up later than I would normally like. Sleep is not the priority; the responsibilities are. Again, though, work should not compromise your long-term health. There are days that are longer than others.
5. Some People Are Nice, Others Are Not:
On my paper route, some of the customers were friendly and others were not. Some people gave me tips, some people never did. Yet, I learned that this inconsistency could have little impact on how the job needed to be completed. Some people would comment nicely on the job that I was doing, others expected the job done well as a minimum requirement. Sometimes, neither hard work nor a positive attitude on my part would prevent someone else from being rude or ungrateful.
In work, there are friendly people you will deal with and others will be less so. Some people will thank you or recognize your work, others will just expect you to get the job done and get it done well. Some people will encourage you, others will not. And, there will be some who are ungrateful and sometimes rude. Ultimately, it cannot affect your responsibilities. Often, though, consistency with effort and a positive attitude will wear down the selfishness and poor attitude of others.
6. Hard Work and a Good Attitude Is Often, but Not Always Rewarded:
I learned quickly that while some people may never be grateful for thoroughness and hard work, others were very appreciative. I also learned that these people often showed their appreciation through tips and Christmas bonuses. At Christmas time, for example, I usually collected over $200 in bonus money alone. I learned quickly that while some people may not recognize hard work, others will and it will often be rewarded.
With a job, there is never an immediate correlation between hard work and tangible rewards. In fact, often the immediate rewards of hard work and accomplishments results in being given more responsibilities and higher expectations. Hard work and a positive attitude that is sustained over time and that meets the challenges imposed by increased responsibilities often is recognized in the form of promotions and a salary increase. Yet, this type of recognition does not happen every time you do something extra. It is the result of hard work and a positive attitude that is maintained over time. Remember, though, that just because there is not always a “thank you” does not mean that the hard work is not recognized.
7. Choose Short Cuts Wisely:
On the paper route, people would get really annoyed with me if I cut across their lawn on my bike. Taking short cuts is an essential part of a paper route. Yet, I learned that you had to determine which short cut was worth taking and which created more problems than they solved.
There are opportunities for short cuts in any job. Sometimes they will help you get the job done more efficiently. In many cases, though, short cuts can create other problems. People will be offended if your short cut impacts them. When this happens, the time you save is not worth the problem you have created. Often, short cuts can lead to more time being spent to solve the other problems that have been created due to the short cut that was taken.
8. Delegate Wisely:
There were times when I could not deliver the papers. I would get sick or a family vacation took me away from the route for a period of time. In the summer, I often left for a month. During this time I had to find a substitute for the papers or risk losing the route all together. One time, I came close to having the substitute lose the job for me. When I returned from my month away, the district manager informed me that the substitute had done such a poor job that he had found someone else to take the route. I pleaded my case because I did not want to lose the position. I remember clearly the manager telling me that even though I was not the one who had been directly irresponsible, I had been the one who entrusted this responsibility to the person who did not care about doing the job well. I got the route back, but it was after much begging on my part.
In work, delegation is important. It empowers others and allows you to be more efficient and not be overwhelmed by what you have to do. However, delegation done poorly will create problems that come back to rest on your shoulders. If you give something important to someone else to do and they blow it, no one wants to hear the excuse that “it was the other person’s fault.” Delegate work to people you trust because their actions will reflect on you.
9. Beware of Dogs and Remember Where They Are:
There were many dogs on the route. Some were always friendly, some barked ferociously, but once they got to know me they became friendly. But there was always one dog that would bark and bite.
In every work environment, people can be like these dogs. It is important to know each dog’s temperament. To those who are always friendly, be friendly in return. To those whose bark is worse than their bite, know that they are testing you. Be yourself, as that is what they are looking to test. When facing those who bite, use caution but never be intimidated or afraid of them. Stand your ground if it is appropriate. Walk away if it is a battle that is not worth fighting or one you can’t win at that moment.
10. Saving Money Allows You to Buy Things You Want:
I earned a lot of money on this paper route. I spent a fair amount of it, but I also saved much of it. By saving the money, I could work toward a big purchase. I bought more than one bicycle with this money. I also bought a stereo and began my obsession with record collecting with money saved from my paper route.
To work towards ownership of big-ticket items such as a car, a home, a vacation, a stereo it is important to save and budget for them. Credit cards will bring much purchasing power to you, but you need the steady income of a job to pay the bills.
Of course, when I was young, I didn’t think of these aspects of my daily job. It was a job. I had to do it. Sometimes I wished I did not have to do it because it interfered with other things I liked to do. But, at the end of the month I was paid and I was reminded that it was nice to get the money.
As I have grown older, I am increasingly more aware of and grateful for the opportunities I had to learn from the experiences of my youth. As an educator, I often challenge students to remember that their futures are being forged by what they are doing today and what they have done yesterday. The joy and the blessing to be found in these continuities in life, is the powerful role that learning plays in adding meaning and growth to these experiences.
My daughter is a fan of Bikram Yoga, or “hot yoga.” While I am not a frequent practitioner of yoga, I have enjoyed it on several occasions. However, the thought of striking and holding yoga poses in a room with a temperature exceeding 100 degrees seems both unusually daunting and rather unappealing. Still, I have come to value the benefits of yoga to my overall health and well-being.
While certainly no master at yoga, I do appreciate the importance of balance and how this can strengthen my inner core. In my practice of yoga, though, there are often times when I am not in balance. With new, challenging poses, I find it more difficult to find that nexus of balance where my core will be strengthened. When I do, though, it is always the result of first being out of balance. In yoga, balance leads to growth. But, imbalance is always the precursor to balance and, therefore, growth.
In education, there is much to say about the importance of balance. This is especially true in a culture where there can be so many distractions. It is important for students to learn that there needs to be balance in their lives. This is why Trinity-Pawling embraces the value of a holistic approach to education, when a student’s mind, body, and spirit can be nurtured and nourished. Such a holistic approach to education, in my opinion, not only acknowledges our access to multiple intelligences and multiple modes of learning, it also leads to a life and love of learning. Balance is enriching.
With this said, though, I would also like to make the case for the importance of imbalance in learning and in life. As we grow, we are constantly in a state of imbalance. New, unfamiliar material is introduced. Academics grow more challenging. There are frustrations, sometimes failures. Where answers once dominated, questions now loom. As new goals are established, there is a feeling of discomfort that comes from unfamiliarity. Mistakes are made. This, though, is all part of healthy growth. If students are always in a state of balance, they will not move forward. Rather, moving forward through growth necessitates a certain degree of imbalance.
Imbalance should neither be feared nor should it be isolated from the experience of the learner or the teacher. If we seek to protect our students, children, or ourselves from the necessary periods of imbalance, we thwart possibilities for substantive growth. Imbalance allows for vulnerability. It is precisely at these points of vulnerability that can lead to the most significant growth. Vulnerability can lead to revelation, resilience, and confidence. If we are constantly in a state of balance, however, we lose opportunities for such vulnerability and growth.
In yoga, as in life, there is a quest toward balance. But, imbalance is a necessary ingredient in this objective and should not be feared. It is in the interplay between balance and imbalance where true growth is attained and our inner core is strengthened.
As we begin a new school year, it is my hope that it is a year filled with growth, strength, learning, and joy. May it be so.
This is an unprecedented time to be a student. It is a remarkable time to be an educator. And, it is a somewhat disconcerting time to be a parent. The world is rapidly changing, and the social, economic, and demographic implications of this change are extraordinary. Our students are growing up in a world that will look much different when they enter adulthood than when their parents did. It is estimated that by the time a student today is 38 years old, he or she will have had 10-14 different jobs. If the trends from the past decade continue, the jobs that will be most in demand when today’s high school student enters the workforce did not exist when that student entered high school. At the same time, 15% of the school-age population that is educated in India represents a greater number than the entire United States workforce. While no one can accurately predict the future, it is prudent to anticipate that the pace of change that has defined the recent past will continue to shape the future.
What are the challenges for schools to prepare students for this future? In addition to creating a foundation of academic knowledge, it is incumbent upon schools to also strongly emphasize those skills that will be necessary in this rapidly changing world: critical thinking, collaborative leadership, creativity, entrepreneurship and initiative, written and oral communication, analysis, and problem solving. In a world characterized by the ubiquity of technology and automation, these skills are representative of what cannot be easily replicated. It is the goal of Trinity-Pawling to deliberately highlight these skills in the curriculum because they garner greater individualized value in college and career. None of these skills, however, will be useful, unless the student also develops a deep sense of self-awareness of their own gifts, talents, and potential. The critical job of the educator today, therefore, is to build the skills that will provide value for our students from a foundation of developing self-awareness and autonomy. I believe that Trinity-Pawling is distinctively and deliberately poised to prepare our students for an ever-changing world as leaders.
In a recent column in the New York Times, David Brooks wrote of the need for schools to help students channel their energy and focus toward emerging interests. His argument is that a learning culture driven by the prominence of the G.P.A. forces students to spread their energy and focus across a wide spectrum of areas, instead of challenging student interest toward an exploration of their passions. While schools today do not live in an “either-or” choice between emphasizing G.P.A. or individual student interests, I do believe that many schools do not do enough to help young people discover their gifts, talents, and passions. The learning environment at Trinity-Pawling guides students toward greater self-awareness through the relational trust that characterizes its community. Here, there is room for boys to explore interests and pursue passions in a learning environment that encourages healthy risks and supports them in this process.
In the newly developed Practicum for Civic Leadership, Trinity-Pawling students will be afforded the time and resources to explore their interests on a deeper level, strengthening their foundation of self-awareness. Each rising senior is asked to ponder and select an area of personal interest they would like to pursue further. The School will help channel this exploration and, ideally, team each student with a mentor who has experience in this field. Each student will begin this independent exploration during the summer before his senior year. When he returns in the fall, the senior will be charged with creating an artifact that captures what he has learned through his exploration. For example, a boy interested in film may produce a screenplay; a boy interested in poetry may choose to create an anthology of original works; a boy interested in engineering may produce a schematic design for a new bridge; or, a boy interested in music may build his own instrument or piece of music. Students, in short, will be challenged to dig deep into an area of emerging interest so that they can discover something more about it and themselves.
In The Element, Sir Kenneth Robinson argues that self-discovery and self-awareness forge a skill set of productivity and maneuverability that will enable young people to better navigate the turbulent waters of the rapidly changing world. The “element,” according to Robinson, is “the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion.” People who are in “their element” are “doing the thing they love, and in doing it they feel like their most authentic selves….Being there provides a sense of self-revelation, of defining who they really are and what they’re really meant to be doing with their lives.” The Trinity-Pawling learning environment will continue to search for those spaces where a boy can immerse himself into self-awareness and discovery. In a culture in which girls outnumber boys in colleges by almost a margin of 20%, this type of discovery and awareness could be a game-changer in the life of a young man. As I said, it is an exciting time to be an educator at Trinity-Pawling!
In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus says to Cassius, “On such a full sea are we now afloat that we must take the current where it serves or lose our ventures.” I have always been drawn to this statement and I remind myself of it often. At first glance, one could erroneously perceive a certain fatalism in the statement, a message that one has little control over one’s future. Far from suggesting powerlessness over events, Brutus is challenging Cassius to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. Of course, the saliency of the message needs to be removed from the deadly contexts of Shakespeare’s plot and the fate of Julius Caesar.
The wisdom of Shakespeare’s verbiage lies in the challenge that one must take full advantage of the circumstances that one faces, or else risk losing all that has been invested to date. Such wisdom has specific relevancy each day in the life of a school and in the process of teaching and learning. Learning and growth demand the exercise of certain healthy risks. If a student does not engage in the learning process with an initiative to learn what may seem unfamiliar and distant, then any learning will be superficial at best. Similarly, if a teacher does not engage each individual student in the learning process in challenging and dynamic ways, then his or her teaching will be diffuse and inefficient.
A teacher with integrity in his or her chosen profession chooses to teach because they have a desire to help young people grow toward a healthy, happy, and independent adulthood. In this context, dedicated teachers seek to take advantage of each opportunity that presents itself to help students grow and mature, both inside and outside of the classroom. To pursue this profession to its fullest extent requires tremendous investment, dedication, and patience. It requires that teachers take full advantage of each opportunity for a student’s learning and growth, recognizing that without such dedication the ventures of the profession will be met with less than positive results.
A school, if it is to take full advantage of the opportunities for the learning and growth of its students and its faculty, must cultivate and sustain a culture of connectivity. A culture of connectivity allows for relationships to flourish, especially those between teachers and students. A culture of connectivity creates a learning environment in which students feel comfortable taking healthy intellectual risks that will facilitate learning and growth. A culture of connectivity emphasizes the importance of respect in all that it does, including the ways in which it holds students accountable for their responsibilities.
Trinity-Pawling aspires to build and sustain a culture of connectivity to ensure that our pursuit of greatness is realized in the experience of our students. To paraphrase Shakespeare, it is on this sea that we are cast and we must take advantage of our vast opportunities to ensure that the goals of these ventures are not lost, but maximized. As we anticipate the rest of this and the next academic year, the faculty, staff, and I look forward to our partnership with you as we strive to reach the goals of our ambitions and ventures.
Did you ever fail a quiz or a test in school? I did. Did you ever forget to complete a homework assignment or, even worse, choose not to do it? I did. Did you ever break a rule at school or at home and endure the consequences that followed? I have failed and will continue to fail. While I work hard to minimize the occurrences and impact of such failure, by virtue of my humanity I cannot prevent it.
A recent study found that stress among adolescents is nearly at the same level as stress among adults. This is an alarming discovery, especially because adolescents have not fully developed healthy coping measures to release stress. Some inevitably choose unhealthy ways to alleviate their stress. Indeed, the same study also reveals that adolescents who are stressed do not realize the impact that their stress may have on their physical and emotional well-being. As educators and parents who are attuned to the well-being of our students and children, we must be attentive to this study and explore ways that we can work to ameliorate the negative impact of high levels of stress experienced by our students and children.
For 28 years, I have worked with adolescents and have helped them navigate the waters of academically challenging school environments. I have seen many students reach great achievements in the classroom, on the athletic field, and in other areas of engagement. I have also seen many students and some parents equate achievement with perfection. Indeed the pressure to achieve perceived goals of perfection is real for many students; and, it causes stress. The necessary challenge for schools and for parents is to help place achievement in its proper context.
With few exceptions, students at Trinity-Pawling want to succeed. They want to perform well academically and athletically. They have set high goals for themselves, and they work hard toward reaching these goals. In short, boys at Trinity-Pawling want to achieve. Trinity-Pawling, moreover, is committed to helping them achieve. As educators, though, we must also teach our students that high achievement does not mean perfection. As importantly, we must always seek to associate achievement with effort so that the focus is on the effort, even more than the actual achievement.
The pursuit of excellence through effort allows young people to understand that learning is a process and that their commitment to their own growth is a life-long journey. It also allows them to understand that hard work does not lead to perfection. Rather, hard work is the process by which our discovery of the world is enhanced. Part of this discovery is the ability to learn by doing, including the importance of learning from mistakes. Hard work can be liberating to young people if it is disassociated from the pressures of perfection.
Our students must identify their hard work with a longer journey of discovery, rather than a series of boxes to check on their way to another goal, such as college. To achieve this result, we must work to place achievement and effort in its proper context and to liberate our students from the pressures to be perfect.
Even with such lofty goals, we must also acknowledge that the stress that many of our students experience is real and palpable. As teachers, we must be mindful of what our students’ experiences are like and help them navigate these challenges. When necessary, we must adjust our own plans if they unintentionally create an unreasonable objective for students to accomplish, such as several major assessments scheduled to be given on the same day.
It is also important that our students know the resources that are available to them when they are coping with stressful situations. When they feel stressed and overwhelmed by challenges, they need to be in dialogue with caring adults, such as a parent, a trusted teacher, a caring advisor, or the trained professionalism of a counselor or a psychologist. The availability of dialogue and compassion must be a readily-seen resource for all students. As a parent, if you believe that your son is experiencing unhealthy feelings of anxiety and stress, please let us know. We will also do the same. We share a commitment that their journey of learning and growth is a healthy one.
I have never been one for New Year’s Resolutions, probably because the majority of such resolutions do not have much staying power. This year, however, I did resolve to focus on something for the New Year. Amidst all of my other plans and ambitions for what I want to accomplish in the New Year, this focus will stand separate. My resolution involves focusing on my being, rather than my doing.
Once, a colleague came back from a conference and announced that he had learned from a presentation that you were either a “do-er” or a “be-er” and that it was important to figure out which one you were. Our society places great value in “doing,” and it can be tempting to juxtapose the image and goal of productivity against a sedentary image of “being.” This is not only a mistake, but it is a terribly unhealthy message to send, particularly to young people. Self-awareness and appreciation for life itself is the essence of “being” and gives meaning, direction, and fulfillment to anything that one does. And, what one does can positively or negatively impact one’s being. A person’s journey must include an awareness of the healthy dynamic of both “doing” and “being.” A thoughtful, caring school can be instrumental in this process for a young person on such a journey.
Clearly, there is a great deal of “doing” that goes on at Trinity-Pawling School. Teaching young people to value hard work and achievement is an important aspect of preparing them for college and for life. Helping our students learn how to define success in their achievement, though, is an inherent aspect of this process. The legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, challenged his players by saying, “Try your hardest in all ways and you are a success. Period. Do less than that and you have failed to one degree or another.” Praising and recognizing the importance of effort is integral to any focus on achievement. A work ethic that places focus on effort enhances resiliency and engages the role of “being” in the “doing.” By contrast, a work ethic that is focused entirely on outcome does little to prepare students for life’s inevitable setbacks. Effort, therefore, is integral to both “doing” and “being.”
I have been blessed to spend each of the 28 years of my career in two independent schools that dedicate a portion of the school day to worship. Spirituality is a key component of my “being.” As an educator, spirituality is also a key component to my understanding of enriched and effective teaching. While Trinity-Pawling School is dedicated to high academic achievement for each student, this dedication emanates from a commitment to each student’s growth in mind, body, and spirit. Its community is one dedicated toward mutual growth for students and faculty, imbued by a philosophy that affirms that each of its members is given dignity and self-worth by a loving God.
At Trinity-Pawling, a student’s “being” is an integral component of his “doing.” As educators, our goal is to ensure that the former gives meaning, direction, and fulfillment to the latter. The order of this relationship, moreover, is critically important. Too often, our society emphasizes that one’s “doing” should define one’s “being.” This message is particularly toxic for our children. Defining one’s self-worth based on grades, test scores, athletic prowess, or college acceptance letters places “doing” at the center of one’s “being.” It is essential that schools recognize that “doing” and “being” are different and that time is dedicated so that each student can work to strengthen their understanding of their “being.” Under the guidance of caring teachers, students have the opportunity to discover who they are as learners, citizens, friends, and human beings. In so doing, they can begin to explore the depths of the greatness that exists in each of them. Finding this greatness exists at the nexus between being and doing.
Last year, conflicts involving airline passengers and reclining seats forced three flights to land prematurely. What these conflicts have in common is the declining amount of personal space on planes as the airline industry works to maximize profits at the expense of passenger comfort. One person’s reclining seat impedes the functionality of another’s tray table. These two standard amenities of airline travel are colliding with a customer base that is pushing back against the increasing discomfort of airline travel.
There is no doubt that the airlines have reduced passenger space during a time that coincides with larger passenger size. Airline travel, however, has never been an individual process. It has always been a lesson in community. Airline passengers often sit next to people whom they do not know; coach seats have never been overly spacious; people have always had to wait to share tiny restroom facilities; and, all must wait patiently for those seated ahead of them to deplane. Airline travel has always been an exercise in being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Schools, particularly boarding schools, are places where there are myriad opportunities for young people to discover the many gifts associated with living in community. Boys at Trinity-Pawling know that they are cared for at school by their teachers, coaches, and dorm parents. The importance that the School places on community, such as gathering for chapel four times a week or having family-style meals five times a week, reflects a commitment to create a learning environment where the School is not only a community, but like a family as well. As in any community, there are times where all of its members must be comfortable with being uncomfortable (or any family, for that matter!). It is often in the periods of discomfort where the greatest growth occurs.
As parents, we want our children to learn to take healthy risks in order for them to grow. We teach our children how to ride a bike, knowing that they will fall off and possibly hurt themselves. This risk, however, is a necessary and healthy one because learning how to ride a bike provides a child with greater independence to explore his or her world. Challenging young people to take healthy risks is all about embracing the opportunity for growth and revelation that comes from being uncomfortable.
The learning environment at Trinity-Pawling promotes healthy risk taking. Teaching students, particularly boys, the importance of distinguishing healthy risks from unhealthy ones is a priority. Healthy risks demand vulnerability and lead to growth. For students to risk being vulnerable, perhaps risking failure, they must feel safe and connected in their school environment. This winter, the students and faculty will begin to explore new ways of learning through interdisciplinary projects. For many, this will be a new experience and there is no previous template from which to work. It will be a time for being comfortable with being uncomfortable. And, it will be a time of learning and growth.
As an Episcopal boarding school, Trinity-Pawling is in a distinctive position to help boys discover that it is through these moments of discomfort that there exist opportunities for tremendous growth and revelation of God’s love. Jesus challenged his disciples to see God’s grace and love in the uncomfortable moments in life. Whether it was highlighting the love shown by the Samaritan on the road to Jericho, breaking bread with tax collectors, or the cleansing of the lepers, Jesus’s ministry is a call to live in community with one another, especially when that call challenges us to grow through moments of discomfort or even confusion. This, I might add, also holds true for the communities we encounter when we travel on airplanes!
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