The Head's Vantage
Welcome to The Head's Vantage - a blog examining important educational topics by Andrew Webster, Head of School.
At Wardlaw+Hartridge, we take great pride in the diversity of our student body and the inclusiveness of our community. To a far greater degree than any school I have encountered, we achieve our goals in this aspect of school life, which is not to say we never fall short. In our ideal world, all of our students would feel equally that they are understood and valued and that their claim on this school as their own community is equal to all others’; and furthermore, that they would never have moments when they question this belief. To take this idea a step further, that would mean no student would ever wonder whether they are being perceived inaccurately or misunderstood because of the bias (even if unintentional and unrecognized) of others. In addition, no student should feel that some part of their identity, whether religious, ethnic, racial, gender, sexual orientation, class, or other, is not fully valued and appreciated. This is surely an impossible dream, but it’s worth trying to get as close as possible to achieving it every day.
Unfortunately, to stake this claim as a community has become increasingly countercultural. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously spoke of his dream that his children would be judged only by the content of their character. Too many now perceive people who are not like them to be a menacing “other” or someone who has no legitimate claim to an equal part of the American dream, and to disparage their character based on prejudice and ignorance. Demagogues have pitted white groups against people of color, Christians against Muslims and Jews, and heterosexuals against people of other sexual orientations. Recently, we have seen travel bans implemented against people from Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar, in addition to the nations from the previous ban of three years ago. The message to millions of people is that they are not worthy and that they pose a danger to us. Most of these people are Muslim and African.
In addition, we have created horrific conditions at our southern border. People seeking asylum have been detained in inhumane conditions in historic numbers, with many returned to perilous situations. Families continue to be separated, and reports of widespread abuse of detainees abound. Roughly 60,000 people have been forced to wait for months in difficult conditions in Mexico. Beyond the border, families who have lived peaceful and successful lives here for many years have been torn apart by deportations.
Hate crimes have spiked, and some instigators have drawn courage from heightened racial and political rhetoric that is aimed at division. Schools and universities across the country have not been immune to the forces that erode community.
The news can be dispiriting, but it only strengthens our desire to maintain our values and our standards. As our students gaze forward into a world they will enter in the near future, I want them to engage with others from all walks of life as true equals, to see that working together we can elevate each other to new planes of mutual understanding, prosperity, and peace. We strive for environments in our classrooms, advisory groups, teams, ensembles, peer leadership groups, and clubs that demonstrate our commitment to these goals quietly and effectively every day, so that it permeates us deeply and strengthens us to resist those who would divide us.
In the midst of Black History month, I remember always that our community would be unimaginable without the civil rights movement and particularly without the way it came to change some people’s hearts. Leaders of the movement spoke to the highest ideals of the nation and inspired others to try to live by those standards. It is commonplace to lament the ways Americans have failed to live up to the ideals of King and the movement, but it is also important to note the many ways all those in the movement created opportunities for communities such as Wardlaw+Hartridge to arise. Let us continue to come together to live by our highest standards.
Dear Wardlaw+Hartridge Community,
As we ease into winter, the holiday season and the end of another year, we have an opportunity to take a step back from our ordinary routines, strengthen our connections to others important to us, and, I hope, exhale and relax a little, despite the busy nature of the season.
Among other things, it is a season of gift giving. So, what gifts shall we give to those about whom we care most? We have been trained to seek the right gadget, article of clothing, or item of luxury that will spark joy or bring contentment. Often, though, the joy that comes with giving or receiving a special gift is the knowledge that the giver has paid enough attention not just to buy something nice, but to buy something that shows they understand the receiver. If you have ever received a gift from someone who has known better than you what you want or need, you will recognize that feeling.
The gift above all others that we should give this season, and commit to giving all year long, is focused attention. Fifty years after Mr. Rogers first graced our small, black-and-white screens, he is having a moment in film and in other media. In a world of fractured attention, Mr. Rogers is the master of wholehearted attention. As psychologist Adelia Moore recently wrote in The Atlantic, “The ubiquity of screens has made attention scarcer than ever… When parents pay attention to their children as Mr. Rogers did – with genuine curiosity – they tend to focus more on what is happening between them and their children, and less on their own stresses and to-do lists. If they can establish a pattern of responsiveness, they can do what Mr. Rogers did with his sweaters, shoes, and song, and build up the sense of security that kids need to thrive.”
The same holds true for teacher-student relationships to some degree, though a teacher plays a different but related role, and it certainly holds true among adults we cherish. There is so much these days that divides our attention, and so many forces in the world that erode our children’s sense of security, that there is a more powerful need than ever to provide full and present attention.
Jack Ma, whom Business Insider hilariously refers to as “former English teacher-turned-billionaire,” recently retired from Alibaba to focus on education. Speaking at an OECD conference, he shared his perspective that in the last century, the focus was on “caring about myself, [but] this century we win by caring about others.” He admonished educators not merely to train future workers but to nurture well-rounded humans. Students need to learn self-knowledge, empathy, teamwork, creativity, resilience. And where do those qualities thrive and grow? In an environment of focused attention. Ma says, “We want to make smart people learn how to live like a human, how to care about others… and how to care about the future.”
We are committed to similar ideals and values at Wardlaw+Hartridge. We strive to establish relationships that are most conducive to intellectual and personal growth, and that provide the personal attention that builds confidence. We’ll try to keep delivering those gifts all year long, and trust that you will do the same.
With best wishes for a happy holiday season filled with attention and care,
“True happiness…is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”
As students grow as learners and young people in our school, they are faced with the challenge of defining who they are and what they stand for. At the same time, they try to understand the forces afoot in the world they are moving into, and how they can enter that world in ways that reflect their emerging values. In this evolving process, families provide the crucial foundation. For most students, school and peers also play an important role, and increasingly so as students grow into adolescence.
This is nothing new, but I don’t believe it has ever been harder. The constant 24-hour news cycle, amplified through social media, is not conducive to calm consideration of values. Adults have so often failed to provide models of civil discourse. The problems that students observe seem intractable, including school violence, mass shootings, climate disruption, racial and religious intolerance, and the fundamental erosion of honesty and kindness as values. It is not at all surprising that students suffer increasingly from anxiety.
So, what is to be done to help our students find their way and see themselves as efficacious? Parents can and should take the time to talk about issues they see as important and link them overtly with values. If possible, parents should demonstrate how they act on those values. For example, if climate disruption is an issue that troubles you, what do you do about it? Students need to see that they can take action and help shape outcomes, even in small ways. Our service learning programs can also provide an avenue. Upper School students who are concerned about inequality and xenophobia can tutor refugee children in their homes or in the Plainfield schools we have partnered with. Some have traveled to El Paso and Las Cruces to explore border issues at close hand. They have, and will again this year, visit and live in small communities in Peru to learn how local leaders there address issues such as environmental degradation, education, women’s economic empowerment, and preventative health. At school and at home, students need to see that the work they put in will prepare them to add their voices and contribute their abilities in meaningful ways to problems they want to help solve.
Our emphasis on global engagement is based in the confidence that our students can clearly identify their own values and find productive and creative ways to infuse the world with those values. Clarifying their values and their sense of purpose will allow them to shoulder the burdens and responsibilities they will face without feeling overwhelmed and helpless. In classes and beyond, we want our students to develop a strong confidence in their ability to assess and address challenges using their own inner resources and in collaboration with others. When that confidence is instilled and nurtured at home, at school, and in other organizations our families choose to engage with, our students learn to blaze their own trails with resilience.
In our vision statement, and often in our marketing materials, we use the phrase Pioneering Thinkers. To develop in our students the ability to be pioneering thinkers is a lofty goal and one that seems a bit removed from the daily challenges of school. Much of the academic work our students produce may seem disconnected from innovation or out-of-the-box thinking. And yet I often see our young alumni doing pioneering work. In order to think outside the box, you need to learn how the box was built.
When I think of John Hakala ’07 conducting experiments using the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator, I also see him in our physics lab learning the fundamental laws. When I think of Andrew Bellisari ’06 conducting research and teaching about decolonization in Harvard’s graduate history program and then as a founding professor at Fulbright University in Vietnam (a pioneering university if there ever was one, see its fascinating story here: https://fulbright.edu.vn, I think of him working on teacher Bill Michalski’s project on the economy of slavery in the antebellum South. When I think of John Badalamenti ’05 creating skyports in his position as Head of Design at Uber Elevate (clearly a pioneering company aiming to revolutionize urban transportation), I recall his senior thesis project presentation in our Oakwood Room. When I hear from Manasvinee Mayil Vahanan ’17 about her data analysis research on brain MRI scans of autistic children, I think of her straining under the burden of AP Biology and AP Psychology.
As a parent, I have often witnessed the pain of academic challenges, and it can be hard to see a direct connection to the idea of pioneering thinking. For students, it can be difficult to find intrinsic value in working through math problems, learning vocabulary, probing the meanings of a book that they might find dull or irrelevant, taking notes in an organized manner, diagramming sentences, practicing scales, recording data precisely, and other academic tasks that may seem to lack a higher purpose. As with any school, some of what we assign requires a willingness to slog through some tedious activities, but that is means to a larger end of rigorous inquiry, where we ask the more exciting questions and dig into creative problem-solving. Our students learn higher order thinking skills based on the basic foundation they build. Our experience with the Mission Skills Assessment program in Middle School tells us that the W+H student body ranks among the national leaders in creative thinking, which indicates that we have struck a good balance between fundamentals and higher order thinking. We are proud of the ways our alumni demonstrate that they are well-equipped to thrive in a world that values creative problem-solving, collaboration, and communication.
Andrew Webster, Head of School, shares his welcome to the W+H community at the 137th Convocation Ceremony on September 5, 2019 in Laidlaw Gym:
It is my pleasure to welcome you to Convocation. Convocation, as our Latin students could tell you, means to call together, though it does not say for what purpose. Why pile into this gym, which can be uncomfortable, a little sweaty, and difficult to hear speakers in? It’s to take a moment to recognize our new beginning together and to be thankful to join with one another in this community.
One of the great joys of life in school is that you get a chance every year to start anew, to set new goals and rise to new challenges. Every year we get a new chance to ask ourselves what kind of community we want to be. What kind of student do you want to be? What kind of friend? What do you need to do to make your classes, or teams, or jazz bands, or play ensembles the best they can be? How will your actions and words demonstrate your answers to these questions?
AJ in his speech referred to us a caring community, and your responses show exactly how that comes to be. Thank you for such delightful and thoughtful insights.
To me, one of the great things in life is a delicious pie. It could be in pizza form, or a Jamaican meat pie, or a chicken pot pie, or a pie made of blueberry or peach or apple. But one thing you learn in a large family is that if you are really hungry, you’d best claim a big piece quickly or it will be gone. If you choose a smaller slice so your brother or sister (or father) can have more, then you are a better person than I am. I want the pie.
But the greatest things in life are not like pie. If you give someone your pie, you have less pie. But if you give someone joy, or love, or gratitude, or peace, or confidence, you create more of those things for yourself, and usually those qualities spread and multiply across the group. If you give more to class or your team, everyone benefits. If you help your friends, or even those who are not close to you, you get more friendship. Generosity builds more generosity.
We get to create our own world here. Do we want it to be a place where we seek our own triumphs at the expense of others and do not mind tearing others down to achieve our goals? Or rather should we focus on how we can lift each other up?
To me, as an educator, the most important thing is to act in ways that bring out the best in others, to elevate rather than demean, to bring laughter and delight to others, rather than fear, anger or anxiety, and to help students and colleagues unlock the inner resources they have to tackle challenges. Each one of you has the power to make us a stronger community, to lift the spirits of your peers, to elevate the quality of learning that occurs here. Throughout the year, I hope you will stop to recognize when you see that behavior in others, and also to stop from time to time and ask yourself what you are doing to make our community better.
I wish you a wonderful school year filled with growth, friendship, and happiness.
Below is the Charge to the Class of 2019, delivered by Andrew Webster, Head of School, at the 136thCommencement Ceremony on June 14:
Good morning, seniors, nearly almost just-about graduates, parents, teachers, alumni, Trustees, and my mom. Look out at this crowd and recognize how many people have invested time, care, energy, and love into your lives. Think for a moment about others who have done so but who cannot be here today. Realize that you would not have reached this milestone and would not inhabit your current versions of yourselves without their support and guidance. Why don’t you blow them a kiss and give them a round of applause?
This year it took me a long time before I could sit down and start writing this speech. It is a newborn, hopefully one with clean diapers. I told you at senior dinner that your parents will want to stuff your head with all the wisdom they can cram in before they leave. With the exception of a particular senior, my son, my one last chance is today, and I hope you don’t mind if I try to swing for the fences on this one. As is true all over professional baseball these day, it will either be a home run or a strikeout. And all of you get to be the umpires.
As I started to write, yesterday afternoon, another administrator texted me with the suggestion that I should just write “get after it, Seniors” and leave it at that. By the end, you may wish I had followed her advice.
The fact that I am asked to give you a Charge implies that I know something about the “it” that you should get after. The problem for me is that I know too much about it to just paint a rosy future for you to inhabit, and I respect you too much to sugarcoat it. So, though I go through my days mostly in good cheer and with lots of laughter, I am drawn today more toward a charge that is serious and provocative. I know you will be able to hear it without it dampening your celebrations.
The simple truth that I see is that to create a rosy future for yourselves, you will need to help alter some damaging trends. I see this as an ethical perspective, though, of course, acting upon it has a political aspect as well. I am not asking you to agree with all of it, but also not to reflexively dismiss it. I have great confidence that you have acquired the ability to entertain a set of ideas without immediately agreeing or disagreeing with them. If that is not the case, you need to see me for a refund.
In one of my favorite commencement addresses ever, the speaker shared a brief story: “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how's the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”
The point of that story is that people can go through their daily lives and take for granted the things that sustain them, to the point where they don’t even notice them. Sometimes that seems not terribly important, but sometimes it can make people blind to the shortcomings of the ways they are living or to threats to their ways of life.
I traveled with our first school group to Peru in 2012 and then again accompanied by some of you on a second voyage in 2017. On the latter trip, I noted that all around us were mountain peaks that were a stark black, like they were made of charcoal. On my initial trip, these peaks were wreathed with glaciers that have now disappeared, exposing the rock beneath them for the first time in thousands of years. As Dahr Jamail, author of a new book entitled The End of Ice, notes, “The planet’s ecosystems, now pushed far beyond their capacity to adapt to human-generated traumas and stresses are in a state of free fall.” A vast number of species are disappearing as quickly as those glaciers have melted. Modern life has disconnected us from the natural world, and that has tempered our responses. We are consuming nature itself and have thus far refused to heed the warning signs. We haven’t paid close enough attention to the water we are swimming in. There are many who believe that the likely outcome of this disruption will be an equivalent decline of human institutions. To me, this is not yet an inevitable outcome, but I cannot in seriousness contemplate the future you will inhabit and fail to speak of the clear perils it could contain if you and others follow blindly the footsteps of your elders. Just this morning, I read in the news of happenings in a large swath of northern India, where a searing heat wave with temperatures of 120 degrees has dried up water sources. Hundreds of Indian villages have been evacuated as a historic drought forces families to abandon their homes in search of water, often leaving behind the elderly and sick and dying livestock. It is heartbreaking stuff. A recent report indicates that 40% of the population of India will lack access to drinking water by 2030. As climate crises like this one spread, do we carry on without noticing, or maybe with a humanitarian response but without giving serious thought about how situations like this will affect us in the future? Even if we are spared the worst of the weather, what will we do with the climate refugees? Are we humane enough to handle that challenge?
The choices we make as a society in the next ten to fifteen years will have an enormous impact on how we will live. You need to keep asking yourselves, how’s the water?
Here's my view of the water we swim in:
The economic and political system we have built is focused on extracting immense short-term gain for a few without considering the long-term damage done to others and to the earth. It is not sustainable, but because it seems impossible to change it we continue to work within it and try to make the best of it. We need to imagine a better society and think deeply about ways such a society could emerge and how it might work. There are economists and a range of thinkers and activists already coming up with ideas, and you need to pay attention to them. That’s what colleges are for, a place to examine ideas not just to prepare for a career. You will not come up with instant answers and you may not feel well-positioned to act in ways that would affect society quickly, but the ways you engage with the world and lead others to do so can have a profound impact. One characteristic of our current system is that we ask frequently “what are my rights?” and “how will I benefit?” We do not ask very often “what are my obligations?” An ethos that is firmly grounded in obligations rather than rights could create a more just and sustainable society. Regarding those climate refugees, will we define them as “them” or as “us?” How will we define our obligations to them? Do you see that it is impossible to write about these circumstances without using a them or us dichotomy? Do we need new language to free our minds to see the picture differently? Ludwig Wittgenstein, a giant of 20th century philosophy, wrote “the limits of language mean the limits of my world.” He titled the book the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which to me has a kind of Kendrick Lamar sort of flow to it. None of that weak Drake nonsense.
But I digress. My charge, then, is a serious one and it centers around 8 verbs:
Heal – Reach out to those who are suffering, including those species in decline, and help bind their wounds and make them well again. You won’t be able to do everything, but do what you can.
Embrace – We live in divisive times, where some groups feel empowered to act with hatred toward others. If you realize that there are no others--there is only us--you will not be led astray by demagogues who play on fears and prejudices, and you will treat all with dignity and kindness. Those climate refugees are not others, nor are those children at our borders – they are us. As the psychiatrist Theodore Isaac Rubin wrote, "Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom." You won’t be able to always reach this ideal, but do what you can.
Sustain – Practice habits that feed your soul and bring you peace of mind. Do what you can to add to your long-term health, and that of our world.
Explore – Seek new vistas and new experiences that move you beyond your daily routines. You won’t avoid falling into daily routines, but do what you can to step beyond them frequently.
Imagine – Don’t conclude that you cannot go beyond what has already been done. Find new approaches and strategies. This is not easy work, but do what you can.
Examine – Choose carefully what you pay attention to, and make the effort needed to construct meaning from experience. The purpose of a liberal arts education is to teach you to discern what is of value. Snapchat streaks, selfies, reality tv, ridiculous internet distractions—is this really how we are going to spend the precious little time we have on this planet? A bit of escapism can be necessary, but do what you can to pay attention to what is important.
Broaden – Your college will offer opportunities to study fields you have no acquaintance with yet. Don’t limit yourself to a narrow approach that you see as pre-professional. Sample widely, and seek out the best professors regardless of what subjects they teach. Careers are important, but building a wide variety of skills and the ability to see through multiple lenses will give you the greatest adaptability, which is the key to thriving in the long run. You will eventually choose your limits, but do what you can to keep them broad.
Deepen – Do not rush to quick judgments, but let your ideas sink into you and test them mentally for a while before acting upon them. The world will insist that you hurry up. But do what you can to slow down and to dwell in the depths and not just the surface.
You’ve been climbing the mountain of school for some time now, since you were running around in shoes that light up, with superheroes on your backpacks. You may have noted that one cultural response to the feeling that the world is stretching to the breaking point, is an endless stream of superhero movies. But we don’t need superheroes or someone to come from the future to save us. We just need to look honestly at the world around us and work together to create change.
So, what does it mean to “get after it?” It means you need to prepare to face hard truths, and develop unshakable confidence in your ability to dig deep and make change. Do what you can.
I know you as a group of smart, funny, ambitious, hard-working, creative, and caring young men and women. I know some of you just want to find quick career success measured in traditional ways centered around wealth and status, and some of you have been shielded by prosperity from some of the challenges we all face. I hope you will come to understand that individual success is not enough. Yes, you will need to take care of yourself and perhaps a family, but you will also need to provide your children with a world worth inhabiting and that can only be done if you focus not just on yourself but on the well-being of others. I hope you will try to find ways to tie us all together in ways that will allow us to build a sustainable future.
You have earned a season of celebration and recognition of all you have accomplished. We are all proud of you and we have high expectations of what you will become in your next phase of life. As you venture forth, you will take a piece of my heart with you, and you will remain in our hearts here. I wish you kindness, wisdom, patience, faith in yourself, and allies you can lean on. Please know you can always lean on us and see us as a touchstone you can return to whenever you need to.
“…I don’t know. That’s a good question. I’ll have to think about that…”
Those of you who read the mission statement carefully will have noted that we made a small but important change by inserting the phrase “rigorous inquiry.” At the end of my last blog post, I discussed briefly the reasons for this change. Nearly every independent school aims at academic excellence, but we sought a phrase that would indicate what makes our brand of academic excellence distinctive. The phrase we chose denotes that we define academic excellence as the mental habit of pursuing knowledge through a thoughtful and probing set of questions, knowing that knowledge is created in this process in a cycle that is rarely finite.
As I write, I am in a bus full of fifth graders and their teachers on the way to WXPN in Philadelphia to learn podcasting approaches and techniques that can help them in constructing their own Capstone podcasts. The students have prepared a list of nearly 30 questions they wished to explore with their expert hosts. On the way down, I was able to speak with several students about their Capstone podcasts, which they are in the midst of creating. One of them provided the introductory quotation above, which is music to any teacher’s ear.
The Capstone this year is formed around an essential question, which is “What is culture?” Teachers paired students to interview parents and each other, starting with that broad question and then learning how to pursue aspects of the answers they find through deeper, more specific questions. They learned to narrow their focus without relying on questions that can be answered with short, factual responses. They are also learning how to edit responses to focus on the most important aspects of the answers, how to use music to convey feeling, how to make transitions between subjects, and how to present their own analysis of the responses they find.
In our conversations, the students shared questions that they found to be most valuable. One of them asked about one important tradition and one story that his mother kept from her home country of India. Another one asked about how the belief system her father grew up with differed from the one he follows in the United States. One asked about holiday and food traditions and noted an example that was common to his parents’ culture and one that was specific to his family but not shared across the culture. One found questions about why her father emigrated to be the most interesting. In the next phase, they will compare the responses they find and examine commonalities and differences, probing for reasons behind those differences. For example, one student noted that his mother spoke about how people in her ancestral country are much more welcoming than people here. In my bus seat chat with him, I suggested he could dig into that further and inquire what about one culture produces a welcoming response and how that differs from the culture here. If he ends up as a sociologist, I hope to appear in the acknowledgments of his first monograph.
Throughout their time at school, students will be asked to absorb knowledge and build critical academic skills, but they will also be asked to question knowledge and create their own meanings. Often these will remain in student memories as crucial learning experiences that affect how they think and learn in the future. Rigorous inquiry has become an essential part of our mission.
In my last post, I introduced our new Strategic Plan and indicated I would write about different aspects of the plan over the coming weeks. I will begin with the mission statement. The crux of the statement remains the same as it has been for over a decade, with one additional highlight.
About this time in 2006 at The Wardlaw+Hartridge School, we committed ourselves to a mission that centered on the phrase “lead and succeed in a world of global interconnection.” With a student body that emanates from roots spread worldwide, we set a high priority on global engagement, looking to explore and understand cultures, examine thorny international issues, and build a sense of stewardship toward the world.
Much of the learning related to this theme continues to take place in classrooms, but we have developed many ways to get beyond our walls and even our borders to provide valuable face-to-face learning. We currently have a group of over 20 students and several teacher/chaperones in El Paso for a border immersion program. Our students will see first-hand conditions and processes that are often misportrayed in a range of media, and they will interact with people who have been working for years on immigration issues in a variety of ways. In March, we will send another group to China, more specifically to Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu. In Chengdu, students will stay with Chinese families and visit our sister school, the Shishi High School, originally built in 143-141 BC, during the Han dynasty.
Those trips will bring stories for another day. In the last two years, through the efforts of our Director of the Global Scholars Program, we have developed two successful local programs that build empathy and understanding locally. We have a large number of Upper School students who tutor refugee children in those families’ homes through our partnership with Interfaith RISE. Another group provides afterschool activities and tutoring in two Plainfield elementary schools and STEM enrichment activities in a third Plainfield school. The looks in the eyes of the kids our students serve tells you everything you need to know about the value of the programs.
For our students, the sense of purpose that is built in these experiences is of equal value, and I could not be prouder of our students’ efforts. Recently, two of our students found an opportunity to go well beyond the ordinary tasks of tutoring as the father of the family they were serving lost his job and was at risk of losing their housing. Through one of their parents, they were able to find him a job that met his needs and avoided this potential crisis. Not everyone gets to play the hero while still in high school, and these two have not sought acclaim but they’ve done something special. They’ve earned the right to wear the cape, as have their peers in the programs in many other ways.
In a few speeches to students over the last few years, I have quoted Arthur Ashe as advising us to “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” That’s a pretty good mission statement for our service learning programs, which are one vital expression of our school mission.
The one area of change to highlight in our mission statement is the inclusion of the notion of “rigorous inquiry.” Academic excellence is at the core of who we are, but as a phrase it is too broad to capture our distinctive approach. In past generations, the notion of rigor always referred to acquiring more answers and at a faster pace. In this century, we have shifted that notion to the idea of learning to ask series of probing questions, not merely acquiring answers. We want students to learn how knowledge is constructed and to acquire skills that can be applied across multiple disciplines. There are areas of academic content that our students still must learn, but committing them to memory is not the end, but rather a precursor to higher level exploration of ideas. Our graduates need to move forward with a strong basis of knowledge but also with the confidence and mental discipline to ask questions that lead to further knowledge, and then to further questions. In that way, they will generate new knowledge for themselves and for the world.
Dear Wardlaw+Hartridge Community,
In Fall 2018, our Board of Trustees approved a new strategic plan. The plan includes a new vision statement, a mission statement with one small but significant addition, an unchanged statement of core values, and a series of strategic goal statements. As a whole, the document is intended to specify our school's distinctive character and identity and to guide the school's evolution over the next three years and often beyond.
Over the last five strategic plans, we have made one change to the core values and now one to the mission. Of course, a school that lives its mission will not make frequent changes to these elements. The strategic goals will change some over time as parts of them are achieved or perhaps recede in importance and are supplanted by new goals. Each strategic goal area has several shorter term priorities associated with it, but these are more susceptible to change and thus are not shared in this document.
In creating the strategic plan, we solicited and incorporated feedback from parents, faculty and staff, alumni/ae, and Trustees. Over the next several weeks I will write in more detail about the plan, and it will become less abstract. If you have questions or comments as we delve further into it, you can share those with me.
Head of School
Dear Wardlaw+Hartridge Community,
As we near the winter solstice, and the days grow shorter and darker, we seek the light. Religious and cultural traditions honor the light and speak of it returning to the world and spreading among us, and we look to the future with hope. When we gather clothing for those in need, we do so with hope that it will ease their winter burdens. When we send Christmas letters to young immigrants detained in the Tornillo detention center, it is with hope that the care evinced in the cards will bring hope to those who receive the cards. When we serve local elementary school students with tutoring and after school activities, it is with hope that they will be encouraged to see that they are valued and can set ambitious goals for themselves. When we work with refugee families, it is with hope that they will be strengthened by the sense that someone walks with them on their path toward new community.
Light is a powerful metaphor, but there are different kinds of light in the world. Some light blinds the eyes, while other light illuminates the spirit. As you gather with friends and family in the darkness of December, may you find the light that leavens your soul.
In the glare of neon times,
Let our eyes not be worn
By surfaces that shine
With hunger made attractive.
That our thoughts may be true light,
Finding their way into words
Which have the weight of shadow
To hold the layers of truth.
That we never place our trust
In minds claimed by empty light,
Where one-sided certainties
Are driven by false desire.
When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.
These poetic words of blessing are taken from John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us. I wish you all a peaceful winter break and look forward to welcoming you back to school in the new year.
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