The Head's Vantage
Welcome to The Head's Vantage - a blog examining important educational topics by Andrew Webster, Head of School.
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.
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