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