We have been thrilled to welcome Kojo Clarke to NCCS, as he officially began work as our Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) this past Monday. It was a good week to do so, too, since we had several DEI events this week: a community breakfast that drew 50 parents on Tuesday, a faculty and staff professional development session on Wednesday, a facilitated DEI gathering of heads and diversity directors from all the “Fairchester” schools (Fairfield and Westchester counties), and a regional hiring fair for prospective educators of color in independent schools on Thursday.
These events, and the concurrent efforts from so many of our peer schools, underscores the relevance of this work. We are a school that believes deeply in the importance of childhood in its foundational capacity for informing the perspectives, habits of mind, areas of interest, understandings, and abilities a person brings to adulthood. The value that diversity brings to teams’ work is well understood in the workplace, and connections across cultures and other areas of difference are an essential part of nearly every career path. We owe it to our students at these formative years to experience diversity, equity and inclusion throughout their experiences here.
This week’s faculty professional development – and the session with fellow heads from other local schools – highlighted the best way to both start and progress through the work: by focusing inwardly first. In order to understand others’ identities and perspectives, we first need to understand our own and the ways in which they interact with and impact our society and our communities. This is often metaphorically described as being much like the airplane announcement: secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs. The more openly and honestly introspective we can be, the further we will collectively progress towards our aim of being an even more diverse, equitable and inclusive community.
We all look forward to continuing this work and these conversations.
Take Naomi Shihab Nye’s suggestion
And express my gratitude
Laden with books that must be too many to read
The parent disappears into the black night
Delivering them to her car
Only to re-enter to buy more
Knees curled onto the chair
A tuft of hair illuminated by the sinking sun behind him
Guinness Book of World Records 2020
Babbles of joy escape through the wall
Into my office, my meeting, my computer, my email
And remember what is really important
In penguin print pajamas
The faces are no longer my own children’s
The feeling of connection is the same
Take energy from those who gave theirs
To make this Festival of Books
The best ever, again
Thank you to everyone who volunteered to make this Festival of Books so wonderful!
It is exciting to see construction projects taking shape at school. Over the next couple of weeks you will begin to see some very visible progress. To date, most of the work has been preparing the site for our Athletic & Wellness Center, for which we broke ground in June. Starting next week, the skeleton of the building will take shape as the steel framing is put in place.
Last Sunday at our Admission Open House, during our student panel, I asked our ninth graders to share what they are looking for in their next schools. Several of them shared that they were hoping to build relationships with faculty and students similar to those they have and value here at Country School. One ninth grader spoke about how having teachers, who are also coaches and advisors, creates a closeness that makes them feel as though his teachers are “more like friends.” I think of this as more of a mentor relationship, where teachers are guiding the student to be their best academically, athletically, psychologically, and in terms of their work in the community. In this week of parent conferences, the relationships our students and faculty form with one another is on display and becomes more illuminated for families. Encouraging children’s independence and self-confidence are among our most salient responsibilities as parents and educators. Continue reading
This past Wednesday, we welcomed former faculty and staff back to campus for a morning of reconnecting and visiting classes. In one session, they were asked why they come back. People talked about community, about gratitude, about connecting with children, and about keeping up with what is happening here. That is a strong list of values that we hold dear, and each was on display throughout the day. Continue reading
This week, I have been in Chicago attending the Independent School Data Exchange (INDEX) annual conference. This conference brings together Heads and CFOs from 30 leading K-8/PreK-9 schools in the country. This is always one of the most valuable gatherings of the year for me, as it is the one time I can sit in a room with others who experience many of the same dimensions and dynamics at their schools that we do at Country School. In many ways, by leading large “elementary” schools, regardless of geography, we speak the same language of childhood, of the importance of foundations, of encouraging growth – and of secondary school guidance, demographic and economic challenges, and external pressures. Additionally, we benchmark data on several hundred measures, from finances to academics, fundraising to admissions, and teacher work load to athletic programs. We have spent time reviewing the trends we are seeing within the data, including topics such as affordability and tuition increases and student engagement in extracurricular activities. We have connected on innovative ideas to offer an even more relevant and impactful education. Continue reading
At Upper School Parent Night on Tuesday, Kara and I learned about our 8th grade daughter’s first writing assignment for English class (and yes, in case you were wondering, in typical 8th grade fashion, we had not heard anything about it from her!). The assignment was to write a letter of gratitude to someone in the student’s life who would not otherwise be expecting it. You see, the thought was that writing is often meant to elicit emotion, and a surprise, hand-written, heartfelt letter of gratitude will certainly evoke feelings. Her teacher hopes that such a lesson will help the students write in a more powerful and meaningful manner on their upcoming essays on literature, etc. Continue reading
This week, our Middle and Lower School families have had their parent nights. As I have wandered each building – in the Middle School following my daughter’s schedule, and more generally in the Lower School – I found myself thinking about one of the central ways we encourage love of lifelong learning, deeper retention and intellect: our students learn as practitioners.
Instead of simply learning science, our students act as scientists. They ask a question, hypothesize an answer, develop a way to test that, study the results and share them. This happens as early as Beginners in the form of class conversations and all the way through our Upper School as formal reports. Continue reading
Earlier this week, a colleague sent me an article provocatively titled, “Stanford psychology expert: This is the No. 1 skill parents need to teach their kids—but most don’t.”
It purported to be about teaching children the skill of “indistracability,” but in reality was a story of the author’s struggle to set screen time limits for his child. While I was disappointed in the weak case it made, I was drawn in by the title as I believe that self-control and focus are very important qualities. I found myself reflecting on one small vignette within the article – when the author asked his five-year-old daughter to define her own iPad time limit. Continue reading
This morning, I had the chance to read the book One Little Seed at the first Early Childhood gathering of the year. The book traces the journey of a sunflower seed from seed to flower, which then produces seeds itself. We talked about the enormous sunflowers outside of Thacher (If you have not seen them, it is worth a visit!) and how they grew from small seeds, just like our students are growing ever taller and ever more capable in every way throughout this year. I also showed Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers in a Vase painting. I compared the sunflowers, all looking upwards towards the sun, all similar and yet unique, to our students and the qualities that connect us and those that make us individuals and how those come together to form community.
There is great power in a book. In addition to plenty of pleasure reading this past summer – I particularly love non-fiction history, science and social science – I also caught up on new YA and children’s literature, as well as some great new books on parenting and education, all of which I feel are important to my work here.
The single book that had the biggest impact this summer is Wendy Mogel’s Voice Lessons for Parents. I do not think I have dog-eared as many pages in another book. Dr. Mogel gives specific thoughts on language, tone and approach for boys and girls at every age from early childhood through college applicant in simple, concrete, and completely implementable doses. Kara and I both found so much useful advice and perspective in the book that has impacted our parenting and the language and style we use with our daughters.
I look forward to our Festival of Books this November and the conversations it will undoubtedly spark around books that have made an impact, both for our children and for us as adults. The Parents’ Association will kick it off with a Parent Talk on the morning of Nov. 4, and I hope you will join me to talk more in-depth about Voice Lessons and to share some of your favorite books with me.
P.S. To get a sense of Dr. Mogel’s thinking and style of writing, check out this great article she wrote about a year-and-a-half ago wondering if we should speak to our boys the way we do to our dogs.