This first week of May is significant. For one, it launches the final leg to the end of the school year – a month that even under normal circumstances both exhausts and exhilarates. More importantly, it stands as Faculty Staff Appreciation Week. And if ever there were a time to recognize our Parish employees – and school employees across the globe – for their service and commitment, it is now.
You see, Faculty Staff appreciation week fits into the category of events that, pre-COVID-19, we’d come to take for granted. Sure, the teachers who shape our children are vitally important, parents might say. Of course, the public would affirm, the staff who make our children’s days at school safe and comfortable, like a home away from home, should be thanked. But now, because of distance learning, I think the general public – and parents especially – know with even more clarity why school professionals matter.
Parents understand with more precision what happens at school all day while they are at work and their children are at school. The teachers and school staff of Parish, and their professional colleagues across the globe, have been among the heroes of the pandemic crisis. Citizens have come to realize the centrality of the schoolhouse to the well-being of our children and the economic health of our country. Without educators doing what they do each and every day – pandemic or not – the very fabric of community as we know it begins to tear.
Parents presently sequestered with their children have a renewed, and I hope lasting, appreciation for how valuable those who’ve committed their professional lives to schooling youngsters are.
Yet, still, I would suggest parents may not grasp what these last six weeks have asked of Parish’s faculty and staff. Since March 12, their days have been longer, their nights more fitful, and their energy reserves more consistently tapped and depleted. As educators, we rely on the nourishing and restorative energy derived from personal and proximate engagement with our colleagues and, especially, our students to renew us. Screen-based interactions just don’t do it. So, the last six weeks have predominately featured withdrawals from our emotional accounts rather than deposits into them.
So, this month, as school winds down, I would urge you to thank a teacher. Maybe it is one who influenced you as a student many years ago. Or, more to the spirit of this post, perhaps you reach out to the teacher of your child or the educator you know who lives down the street to say “thank you,” “I know these last couple of months have been really hard,” and “I appreciate what you do for our community.”
The sweltering Dallasite pondering a beautiful, cool autumn day amidst yet another endless summer heat wave.
The stressed teenager recalling simpler childhood days as she manages the challenges of school, friends, and a weekend job.
The lonely family member missing the touch, scent or voice of a deceased grandparent, spouse, or friend.
The second-guesser wishing he had that decision or opportunity back: To say something differently; choose another course of action; or make an alternate move.
Each of us imagining a future when we will have more: more time, more money, more happiness. More of whatever it is we think we don’t have enough of today that will make our life better tomorrow.
You’ve experienced this, haven’t you? The yearning for something. The obsession with how good it would be to have that thing. The emptiness that accompanies the reality that you cannot have it now – or maybe ever.
There is a name for this sensation: longing.
We long for things of all shapes and sizes. Objects – like the latest gadget. People – like the one we’ve lost or the one we hope to find. We can long for a state of mind – like clarity in the face of a difficult decision or relaxation promised by an upcoming weekend. And we can long for times. Aging guys like me, for example, recall the time when we could exercise without so many aches and pains!
Longing is not altogether bad. It can motivate you to strive – to strike out on a path toward the object of your longing.
But you can long yourself right into an unhealthy state of mind. Fixating too obsessively on what you wish had been or what you hope will be can leave you feeling anxious and forlorn. Longing reminds us of the limitations of our control. Whether we look backwards or forwards and no matter how hard we yearn, the object of our longing eludes us from some unknowable distance out beyond the horizon.
Biblical texts abound with examples of longing – expressed by followers of God for His love, His grace, and His strength. Just read David longing for “mercy” and “relief” in Psalm 143. He says, “I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.” What vivid imagery of longing that is!
The Easter season also acquaints us with longing in scripture. Jesus has been crucified. In his earthly form, he is deeply missed by his disciples and those who love Him. They long for him to return but don’t know when that second coming will be. Even when Jesus appears in His resurrected form, his disciples doubt what they see, their longing compromising their faith.
I’ve been thinking about longing a lot recently. Perhaps you have, too. The swift onset of the pandemic has left me longing. Longing for belonging.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? Last summer – when none of us could have imagined these days of global sickness, loss of life, and social distancing – I selected the word belonging. I wanted to speak and write about what it means to belong; how it feels when one does not find community; and how vital discovering our fit in the world is to leading a fulfilling life.
Now, like you, the pandemic has left me feeling out of sorts.
I worry about the well-being of family, friends, and fellow global citizens. I miss familiar routines: like greeting students at carpool each morning. I want my two sons to graduate next month on their scheduled days and have smooth transitions to their next chapter in life. I so long for things to return to normal!
I know you long for such things, too: To laugh with friends in person; to eat at your favorite restaurant or play at the neighborhood park; to compete and perform before crowds again.
Indeed, I think we all long to belong again.
That’s just it, though. Longing feeds on uncertainty and thrives on absence. Neither you nor I control when our days of normalcy will return. So, for now, we have to manage our longing and live in the moments God has given us. We see David practice such gratitude when he sings to God “I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.” By seeing the many blessings that surround us still and by embracing our new routines with purpose, we can keep the anxiety and sadness that longing creates at bay.
And soon enough, my friends, we will be right back where we belong.
Lie down on the floor of a relatively full elevator?
Or turn around in that same elevator and stare intently into the eyes of the stranger behind you?
Or sit down in the Commons and start eating food off the plate of one of your teachers?
Shawn Achor is a researcher, author and speaker in the field of positive psychology; he actually lives here in Dallas and has a son at Lamplighter. Most of these examples are ones he offers to explain social constructs. Social constructs are not written laws or rules; rather, they are a society’s commonly accepted norms. They are what we use to navigate the world around us.
Why is it that Upper School students don’t sing in chapel? Well, it can be explained in part as our very own social construct here at Parish.
The more adept you become identifying and learning the social constructs of a community to which you seek to belong, the smoother your acclimation to that community will be. Constructs – like greeting a stranger with a handshake rather than a hug – establish and uphold accepted cultural norms.
But not all constructs are healthy and I want to dispel one such construct with you today.
“Achievement leads to happiness”
This is a particularly American social construct. Among the norms it establishes are these:
You are what you accomplish. The more you achieve the happier you will be.
Thus, if you get high grades, you will be worthy of your parents’ love and the admiration of college admissions officers and thereby be happy.
If you wear the “right” clothes or drive the sleekest car, you will gain social acceptance and thereby be happy.
If you gain acceptance to the “elite” college, your likelihood of career success increases and thereby you will be happy.
If you attain a high-profile job and make a high income, you will gain status and influence and thereby be happy.
This social construct of achievement places a metaphorical ladder before us. We’ll call it the “happiness ladder.” As with all ladders, there is only one way to climb: up. Each step of the ladder represents the next achievement; at the top of the ladder, one can touch happiness – or so we think. So, we keep climbing: attain an “A” in one class? Climb the next rung quickly and get A’s in the others. Offer 10 hours of community service? Climb another rung and strive for the Presidential award. Participate in a club? Climb another step and become the club’s officer.
Keep climbing and, with each new accomplishment, the achievement construct leads us to believe happiness ensues.
But does it?
Look, there is nothing wrong with achievement. Have lofty goals; strive to earn high grades; compete to win contests; aspire to have a lucrative career. These are admirable and can be rewarding.
I want us to wonder today, though, is whether the mad dash up the happiness ladder leaves us happier or just feeling exhausted and empty inside.
This phenomenon has actually been given a name: “the hedonic (happiness) treadmill.” According to this theory, as a person achieves more – makes better grades, wins more games, earns more money – her expectations and desires also rise. So, even as her achievements accumulate, her level of happiness holds steady.
If you want to experience a deep sense of fulfillment and fit in your life, achievement must be paired with something: connection to your crew and your cause.
A man named Edward Hallowell has written that for most people the two most powerful experiences in life are achieving and connecting. The problem, he notes, is that our society has become devoted to and obsessed with achieving – which is all about me – at the expense of connecting – which is about us.
The research is clear: People who connect to a crew and a cause live longer more fulfilling lives.
There is an incredible study that proves this point.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development is one of the world’s longest studies of adult life. It began in 1938 with 268 sophomore men at Harvard University. The idea of the study was to follow these men through their lives, study their physical and mental health, and see what clues they could discover about leading healthy and happy lives. The study eventually expanded to include the men’s offspring and even another 456 Boston inner-city residents; it has been going on now for 80 years.
As the participants aged, the healthiest and happiest people – regardless of background – were those with the healthiest relationships – not the most money or fame. Social connection protected them during tough times. It helped keep them mentally sharp and physically well. Relationships were better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.
So, as we transform ourselves through growth and achievement, we should remember: no branch bears fruit by itself. Happiness, fulfillment, and fit come when achievement and human connection coexist.
As I told you in the fall with the help of Moses, our transformation is not a solo act. While we do not need hundreds or even dozens of “friends,” each of us needs to matter to a circle of others. Each of us also needs people who matter to us. Otherwise, our achievements will be experienced in isolation and thus feel empty. Mr. White’s sad story of loneliness demonstrates such isolation.
We also thrive when our achievements connect to a cause. I was reminded of this recently when I watched Tarun and Mason turn success in a e.sports competition into a transformational act of generosity to our partner school, Cigarroa Elementary. Certainly Tarun could have celebrated receiving $7,500 in high end gaming technology as the rightful reward for his individual achievement. But his crew, led by Mason, had another idea: amplify the initial – perhaps fleeting – happiness associated with Tarun’s victory by sharing the reward.
Knowing Parish’s deep connection with Cigarroa – a community whose members don’t enjoy some of the resources we do, Mason led the effort to sell the equipment and have its value matched by Dell Computers. The result? A $15,000 gift to help Mr. Burak, Cigarroa’s principal, purchase necessary equipment for the school’s teachers.
What a powerful lesson! Achievement that connects you to a crew people you value and a cause in which you believe creates enduring happiness.
My prayer for all of us we discover who we are and where we belong. I ask God to guide each of us in that journey. And to remind us that we seek our fit not through a solitary compilation of personal achievements, but as a result of finding the people and the purposes that bring meaning to our endeavors.
In this month of February on the From My Angle podcast, I am considering the role of technology in promoting belonging. I wanted to share this episode with an intellectual hero of mine, Todd Rose.
Among the things technology enables is personalization. How we schedule trips, order food, even set the temperature in our mattresses can be customized to our personalized need and liking thanks to technology. No longer is the world “one size fits all.”
Of course, the world of education has been slow to the personalization revolution. In many regards, how teaching and learning occurs in school, how we deliver content, assess student understanding, and use time, remains standardized – reflective the needs and paces of a society long gone by. As many of you readers know, at Parish, as part of our quest to reimagine a school experience that engages students in learning, we continue to explore ways for teaching to meet individual students where they are. So, the writings and thinking of Todd Rose have been highly influential.
I have been fortunate over the last couple of years building the From My Angle podcast to talk with such intellectual heroes in my personal learning community – Julie Lythcott Haims, Dr. Denise Pope, and Jeff Selingo just to name a few. When reading Todd Rose’s books, End of Average and Dark Horse, I thought about how cool it would be to get to speak with him about his ideas around what he calls the “age of personalization.” Especially as I lead a robust community and was set to focus on the theme of belonging, I wondered how we could reconcile the movement to personalization technology enables with the community connectivity we all crave.
Dr. Rose and I explore all of this and more in this episode. In addition to being an author, Todd has been the Director of the Mind, Brain, and Education program at Harvard Graduate School of Education where he led the Laboratory of the Science of Individuality. More recently, Todd has shifted his focus to Populace, a nonprofit dedicated to transforming how we learn, work, and live so that all people have the opportunity to live a fulfilling life.
When I selected “belonging” for my annual theme last August and began to construct the podcast schedule to reflect it, I became so excited about the February conversations as I envisioned them. For, as an educator and father of three boys, I was fascinated by this question: “How can loneliness and disconnection be so prevalent in a world in which we appear to be constantly connected via technology?” I was eager to explore, through conversations with experts as well as students right here at Parish, whether our society derives a sense of belonging from the likes, shares, and posts that constitute so much of our engagement today.
So, over the month of February I will be posting podcast conversations with experts in the field of technology and the personalization era it has enabled. At the top of my list for guests was Dr. Marion Underwood, a top researcher in the area of adolescent social aggression and technology. I have known of Dr. Underwood since her days on the faculty of the University of Texas at Dallas, and we have partnered with her on a project since she left to become dean at Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences.
Dr. Underwood is one of the foremost researchers in the developmental origins and outcomes of social aggression and how adolescents’ digital communication relates to adjustment. Her work appears in numerous scientific journals, and the National Institutes of Health has supported her research program since 1995. In 2003, she authored the book, Social Aggression among Girls, and in 2015, she was featured in the CNN special report “#Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens.” Since 2003, Dr. Underwood and her research group have been conducting a longitudinal study on the origins and outcomes of social aggression and how adolescents use digital communication. Underwood, an Association of Psychological Sciences Fellow, is a recipient of the National Institute of Mental Health’s FIRST Award as well as the NIMH Independent Scientist Career Award.
In December, just before the holiday break, the tables turned on me!
Normally, I do the interviewing on guests on my own From My Angle podcast. In this instance, though, I had a chance to visit with Tim McDonough on the Tell Your School’s Story podcast. Tim works at Finalsite, the highly regarded marketing and communications company that hosts our webpage.
Though a departure from the Belonging theme that has been the framework of my blog posts and podcast episodes this school year, the podcast conversation with Tim offered me an opportunity to provide some historical context and rationale for our Reimage vision at Parish.
I hope you will take the time to listen to my conversation with Tim.
As you drive on to the Midway campus for carpool this week, you will notice a large, gold shipping container located near the outdoor basketball courts at the front entrance.
Now, as you well know, we presently have a lot of construction activity on campus. But this container is not holding equipment for the Noble or baseball field projects or serving as an unsightly locale for uniform or furniture storage. What is it then?
It is called a “Shared Studios Portal,” though I see it as our community’s conduit to find belonging in the complex global society!
Indeed, I have written and spoken frequently this fall on the theme of “belonging,” particularly as it relates to one finding their place within our Parish community. But the School’s mission is clear: we are are guiding our students to “impact the complex global society” for the better. I think this gold shipping container will provoke each of us to reflect on where we fit in the larger, global community beyond the Parish gates.
The gold“Shared Studios Portal” will be on our campus for three months – from January to March – for use by our community and guests from beyond our campus, whom we will invite to Parish to connect with the world.
The portal features technology to connect people live and full-body, as if in the same room. With similar portals across the globe, our community will be afforded an immersive experience, one that will present students, faculty and parents with authentic opportunities for meaningful engagement and the purposeful sharing of ideas, creations and aspirations with fellow citizens of the globe.
Though the Shared Studios portal has been in Dallas this past year at both Klyde Warren Park and Northpark Mall, only a handful of schools across the country have brought the concept to their campuses. One such district, the Andover Public Schools outside of Boston, has been a leader, integrating the portal into their learning environment. Their Director of Strategic Innovation, Stefano Chinosi, has become a friend – visiting Parish in October to help our faculty members explore applications of the portal across our programs.