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Different Shades of Light

“You will learn that you see your children in different shades of light as you grow older together.”

A trusted mentor said this to me many years ago when I was a new parent. So many years later, I understand what he was trying to say.

As both an older parent and school leader, I now revel in the different shades of light in which I see my three boys as they grow older and come to know again those students with whom I have worked in the past as they experience new phases of life. During the first week back from the holiday break, the school leader in me had ample opportunity to embrace the radiant glow of such experiences. On Friday, January 5, Captain Drexel King – who I coached during his time at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, North Carolina (2000-2004) – spent a day with me on campus presenting a chapel message to our Upper and Middle School community and engaging students in conversations on the topics of leadership, diversity, and faith. A Naval Academy graduate and football star; decorated solider; man of deep faith; and present Manager of Learning and Development at Baylor University, Drexel had powerful insights to share with our community. Partnering with him to do so and witnessing him shrouded in the light of a respected leader marked a highlight of my year to date. I look forward to sharing a podcast I recorded with Drexel in the near future.


A day earlier, I spent an hour with nine recent Parish Episcopal alumni. As can be the case with our own children at home, time and distance can prove to be a potent source of light when it comes to how you see a student you have known for a long time. The graduates who sat before me in most cases looked as they did when they traversed our hallways. But in their eloquence, thoughtfulness, and even their gratitude, I saw them in a new shade of light. It was immensely gratifying to recall them as gangly middle school students or self-absorbed ninth graders tackling their first days of Upper School and see them now in a different shade of light – as young adults tackling new worlds, and well on their ways to leading lives of meaning, purpose, and impact.


Talking College Admissions with Andrew Linnehan from Northwestern University

As introduced in my previous post, From My Angle now includes a podcast!  As many of us head to a couple of weeks to relax and rejuvenate, I thought I would offer an episode from the podcast as a source of learning during some quieter moments in the days ahead.

Andrew Linnehan is Associate Director of Admission at Northwestern University. In this edition of the From My Angle podcast, Andrew and I exchange thoughts on issues related to the college admissions process including the anxiety it produces for students and families alike; how decisions are made beyond the published metrics in admissions materials; and how students might navigate the maze of the college admissions process with more peace of mind.

I hope you enjoy this episode, share it with friends, and tune in for future editions of the From My Angle podcast.

A Hero’s Windows and Mirrors

Like any parent, I hold lots of hopes and dreams for my three boys.  If you asked me what I pray for the most for them, though, besides their continued vitality and good health, it would be that God places before them influential mentors. Especially as my boys age, I realize that much of my important work with them has been done.  While I will remain unconditionally loving and supportive, as they steer their own life journey more independently, it will be others who impact their course in significant ways.

Recently, I shared a chapel talk with our students at the Midway campus about the important individuals who will help them on their quest – be it the journey they are on this school year or the larger one which is their life story.

Utilizing excerpts from the Book of Exodus (18: 6-7; 14-19; 21; 23-24) telling the story of Moses and his father-in-law, Joshua, I tried to convey to students what mentors do and how I hoped they might broaden their perspectives on what mentors look like.

Here are some excerpts from that chapel message:

So, today, with the conclusion of the first trimester just a few weeks away, I do not know whether you have even heard a call to take up a quest, never mind answer it. I hope you have. In class; on the stage or court; in your home or church –  hopefully you have resolved to pursue a new you.

If you have, I offer you travelers your next piece of advice: your journey will be hard.  You will need help and you will find it in the form of valuable mentors.

Hero's Journey

One of the questers to whom you were introduced in September, Moses, returns in our reading today with a mentor.  Jethro is Moses father-in-law; Moses worked for him as a shepherd for 40 years before hearing and answering the call of his life – the one which came from the burning bush. In our Exodus verse today, Moses is leading the Hebrews on their journey out of Egypt. He has assumed enormous responsibility for thousands of people.  As such, Moses is constantly being asked to judge or solve all the problems presented to him by his tired, scared people.  Moses is overwhelmed and fatigued. So much so that the very success of his quest might be in jeopardy.

Jethro & MosesJethro travels to see Moses and they enter his tent to talk and there Jethro demonstrates the two gifts a mentor provides: mirrors and windows.

A mentor, you see, is one brave enough to pace a mirror front of you and then invite you to take an honest look at yourself and your actions.  Sometimes our quest consumes us and, without even knowing it, we get thrown off course.  We need the help of a trusted advocate to help us restore our sense of direction.

How does a mentor’s mirror do this? Most often, the mentor promotes our self-reflection the same way Jethro did for Moses: he asks good questions. “Why are you the only judge?” Jethro asked Moses.  “Why do people come to you all day?” he wanted to know.

A mentor’s personal example represents another powerful mirror.  As we watch our mentor from afar on her own hero’s journey, we reflect on how we might travel with the same sense of purpose, the same alignment of words and actions, and the same selflessness.  Moses clearly had watched, admired, and respected Jethro as – when Jethro arrived to visit him – Moses “bowed down before him and kissed him.”

Windows & Mirrors

Jethro also demonstrates how mentors offer us the gift of windows.  A mentor’s fresh perspective, hard-earned wisdom, or comforting counsel help make pathways visible before us when we face the inevitable hardships, setbacks, and tough decisions which accompany any worthwhile quest. The help us see rays of opportunity where before we saw only the clouds of confusion.

Jethro gave Moses sage advice: identify other trustworthy leaders among your people who can help you make all these decisions. In doing so, Jethro suggested, Moses would feel less overwhelmed and fatigued.

Mirrors and Windows. Two gifts mentors offer you as a hero on a journey

But, at times, I think we hold a narrow view of mentors.

Like Jethro, you might think mentors only come in the form of a family member – like a parent, grand-parent, or aunt and uncle.

Or, maybe you think mentors look and sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi: gray and wise from years of experience. He offered Luke a window see how the Force could guide him in his quest to defeat the Empire. But must all mentors be older than you? 

Or maybe you think mentors look and sound like The Good Witch of the North, Glinda. She protected Dorothy and offered her a window to see her way back to Kansas via the Yellow Brick Road.  But must mentors have magical, fairy Godmother-like qualities?

No, mentors are not always older than you; they are not always family members; nor are they possessive of magical powers.  Some may be in your life for just a short period of time while others travel with you for many miles on your journey. 

They will appear like my best friend from high school, Hank, did when I moved to Louisville, KY right before my freshman year of high school; he became my guide as the New York native that I was entered a whole new world in the south. Or step forward, like Mr. Tony Barnes did when I moved to New York City to go to graduate school.  He was my 8th grade social studies teacher at a school in Manhattan, but he opened his apartment to live in for the year while at school; he held up mirrors to help me think about what kind of teacher I wanted to be.  Or invite you in, as Mare Kalin did me in 1993, when she inspired me join her quest starting an education program for underserved students. The experience impacted my life and career in ways to significant to list.

So, don’t worry, travelers.  Your mentors are out there ready to help.  Seek them out.  Use the mirrors they place before you to stay on course.  Accept the view from the windows they provide and be grateful for the perspective they offer.  And, when you have the chance, be a mentor yourself. A hero right nearby is counting on you.

Why We Choose to Reimagine



To us at Parish, it deserves all the attention it receives.

In fact, the statement digs at the root of one of today’s “dirty little secrets” in the business of “college prep” education – be it of the public or private variety: the model commonly embraced to accomplish the task is broken. Not only is it ill-suited for preparing students for a seismically changing world, but in attempting to do so it undercuts their levels of engagement, passion and wellness.

ExcellentSheep_blogTo Reimagine School and create a framework more attuned to the modern learner is, of course, our present obsession at Parish. Undoing the broken school model – how curriculum is packaged and delivered; how time and space are used; how students demonstrate mastery – stands as the most audacious of tasks given how entrenched that model has become.

As I noted in August, quests begin with a call – a beckoning to journey toward an enhanced condition of world or self. In part, our Reimagine School: Parish at 50 vision emanates from the disturbing headline above. Of the many calls harkening us to Reimagine School, the threat to the well-being of our children blares most urgently.

Simply stated, the transactional, achievement-fixated texture of today’s school experience is creating a generation of stressed-out, anxious, and fragile young people.

Former Ivy League educators William Deresiewicz and Julia Lythcott-Haims are among those raising the clarion call. Lythcott-Haims’ take on “check-listed children” vaulted up the list of top TED Talks last spring.

More specifically, an extensive survey (14,000 upper school students from 44 independent schools like Parish) commissioned by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) puts data behind the anecdotal observations expressed in Deresiewicz’s book.



A learning culture or model that contributes to outcomes like these needs to be reconsidered (as do parenting styles and higher education’s admission processes, but these are topics for another day).

As advocates for our children, it is a moral imperative to answer this call.

And, so, at Parish, we have begun our journey fortified by the belief that learning should engage a student’s mind with meaningful, relevant problems to solve and inspired products to create, not just numb it with buckets of content to memorize. Learning should stoke a student’s desire and capacity to discover by offering guided opportunities to assume control of the learning journey (what gets learned; how it is learned; and how mastery is demonstrated), not dull it with repetitive, adult-directed exercises.

Indeed, learning does not have to hurt.



Hey, Hero, Listen for the Call!

For this month’s blog, I have decided to share a section of my opening chapel talk given to students at Midway on September 1.  As my post last month noted, I have chosen this word “quest” around which to frame my speaking and writing to the community this year. This chapel talk, titled “Hey, Hero, Listen for the Call!” used the famous biblical passage of Moses and the Burning Bush from Exodus 3:1-17.

Simply defined, a quest is “a long or arduous search for something.”

Now, you are actually more familiar with quests than you might realize. The heroes’ tales we know well, from ancient mythology to the present day, follow a general structure associated with quests.

First, a hero to be is called to partake in a journey to accomplish a great or important task.

Next, the hero departs the comforts of the world he or she has known and travels into the unknown.

As the journey unfolds, the hero encounters an array of challenges and setbacks which test her courage.

At critical junctures, influential and essential mentors appear to offer aid to the quester.

Ultimately, having successfully completed his or her quest, the hero returns home a transformed person with new wisdom to be shared with others.

In my chapel talks to come, we will look at these different parts of the hero’s quest. Because, my friends, you are in the earliest days of your own 9 month quest also known as the school year.  Your greatest reason for being at Parish, in fact, is to prepare you upon leaving here to chart your own hero’s journey – one which will impact the world in a profound way.

We must start today, then, at the beginning and with this question: Are you ready and willing to hear and accept a call?

I mean, you could choose to sit idly by the next nine months oblivious to or afraid of an emergent opportunity to transform yourself or something you care about for the better.   You could, should you wish, choose to just survive and cross off each day until summer comes again. Or, like the hero you most admire, you can choose to answer the call and journey toward an alluring vision for yourself – or for the teams, clubs, or organizations which mean the most to you. 

Should you choose to pursue a quest, though, you must first be awake and alert.

Because, you see, you don’t know from where your call will come or when it will beckon.

Sometimes it comes from a positive place: your art teacher notices your interest and talent during class and calls on you to consider applying for an upcoming art competition. 

Sometimes your call comes from pure happenstance. The new student in the grade sits near you in the first days of school and sends clear signals that she could use a hand finding her way at Parish.

Sometimes your call will even come after something bad or difficult has happened.  Perhaps you miss a key shot in an important game or miss out on the lead role in the play you coveted. A loss can call you to rethink how you might prepare better or differently.

And sometimes, as scripture teaches us today, our call will come from the unlikeliest of places.

A voice – God’s voice – beckoned to Moses from a burning bush of all places.  His difficult and important task was to lead the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and return them to a “good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” What a beautiful vision that must have been for the enslaved Hebrews!.

But hearing the call and saying “I choose to accept the quest” are two different things.  Scripture tells us Moses was 80 years old at the time he received his call from the bush on top of Mt. Horeb.  He doubted his ability to lead the Hebrews home, saying to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He almost didn’t accept the call.

Fortunately, though, Moses did accept his call. He parted the waters and led God’s people home. 

Where are you headed this year? How will you transform yourself or help carry a group of which you are a part its own “land of milk and honey?”

Will you be ready to hear a call when it comes?

The Quest Begins

Luke Skywalker, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Bilbo Baggins, Siddhartha, Odysseus, even Marlin from Finding Nemo.Luke Skywalker, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Bilbo Baggins, Siddhartha, Odysseus, even Marlin from Finding Nemo.

You likely associate one, if not all, of these characters with his or her adventure. Luke sought to destroy the evil empire; Odysseus wished to return home to Ithaca after battling bravely in the Trojan War; Marlin searched the seas for the lost Nemo.
Indeed, each of these individuals pursued a quest.

The quest motif is, in fact, age-old. Renowned scholar Joseph Campbell identified 17 stages of the hero’s journey traceable to the myths of the most ancient people.

In his The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell described the hero’s journey this way:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

In just a few weeks, 1140 heroes attired as Parish students return to our campuses, which for now serve as the primary settings for the unfolding life journeys of these young adventurers.

In fact, for each of us a new school year offers the opportunity to embark on a hero’s quest. True, days at Parish may lack the “supernatural wonder” of The Hobbit’s Lonely Mountain or the “fabulous forces” of the river in which Siddhartha discovered enlightenment. Ideally, though, for our students in particular, a more refined list of quest elements will be experienced between now and next May:

A CallLeia

Princess Leah beckoned Luke Skywalker through a holographic message played by R2-D2. Which individual or what class topic, cause, or experience this year might call our students to “venture forth” to explore a world new to them? Will they be ready to hear and answer that call?

A Treasure

The call evokes a vision which captivates the hero. This treasure – the hopeful aspiration of a more perfected form of self or place – fuels the quest. For Siddhartha, for example, attaining enlightenment powered his lifelong journey. Are our students able to articulate the higher form of themselves they hope to attain by the time school ends next May? Is it something more ennobling than “make an A in math?” For parents, the urge to hear the call for our children or define the object of their quest can be overwhelming. We should strive, though, to poke and preserve: Poke our children from what Campbell calls the “conventional slumber” of their present condition while preserving (and celebrating!) their autonomy to choose their journey’s direction.

OdysseusThe Trials

Events and circumstances confront the hero and raise doubt that the treasured state will ever be attained. Odysseus and his sailors encountered innumerable challenges and threats such as the lotus-eaters, Cyclopes, and Scylla and Charybdis. Our students, too, will face trails this year – lapses in focus; peer antagonists; rejections and runner-up finishes. How will they respond? It can be most painful as a parent to watch our child endure such trials. We can offer safe harbor amidst the storms and should do so while recognizing that we cannot control the weather conditions our heroes – our children – face during their journeys.

The Mentors 

BilboGandalfTeachers, sages and protectors offer guidance and assistance to the hero at critical junctures in the quest. Gandalf advised Bilbo as the dwarves sought to reclaim the treasure from Smaug in The Hobbit. Dory offered assistance to Marlin as the search for Nemo unfolded. As an educator and parent, I’ve discovered a piece of wisdom: other adults may be better positioned to mentor my  boys and in doing so will not diminish my effectiveness or worth as a parent. As we parents grow more comfortable letting our children go to the influential sages who appear along the path, we are better positioned to join our children in offering gratitude for that mentor’s presence and counsel.

The Transformation

Ultimately, the hero returns – transformed in some significant and permanent way. Odysseus returned to Ithaca a man more measured and humble after enduring seven years on the island of Calypso and the trials of his journey home.

1stDay2016Each year, we capture first day photos of our students as they depart for school. As you do that this year, note in writing some other feature of your child beyond the physical ones conveyed in the photo. Track this trait – be it patience, sociability, tolerance for risk or self-confidence – and see how it evolves over the next nine months. Chances are, come May, you will be as amazed by the evident transformation in this feature as you are in his or her physical growth.  Of course, places – your business, church, favorite charitable organization – undertake quests of their own. Parish is no exception.

We have heard the call to Reimagine how students experience school. We envision a more perfected learning culture – one which inarguably prepares the students of today for the complex global society they will lead tomorrow without sacrificing their level of engagement, love of learning or mental health. Our journey has crossed the threshold. We have begun piloting different time models and methods of instruction. Each new experience helps us understand better how to fit a student’s learning experience to his or her needed level of challenge; or how to build powerful, enduring learning habits beyond the ability to memorize content; or how to feature engaging, authentic learning experiences which, in many cases, students help shape and direct.

None of us know for sure what this year holds in store. That, in essence, is the thrill associated with any journey. As we prepare to depart, we can be prayerful that our young heroes embrace the opportunity before them and, with your help and ours, advance their journey to becoming the impactful people God has put them on earth to be.

Boundless Gratitude

I live in a sports-watching home.

So it is that the boys and I (and Mollie on occasion) interface with a fairly narrow band of advertisers.


In March, during the NCAA tournament, an ad dubbed “Real Winners Care” aired repeatedly for the Dove Men product line. Images from the commercial captured athletes, pushed beyond their physical and mental limits, receiving aid from a competitor or teammate.

Beyond its suitability for airing during March Madness, one of America’s most revered annual sporting events, Dove’s marketing serves a purpose for my final First Monday.

As the month of May begins most of us – parents, faculty & staff, and especially our students – feel like the athletes in the ad look! The “final lap” of the nine-month race of the school year has begun. We have, as cliché-spouting announcers love to say, “left it all out there” in our respective quests. We will reach the final day of school unaided (we hope!), but can relate to the sense of depletion captured in the images of these athletes.

Indeed, I also appreciate how the commercial casts a final hue on the theme which has pervaded my writing to you and chapel talks to the students this year: boundless thinking and acting.

The impactful people and institutions I know and respect possess boundless dispositions. Their mindsets consistently uphold hope, possibility and opportunity over despair, helplessness and cynicism. As a result, these individuals and organizations consistently move forward with energy, conviction and perseverance.

In this space since August, I have highlighted how our programs forge bold leaders who see around and through obstacles and build bridges across lines of divide (September, March). I’ve profiled frontier-exploring young alumni constructing fulfilling lives (November, February). I’ve related how initiatives of ours, Parish Connect and ParishBridge, transcend the boundaries of the campus to help our alumni and seniors, respectively, spawn powerful networks. And I’ve explained Parish’s own challenger’s quest (April). By profiling those who influence us (October), I’ve sought to include you as we explore new frontiers in education where we reimagine how today’s schools might best equip our children to thrive in tomorrow’s complex world while keeping their spirits and love of learning fully intact.

Indeed, the enthusiastic pursuit of such audacious aspirations can leave even the heartiest quester ragged and stumbling!

So, where do bold leaders and boundless thinkers turn for reprieve and restoration?

Well, summer vacation certainly doesn’t hurt!

But I have also learned an important lesson this year. When taxed by the effort required to break new ground or staggered by the unexpected body blows life inevitably deals us, a foolproof replenishing agent exists: gratitude.

In December, I wrote of the research of Martin Seligman, the founder of the field of positive psychology. He and his colleagues have demonstrated that “gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

In my experience, if practiced regularly, gratitude expressed for what has transpired, what is and what may be suppresses anxiety, assuages disappointment, and amplifies boundless thinking.

So as the school year’s final month dawns, and with it comes the exhaustion borne of a full investment of our efforts, the time to drink from the reservoir of gratitude has arrived. Our community will engage in several traditions designed to thank faculty and staff for time served; to recognize volunteers for their dedication to this place; and to model for and instruct our students on how they can communicate heartfelt thanks.

How does your school community use May as a month to teach and demonstrate boundless gratitude?