Tag Archives: hope

Forging Bold Leaders with Inclusive Mindsets

“In most cases, the blessings of our resources afford us the opportunity to stay comfortably tucked in our enclaves insulated from the messiness of our world… Put challenging issues before [your children] at a level appropriate to their age. Text them editorials on contrary sides of an issue; share informative video clips. Discuss all of this at dinner. Do what you can to help your children become aware that they are part of a larger, complex global community – not above it, apart from it, or absolved of responsibility for it.”  

– Parent’s Night Comments, September, 2016


A lot can happen in six months.

When I wrote and delivered the statement above as part of my Parents’ Night remarks in September (referenced in my September 2016 blog post), Colin Kaepernick had just a week earlier kneeled for the first time during the national anthem. An already divisive election season – to which I also alluded in my comments that evening – was still two months from yielding a generally unexpected result. The drumbeat of headlines and news stories on domestic Executive orders, travel bans and immigration policies had yet to register a social media click.

Indeed, our children live in a complex global society.

In this space throughout the year, as well as in my chapel talks to the community, I’ve highlighted boundless thinking. I’ve pondered the characteristics of individuals and organizations that, like Parish, embrace such a mindset of hopeful optimism and possibility. I’ve offered examples of how our program, alumni and community demonstrate it.

While some may find my musings uplifting, I recognize that for others, a bleaker world view may prevail.  Images of society riven by divisions and boundaries flood our senses from a variety of sources.

As educators (and parents), we’ve been presented an opportunity. I would frame it using questions:

  • Will we watch our children slide passively into one of the isolated and insulated ideological camps which characterize our present national profile?
  • Or will we explore and evaluate with them the contours of today’s knottiest issues so that they become bold standard bearers of civil discourse and architects of collaborative solutions?

In my September remarks, I offered my answer as both a dad and Head of School:

“I want my sons and the students who graduate from Parish to live and lead with a boundless spirit, unencumbered by fear; I want them to modulate ambition and empathy; I want them to be guides to the middle ground where solutions, compromise, and steady – if at times deliberate – progress is made.”

– Parent’s Night Comments, September, 2016


No one would mistake “deliberate” progress for boundless accomplishment. But when it comes to building intentional, mission-aligned programming to prepare our students to navigate and mend the evident fissures in our complex global society, I think a steady advance is noteworthy.

At Parish, three interwoven programs buttress the formation of impactful leaders.

First, daily chapel instills time-tested lessons in love.  Love for one another, love for our neighbor, love for those with opposing views and, yes, even love for our enemy.

PLeads_GirlPowerLunchSecond, a robust homeroom, advisory and experiential learning program complements the ethical foundation chapel establishes,  using the ParishLeads framework to build student capacity for relationship building, empathy and awareness of difference.

ParishLeadsFrame

Finally, as I wrote in  January 2016, we have initiated complementary programming in the area of Diversity & Inclusion. Guiding this effort has been the revised mission and diversity statements approved by the Board of Trustees in 2015. Now in her second year, Director of Diversity & Inclusion Tyneeta Canonge has convened several groups to assist in the development and implementation of initiatives in this space: Divisional Diversity Committees, The Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board – comprised of parents, a school Trustee, and faculty and staff members – and a thriving Student Leadership Diversity Board in our Upper School.

D&LFocusAreas_blogTogether, these groups have helped craft action steps in several key areas identified in the accompanying chart.

In doing so, we have kept in mind the developmental needs and readiness of our students. We have also evaluated closely the time allocation deemed appropriate for the work.

The below visuals offer a summation Diversity & Inclusion programming developed and implemented thus far this year.

LS_D&IMS_D&IUS_D&I

 

This work of forging bold leaders with inclusive mindsets has – especially in these unsettled times – left segments of our constituency uneasy. Some feel chapel need not be every day, or that it is too Christian, or not Christian enough. Others think an advisory period committed to ParishLeads usurps time from our academic purpose. Some believe we are not moving swiftly enough to be a more inclusive school community –  defined as one which is whole, unified and loving, but at the same time sensitive to and respectful of opinions and backgrounds of difference in our midst. Meanwhile, others believe we are moving too quickly or that our program content serves more to divide than to unify.

We accept this feedback and appreciate it. We will continue to improve our communication on programming in this arena. Notably, I am pleased to introduce a new blog resource within our Diversity & Inclusion webpage – Voices & Views – where you will find resources, examples of activities in which students have been engaged, and news on upcoming programming (third trimester activities are now posted).

Enriched by this feedback, our mission-driven commitment to this work will remain steadfast.  Tomorrow’s complex world demands the boundless, collaborative and attuned leaders we believe it will yield.

Delivering on My Promise

In December, I vowed to restock my sense of boundless hope and optimism. I pledged that the global, domestic and campus-related challenges of 2016 would not deter my aspirations for a better tomorrow.

As a man of my word, my initial First Monday of 2017 will highlight Parish-related initiatives which buoy my spirit, especially when I consider their imminent positive impact.

Gene E. Phillips Activity Center is on its way
I love watching construction projects. The architects, project managers and construction workers possess such admirable skills as planners, problems solvers and artisans. I find witnessing the incremental and tangible results of their work to be immensely satisfying. As you can see in the image series below, in just four months tremendous progress has been made in bringing the Gene E. Phillips Activity Center to life!

trackthemac

By summer the Center will offer our students an additional 24,000 square feet for learning, competing and performing. This space will seat close to 500 and feature lighting and acoustical attributes which make it an attractive option for music, dance and community events. Already, we are planning for how it can be utilized most efficiently to best serve the community. Jennifer Wilson, Head of Lower School, leads a committee presently investigating opportunities the Phillips Activity Center might offer, such as:

  • alleviating the need for early morning athletic practices and/or allowing Middle School teams to practice more often;
  • shifting when Physical Education classes meet thereby liberating key instructional time in the morning for 3rd and 4th grade students;
  • serving as a site for select ParishArts music & dance performances;
  • hosting key community events such as when we partner with The Perot Museum of Nature & Science to host FIRST LEGO® League robotics competitions in December and February.

I am confident the first new facility added to our campus in over a decade will have a dramatic and positive impact on our community when it opens this August (2017).

geneephillipsactivitycenter

Momentum for the Performance & Community Center build
Amidst the excitement of the Phillips Activity Center taking shape before our eyes, I am equally enthused about the progress this fall toward making the Performance & Community Center (PACC) a reality. As you may have read in our special announcement, we have received several major gifts in the last few months, putting us over $7 million in pledges since July 1, 2016, including an incredibly generous $5 million anonymous commitment. Our development team, comprised of Diana Sobey, Carrie Burton and Daniel Novakov, and led by Amanda Meter and Marci McLean, has positioned us for success. Our Board of Trustees has pledged close to $3 million to our two venue projects while providing thoughtful and responsible direction to our construction and fundraising effort. My optimism peaked by these tangible signs of support, I am even more energized to bring our dreams for the PACC to broader segments of our community this year. We want to put this second vision-supportive facility to the service of our dedicated faculty and talented students within the next four years.

parishconnect_lowParishConnect launches
As I wrote in November, our young Parish Episcopal alumni (remember, having had only 10 graduating classes, they are all still young!) represent a great source of excitement and hope for me. We have an immense opportunity before us as a school: to define, in richly distinct terms, what we want our relationship with our alumni to be. Beyond annual homecoming events and reunions, might we impact and enrich the lives of our graduates once they have reached the “complex global society” as meaningfully as we did when they were students at Parish?

alumni_lsThis question fueled the creation of ParishConnect, which we launched softly last summer and announced more broadly in our most recent Pantherbeat. It will assume a much more public identity in our community this year. Overseen by Advancement & Alumni Coordinator, Lauren Henderson, ParishConnect links our graduates – both those proceeding through the final years of college and graduate school and those who’ve recently entered the workforce – with professional contacts from our parent body, both present and alumni. Less a job center and more a Parish “LinkedIn,” ParishConnect helps our young alumni explore the professional topography in their chosen field of interest. It also helps our graduates develop their skill constructing powerful networks, a vital conduit for making things happen in today’s interconnected world. As you can see from Lauren Sandstedt’s ’13 feedback at right, the value of ParishConnect has already been realized.

ParishConnect represents just one component of a more comprehensive plan to engage our alumni. As day-to-day school operations shift more distinctly to Michelle Lyon (after July 1 in her new role as Assistant Head of School), I will enthusiastically engage in a more coordinated way with our alumni – through ParishConnect – by offering an ongoing series of “Purposeful Lives” seminars & workshops, and by staging a variety of campus and city-based social events.

Indeed, my supply of hope and optimism overflows! I am blessed to have been called to the work of school leadership, especially at time of such dynamic change in our world and especially at a place like Parish – a community which has always embraced a sense of what’s possible.

Boundless Hope & Optimism Shall Prevail

I am ready for 2016 to end.

Generally, I do not hold such antipathy for entire calendar years. I also recognize each day God has made is a gift and should not be wished away. Still, 2016 has been particularly irksome.

It’s ironic, my yearlong writing and speaking theme of “boundless,” because my most pervasive recollections from 2016 evoke images of loss, setback and divisiveness rather than expansive hopefulness. Perhaps I was subliminally influenced!

To be sure, the last 12 months have offered highlights. Parish graduated its 10th class in May, which included my eldest (who, it should be noted, has not appeared on our doorstep forlorn and with suitcase in hand from Texas A&M!). A new building rises from our Midway campus for the first time in over a dozen years; it will be ready for use by next summer. And on a daily basis, we steep in a joyful, communal environment enriched by immensely dedicated professionals and potential-laden students.hillcrestfire2016

Still, 2016 has been a handful.

On campus, the at times relentless march of loss began with a fire in Building E on our Hillcrest campus in January, which necessitated a five month relocation of multiple classrooms. The loss became more painful and personal this fall. Four deaths in our community in six weeks challenged our optimism and tapped our emotional reserves.

Meanwhile, as citizens of this country and the world, 2016 threatened to leech our supply of hope and resolve.

standworlandoBy July, major terrorist acts had occurred in Brussels, Orlando and Nice, among other locales. According to the global mapping software company, ESRI, there have been 1,600 terror attacks across the globe to date in 2016 claiming over 14,000 lives. Aleppo, Syria emits constant images of devastating human suffering and despair.

dallaspolice16Racial tension flared in cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee and Charlotte with both citizens of color and law enforcement officers harboring justifiable fears for their safety. With four police officers shot in four different cities on November 21 alone, we in Dallas were haunted anew by unspeakably sad memories of July 7, when five police officers were slain on our streets.

election16The Presidential campaign – featuring two flawed candidates – and its result served to heighten the country’s sense of anxiety, division and bewilderment. I am a student and teacher of leadership; in fact, I have just begun this second trimester teaching the “Leading Self, Leading Others” course to juniors in our Leadership Institute. Our course begins with the topic of values-based leadership, with the premise that credibility is the foundation of leadership, and with an introduction to the now nearly 40 year old research of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. Their study identifies credible leaders as ones who are honest, competent, forward thinking and inspiring.

I’ve pondered how I will address students who justifiably question the results of this research when assessing the campaign of 2016. I’ve yet to arrive at a reasonable explanation as to how the prevailing traits of these leaders rewarded with the honor of representing our two major parties marry with what I teach about credible leadership.
Of less global import, but still relevant to my relative disdain for 2016, I began my 50th year this past August. With it have come those challenging mid-life questions about life choices made in order to pursue passionately and completely my calling to school leadership and their consequences on my role as husband, dad, son, brother and friend. Introspection on my 2016 performance in several of these capacities has been less than affirming.

So where does this leave me? Must I silence for this month the talk of limitless possibility, hopeful optimism and personal growth associated with my boundless theme?

Not so fast!

In fact, research tells us what the healthiest and most productive individuals and organizations possess and tap into regularly, but especially in times of trial: boundless hope and optimism.

martinseligmanMartin Seligman, past President of the American Psychology Association and Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is one of the most influential thinkers and writers of the last half century. During that time, Dr. Seligman has been the visionary behind “Positive Psychology;” he has shifted discussion from a focus on mental illness to “the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” Among these virtues is optimism and hope.

In his book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Seligman explains that we can learn a set of cognitive skills which help us interpret what happens to us in a more hopeful way. According to Seligman, “Optimism is hope. It is not the absence of suffering. It is not always being happy and fulfilled. It is the conviction that though one may fail or have a painful experience somewhere, sometime, one can take action to change things.”learnedoptimismquote-jpg
Seligman’s research is clear: Optimistic people are happier, healthier and more successful. How important, then, it is for us to practice resilient living; to model fortitude for our children; and to teach them to assume command of their internal dialogue and craft a hopeful forward-moving narrative.

Even in the foundational Judeo-Christian Holy Days to be celebrated this month, we witness the power of hope. A Menorah candle remains lit for eight days though it had enough oil to burn only for an evening. A child savior is born humbly in a manger to parents of common station and a government which sought to eliminate Him. Amidst these trails, faith and possibility prevailed.

I carry into this holiday season a resolve to restock my sense of hope and optimism. A difficult 2016 will neither confine nor define. It will not deter boundless aspirations for a better tomorrow.