Tag Archives: “life prep”

Why We Choose to Reimagine

SchoolShouldn'tHurt

 

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.

 

NAIStrends

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.

 

 

Life Prep Not Just College Prep

In my November blog post, I highlighted how Cole Jones’ ’14 post Parish experiences demonstrate the boundless mindsets of our first wave of graduates.

In January, Cole returned to campus and took questions from the juniors in my class, all of whom are members of the Leadership Institute ’18 cohort. It was perfect! With no advanced prompting from me, Cole shared his personal mission statement (something my students had just been asked to do) and espoused how leading a life of possibility requires one to develop a working relationship with fear (messaging I have shared this year with all students in my monthly chapel talks).

leadershipclass_crop“Cole speaking to us today was probably one of the most impactful moments I’ve had at Parish…He grabbed my attention from the beginning when he started to talk about working on a 67 foot schooner…The way he carries himself with his values and adventurous attitude is inspiring…I think that Cole helped us realize the importance of our personal credo. To be honest, a couple of weeks ago I didn’t see the point to the personal statement/credo, but now I see it as something I can use to guide me. I have come straight home to open my laptop and revise my credo making sure it’s what I want it to be…”

Member of Leadership Institute cohort’18 reflecting on visit from Cole Jones ’14.

Every school should be blessed with graduates like Cole and Emily Sher ’13. Whenever Emily is in Dallas, she stops by for a visit. Emily understands the power of networks and mentors in today’s complex global society, so she diligently cultivates ongoing relationships with her Parish teachers.

Emily also represents the best of what Parish seeks to produce. She’s a learned and intelligent person to be sure, but Emily is also defined by her tenacious work ethic, refined relationship building skills, and indefatigable drive.

Emily’s path to powerful internship experiences called on her to evidence each of these traits and more. She had chosen the University of Miami over an early acceptance at Wake Forest (I still remember our conversations weighing that decision!) because she embraced the challenge of a more cosmopolitan, diverse city. She has thrived at Miami, but financial firms like UBS and Morgan Stanley, which had become the focus of her career path, did not recruit directly at the University.

emilysher_2Undeterred, Emily took the initiative to apply to the Bermont/Carlin Scholars Program within Miami’s Business School. She was one of 20 students accepted after a two-part interview. As a Scholar, she completed a team-based summer project learning more about one of the major financial institutions, took a fall recruiting trip to New York to hone interviewing and networking skills, and ultimately landed a prized internship in Manhattan with Morgan Stanley this past summer.

At the conclusion of her 10 week internship focused on institutional wealth management, Emily was offered a full time position with Morgan Stanley which she will begin after graduation. Needless to say, that was an exciting exit interview (and productive summer internship) for Ms. Sher!

ParishBridgeLast February in this space, I introduced ParishBridge, one component of which is a professional experience of 15-50 hours depending on the senior’s course schedule.

Through ParishBridge, we are introducing our oldest students to the power of internships, network building and learning beyond the classroom. In an amazing and unexpected twist in ParishBridge’s first year, nearly 10 percent of the class of 2016 turned ParishBridge professional experiences last spring into summer internships (many of them paid!) last summer. In our second year, members of the class of 2017 – observing their peers in last year’s pioneer class – have been poised to capitalize on this unique opportunity. Already, they’ve investigated potential professional experiences with the likes of Disney, the Dallas Mavericks, the Perot Museum and Top Golf.

Parishbridgeprogram

Combined with ParishConnect (which I highlighted last month), we are building a powerful and unique set of services. Together, they will equip our oldest students and young alumni with the skills and experiences they need to establish powerful networks – ones which will be essential to their thriving in the “complex global society.”

I anticipate that boundless futures, like those of Cole and Emily, will be the norm for Parish graduates to come, and I can’t wait to watch their individual journeys unfold!

Trying to Make Sense of a Senseless Summer

brown_rawlingsAt our recent Parent Nights, I projected this picture on a screen. While it might seem an unusual picture with which to welcome parents back to a new school year, the summer we just experienced was anything but usual. Woven with the joyful moments of relaxation we enjoyed were disorienting and disturbing images of violence, divisiveness, and incivility.  Our city experienced this firsthand, and Chief Brown and Mayor Rawlings leadership in the wake of the July 7 shooting contributed to my reflections on the turbulent three months gone by.

The summer’s events compelled me to speak to the home/school partnership. In particular, how we cooperate to guide young people in our community to be “bold leaders prepared to impact our complex global society.” This phrase from our mission statement– “complex global society” – has been on vivid display in the 90 days since school released for the summer in May.

MissionStatement_finalTwo other words from the phrase – “bold leaders” – explain my picture choice. As a student of leadership and a citizen of this city, I watched with interest and admiration the police chief and mayor in the wake of last month’s shootings.  I was impressed to see these two men – one black, one white; one a fourth generation Texan, the other born and educated in the northeast; one a career public servant and law officer, the other a career businessman turned local politician –  transcend these evident differences and lead.  In the midst of harrowing violence and loss, they projected assurance, other-centeredness, and hope for a better tomorrow.

But the “bold leader” phrase from our mission statement and the example of these civic leaders also begs the question: from where do such leaders come? What type of parenting and school culture consistently yield individuals with the intelligence, skill set, and disposition we associate with credible adults whom others follow willingly?

These are certainly questions too big to address in a blog post – they form the basis for excellent leadership courses. But as a father and an educator, this summer left me feeling powerless.  I wondered what was within my reach to influence amidst this seemingly endless news stream communicating unspeakable hatred, puzzling justice, random violence, and vitriolic politicking.

Among other things, 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.

I knew I could ensure intentional programming exists to build such disposition in students. Our ParishLeads framework – woven through advisory, homerooms, experiential trips, and our daily chapel – contributes to it.  Our intentional work around diversity and inclusion, led by our Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Tyneeta Canonge, develops our skills in this regard. As the November election approaches, we will intentionally engage our students across each division in activities and discussions to heighten their awareness of our civic responsibility to be an informed and passionate electorate. We will also teach and model civil discourse and celebrate it as one of the most cherished and honorable characteristics of our unique democracy.

familymatters1But I’d propose there are two additional things we can do together, home and school. I would like to suggest we have the power in this milieu of uncertainty to make a shared contribution.  And I would like to think what it requires of us is not that difficult.

First, we can promote awareness.   An understandable tendency in the face of what we’ve experienced would be to shield our kids from it.   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. When you travel – locally or globally – move off the beaten path.  Help your children understand what a food desert is; drive them to South Dallas and wonder with them what it might feel to live at great distances from a supermarket. Put challenging issues before them 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 you 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.

Finally, remember this.

Love beats back fear every time.

Not the overprotective, shielding, and indulging kind, but the type of love that – with consistent application by parents and caring adults like us – research has proven produces the well-adjusted, resilient, hopeful, and capable adults our complex global society needs. Author and psychologist Robert Evans has provided perhaps the most cogent compilation of this thinking in his framework of nurture, latitude, and structure. I think Parish provides just this type of love for our students. When we regathered in August following this complicated summer, I asked our faculty and staff to recommit to offering our students boundless doses of love. I hope parents will take account of how their home environment features nurture, structure, and latitude.

In the end, as a dad and a school leader I’ve determined there is indeed something I can do. I can help shape the next generation of Mayor Rawlings and Chief Browns. Young people who become adults possessing a civic awareness and aptitude both in mind and heart.

In my August post, I cited Reimagine Parish, our plan to provide boundless opportunities for learners featuring greater personalization and student engagement. As much as our program continues to evolve, though, one commitment will remain.  We will be a school where, no matter how dark the world may seem at the moment, no matter how predominate the constraints and limitations of incivility, ideological thinking, and divisiveness may be, kids will feel loved. They will know we walk through this complex world with them, committed to equip them with the skills and character they need to make it better.

A Purposeful Life Begins With Purposeful Days

Last month, I reflected on the disciple’s Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, in which he told Jesus’ earliest followers that they were God’s handiwork, created to do good works uniquely prepared for them to do.

Indeed, each of us has a particular purpose to serve in this world; we are custom-designed, fitted with gifts to be used to impact the world in a way only we can.

And it starts here at school. When you experience school as an opportunity rather than a burden to survive, you begin your journey to living purposefully. Through both your triumphs and your struggles here, you will uncover the particular gifts God has given you and explore ways they might change a life, enhance a community, or make a team or organization stronger.

I’d like to look today at the foundation of purposeful living, which, not surprisingly, you play an important role in constructing for yourselves.

This is Admiral William McRaven, who is now the Chancellor of the University of Texas system, but before that spent 37 years in the Navy. Among a variety of leadership roles, Admiral McRaven oversaw the operation which resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden. Admiral McRaven gave the graduation address at UT a couple of years ago; perhaps some of you have seen it. Here is his first suggestion on where living a purposeful life begins:

Now I know what the beds of the three boys in my house can look like on occasion. I hope the world is not counting on them yet!

But in all seriousness, Admiral McRaven serves to introduce my point for today: Living a purposeful life begins with living purposeful days.

I have a couple of opinions in this regard to share with you:

Purposeful People Make Purposeful Choicesarrows

Think about people you would identify as difference-makers in their communities, families, or professions. I’d submit that if you look more deeply, they make purposeful decisions each day. That is, they hold to certain daily or almost daily commitments which help structure their lives and focus their energies on the task of achieving their vision and impacting their world for good.

For McRaven and the SEALS, making their beds to perfection every day was a purposeful choice. In their world, a successful mission rested on doing the little things correctly – every single time, not some of the time. Making their bed to specifications reinforced that.

But here are some others:

Entertainer Ellen DeGeneres has found that 20 minutes of Transcendental Meditation every day focuses her mind and restores the super supply of energy she needs to muster each day to entertain her fans on television.

President Obama is the leader of the free world; he has perhaps the most stressful job and hectic schedule one could have. But he makes purposeful choices in how he manages his time. Not only does he make room each day for 45 minutes of exercise, but he has breakfast with Mrs. Obama each morning and dinner at home with the family each evening when he is not travelling.

13virtuesMany of us recognize the name of founding father Benjamin Franklin. But beyond the kite and the key we know he used to learn about electricity, he is perhaps known best for teaching others that leading oneself is the first step to impacting the world. By age 20 he created a list of 13 virtues to which he adhered. He purposefully charted his weekly choices to see how well he did and scheduled each of his days to the hour.

Now I am no Biblical expert, but I have never read scripture which suggested Jesus made purposeful choices to do yoga daily, swim laps, or write poetry as part of his plan to live a purposeful life.

JesushealsBut if you look at our Scripture readings today (Luke 6:12-13; Luke 9:18, 21-22, Mark 1:35) you see just three of dozens of examples of what Jesus did do purposefully: Seek solitude and Pray.

Jesus’s work was draining.

He ministered to the sick, the outcast, and the poor

He managed the feuds, jealousies, and anxieties of his disciples

He challenged the choices and intentions of the religious leaders of his time.

Moreover, Jesus understood His life’s purpose. Everything He did, he knew, was leading to His death on the cross. So He made the purposeful choice often, if not daily, to seek solitude and pray.

What purposeful choices do you make each day?

valueswordle

Typically, the things you choose to do purposefully align with your values:

  • If you believe a healthy body leads to a sharper mind, like I do, then carving out time for exercise will happen
  • If you love to learn and expand your thinking or imagination, then finding time to read might be something you ensure happens each day
  • If you value creative expression, then you might listen to or practice your music each day; draw; or write in a journal

Maybe you are still seeking the things or things that enable you to be you best, most impactful self each day. Finding it may require time and, as our Framework language suggests, some self-reflection.

In closing, though, I can suggest a place to practice purposeful choice-making: right here at school.

Now, my world at school is filled with a lot of meetings – some of which I look forward to more than others, some of which are on topics more exciting to me than others. But each day, in alignment with my own personal mission to be a person of impact, I seek to enter each meeting – whether excited by it or not – with an intent to leave a positive contribution behind. Sometimes that positive contribution may be as simple as my presence and full attention. Other times, it will mean that I choose to enter in; to make a comment or lend an idea which might help the group accomplish its task better or more thoughtfully.

What if you approached each class this way? Certainly you enjoy some subjects or types of classwork more than others, just as some meetings are easier for me to embrace than others. But you can choose to enter into each class – favored or not – with the purposeful intent to help make the activity or experience there more valuable – because of your attention; your input; or your support for others.

When you commit to this, you will be constructing the foundation of small, purposeful choices which lead to living a life of greater impact down the road.

When Ben Franklin rose at 5 AM each day, he didn’t worry so much about how he made his bed. But he did ask: “what good shall I do this day?” and when he jumped into that same bed at 10 PM, he asked “what good have I done this day?” I can think of no better questions to ask yourselves when you consider coming here to your classes, your practices, and your other commitments, and I pray you come to master the purposeful choices which lead to a purposeful life.

Parish Battles Back Against Perfection Pressure

An epidemic has arisen stealthily in the last decade.

We know some of its victims. They are young people who live lives of relative abundance. In general, they come from strong homes, attend solid, college preparatory schools (both public and private), and have promising futures.

And yet, they suffer. Sometimes smiling faces mask their inner strife and turmoil. Occasionally, symptoms are more evident. The affliction debilitates; it stifles productivity, strips away confidence and separates the adolescent from a sense of meaning and purpose.

campussuicideThis New York Times article from July suggests an apt name for this epidemic – Perfection Pressure – and cites some sobering statistics:

  • College counseling centers showing a 13% increase in just the last two years of students with “severe psychological problems.”
  • A Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State study showing that anxiety and depression, in that order, are now the most common mental health diagnoses among college students.

In a recent blog post I conveyed my intent to engage the community in a conversation on a purposeful, meaningful life. Readings like the one cited above and those referenced in my August letter proved provocative, challenging me both as a father and school leader to ask:

  • What’s going on here?
  • Is anyone noticing?
  • Are we, as parents and school leaders, somehow complicit in the spread of this virus?

To be sure, the causes of Perfection Pressure are multi-faceted. The world is complex and changing rapidly; students and parents alike wonder where young people will find their place in it. The college admissions process is more unpredictable and daunting; students and parents alike scramble furiously, and too often in a misdirected way, to crack the code to the “best college or university.” Social media presents a new frontier where public scrutiny and constant peer comparison have become the norm for adolescents already wrestling with the tumultuous process of self-discovery.

I believe as parents and school leaders we have missed the onset of this epidemic, or at least looked past its symptoms as just extreme manifestations of the legendary adolescent angst.

As a parent, I am undoubtedly imperfect. In exchange for some conversations with my boys about the next academic, co-curricular or college preparation obligation, I could offer ones about what it looks like to lead a well-lived, purposeful life.

As a long-time independent school leader, I am not naïve. I know in the well-intentioned quest to provide a vibrant, college preparatory experience, I have helped craft and implement programs – including Parish’s –  which have extended some students beyond their stamina limits.  But what attracted me to Parish seven years ago was, in part, the School’s purposeful commitment to balance. I believe we do this as well as any independent school I know and, given the rising epidemic of student anxiety now prevalent in today’s achievement-oriented culture, stewarding this commitment is among my highest priorities.

I’d highlight three features of our approach which promote balance:

MSvideoprojectPutting students in the “do mode” – Learning experiences which focus on skill-development as much as content consumption and regurgitation engender higher student engagement.

When students have choice and voice in how they learn concepts and in what manner they demonstrate understanding, they will also be more engaged. Engaging learning experiences feel less constricting and burdensome, and thus promote a sense of balance.

UScommonsScheduling to promote balance – Our Middle and Upper divisions utilize a “block schedule” featuring 80 minute classes. These longer time blocks afford time for deeper, less frenetic learning experiences in class, opportunities to complete “homework” and project work at school, and even space for necessary “decompression” during the day. We also hold fast to daily chapel, a 20 minute period in our day when students and adults alike can put  “to do lists” aside and center themselves. We recognize the gift this time affords us to teach a valuable lesson in honoring stillness and reflection.

8thgradeserviceMessaging to Mission – While we celebrate the achievements of our students, their achievements alone do not define them or our School. What our students hear from us consistently – through our comprehensive ParishLeads programming and in daily chapel – is that who they are becoming as people of impact and forces for good in our world trumps any recitation of their honors or awards.

BruniBookOpportunities exist for you to extend your thinking on this topic. Later this month (October 28), Parish has joined 14 other ISAS Schools in Dallas to bring Frank Bruni to St. Mark’s. Though our tickets for the evening have been allotted, I urge you to read Bruni’s book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be and recognize how much of his messaging is consistent with what we preach and live at Parish.

School With a Purpose

My effort to engage our community in reflection about meaning and purpose shifted to the students this month with my September 4th chapel homily at Midway.  I used Ephesians 2:10 as my scriptural inspiration:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

I also wove Inside Out, Pixar’s summer blockbuster, through my message.  What follows is an extended excerpt from my message.

“I saw a fantastic movie this summer; a Pixar picture called Inside Out.  Anybody see it?

If you didn’t, it’s the story of Riley, a happy, hockey-loving 11-year-old Minnesota girl.  Her world turns upside-down when she and her parents move to San Francisco. Riley’s emotions are co-stars in this movie. We get to see inside Riley as Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness try to guide her through this difficult, life-changing event.

Inside Out offers so many themes I’d love to explore with you, but I’ve settled on a couple observations for today specific to this scene and connected to the start of the school year.

The first observation is the simplest:  your school year will be filled with the emotions which starred in the movie – and likely some others. 

InsideOut_01

You will experience joy in growing friendships and new successes;

You will confront fear as you meet challenges – perhaps from being a new student here or trying out for a team or a play for the first time;

You will be disgusted – perhaps by something a classmate does, or your own performance in a game or concert, or by the food in the Commons; 

You will be angry – at a teacher for a grade or a constructive criticism he or she makes, perhaps, or a friend for a poorly timed comment;

And, yes, you will be sad.  We are a community built on relationships.  Relationships are complicated and don’t always go as we would hope.  Our feelings will be hurt. We may feel lonely or left out.  Other times, we will fall short of goals and our best intentions and as a result will feel blue.

If you remember from the movie, Joy draws a circle around sadness trying to limit her impact on Riley that first day of school.  As it turns out, (no spoiler alert necessary!), sadness plays a most important role in helping Riley confront the challenge of moving to San Francisco.   InsideOut_02

For you this school year, the question is not whether you will feel a range of emotions, but how you will manage them.

Must all your days be filled with joy for you to consider them good days?  If so, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. 

Can you channel anger at yourself or others positively to reach a better outcome, or does anger linger with you and make achieving a positive resolution impossible? 

Do you allow your sadness to set you back for days, or can you find the fortitude we talk about in our ParishLEADS  framework to make tomorrow a better day?

Manage the emotions that you experience this year rather than trying to avoid them or limit their impact.  Recognize that each emotion has a purpose and a role to play as you become your best self.

Purpose: This theme from movie represents my second and final thought as the year begins.

In the film, each emotion had a job to do. Each emotion had a purpose.

What is your purpose?

In our reading today, Paul teaches the Ephesians, some of the earliest Christians, that they are God’s handiwork and that God has prepared work for them to do as Christians, living into His teachings and modeling them for others.  He suggests, even, that the work each person was born to do has been prepared for them in advance.

handiwork

This raises and interesting question for you to ponder. You are God’s handiwork.  What do you think he will call you to do one day?  How might you impact the world for better one day?  What gifts, abilities, and talents do you have that could do some good in this world?

These are big questions.  Certainly too big for today and perhaps too big for this year.  But we can start here at least.

What is the purpose of you attending school?  Why are you here at Parish and what do you plan to do on purpose to make this year a meaningful one for you?

If I asked you to choose what your purpose is in coming to school from the following multiple choice options, I wonder what the answer would be:

A. Get good grades to make my parents happy

B. Get good grades so I get into the college of my choice and then the job of my dreams!

C. I have no purpose in being here; my parents will not let me stay home and play video games all day

D. To be with friends

E. To play sports/be on stage/sing and dance…

HaveToWhile you might choose from several of these options, and all of them have some legitimacy, I fear sometimes that this might be the likely response:

 Just like Joy drew a circle around sadness to try and limit her impact, I think this answer draws too close a circle around you and separates you from a higher purpose for your work at Parish.

If you see school as just something to survive; if they only “good parts” of school are the subjects you like, or recess, or PE; if school’s purpose is simply about checking assignments completed and grades received, I’d ask you to reflect more deeply. 

In fact, I will commit much of my homily time this year talking about your purpose and our purpose as a school.

In so doing, I would propose one more answer for my multiple choice question:

ImpactWorld

When you think of your time at Parish as having this larger purpose, you erase the circle and open yourself to a whole new set of possibilities:

ImpactWorldNC

We will pick up here when I am with you next.

For now, remember. Indeed, you are here for a purpose beyond surviving until May when summer begins.  You are God’s handiwork.  He has made you – uniquely and particularly – for a reason. He will call you to impact this world in some way.  You are at Parish to begin discovering just how you will change the world, so do commit to doing school with a purpose.”

#Success: Beyond Just The Numbers

I am old enough now that I am challenged to remember it with certainty, but I think the number is correct: 1090.

Yes, my SAT score (on a scale of 1600). Accurate or not, it was inarguably unspectacular. That I have trouble remembering it with any exactitude some three decades later is equal parts understandable and telling.

I also took a handful of advanced placement courses at Kentucky Country Day, the independent school from which I graduated in 1985. My memory is equally hazy on my scores in AP Bio, AP English, AP European and AP American History – they were mostly 3s and 4s, I think, but no 5s to be sure. (Mrs. Monaco followed along in the KCD class of 1989, by the way, with MUCH more impressive numbers!)  Continue reading