Tag Archives: mission statement

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.

Walking a Day in Our Students’ Shoes

When was the last time you spent a day with a 2nd grader? And by that, I don’t mean just a couple of hours with a niece or nephew, or even an afternoon in the same home with your own 2nd grade child. When was the last time you put aside your day’s to do list, your phone (for the most part!), and control of your day’s schedule to experience firsthand what a day as a 2nd grade student looks, sounds and feels like?

MehaWell, I recently had the opportunity – thanks to 2nd grade student Meha K. and her teacher, Shannon Longfield. On March 2, I began in chapel at 8:00 a.m. with Meha and her fellow Lower School peers at Hillcrest. I proceeded to spend the remainder of the day observing, participating and experiencing what life is like for a Parish 2nd grade student.

Interestingly enough, I haven’t been alone. Over the last several weeks, 20 of my colleagues – representing each division – have shadowed a student in nearly every grade in our School. (See full list of shadows)

Why? It’s another purposeful step in crafting the Reimagine School vision upon which I reported in my March First Monday. These immersion experiences can teach us so much! Among the questions I carried with me into my day in 2nd grade were:

  • How does the energy of our students ebb and flow during the day?
  • How does our allocation of time (for example during instruction; for elective classes; or for breaks) contribute to or detract from student energy and engagement?
  • What types of learning activities seem to engage students most?
  • Do certain types of learning experiences promote the internal motivation and acquisition of skills to which we aspire better than others?
  • Does an engaging (read: interesting, “fun” or thought-provoking) classroom activity always correlate with meaningful learning?

2ndNotesMy day was awesome! Like my other colleagues who shadowed a student, I graphed student levels of engagement and took copious notes on my observations. I look forward to comparing our experiences.

What is indisputable is that how time gets used and allocated lies at the heart of reimagining the school experience.  For well over a century, a familiar time framework has dominated American schooling. I am sure you recognize some of its features:

  • A school year which begins in August or September and ends in May or June;
  • Students grouped by incremental, grade-based cohorts where they remain for the nine months of the school year and twelve years of pre-collegiate education, regardless of their capability;
  • “Graduation requirements” in high school and college based on seat time rather than content mastery;
  • Academic disciplines taught in allocated time blocks in isolation from one another.

Recently, Will Richardson, a leading voice of educational reform, penned a piece in the Washington Post, expressing his exasperation with our adherence to school time models borne of an era when what it meant to be educated differed fundamentally from what it means today. Influential American educators like Horace Mann and Edward Thorndike, later joined by the earliest proponents of “organizational management” like Frederick Taylor, linked the design of schools to the needs of late 19th and early 20th century American society. The factory-based industrial economy and increasingly diverse social milieu of our growing country valued systemization, standardization and efficiency.

JarcheToday’s “complex global society,” to which we refer in our mission statement, is anything but standardized and systematized. As business consultant Harold Jarche has noted, “just as few people do work that requires pure physical labor today, soon few of us will do routine, procedural and standardized knowledge work.” As Jarche’s chart (at right) depicts, we are on the cusp of a change in what the work experience of tomorrow will be like for the Parish students of today.

Thus we wonder: how might we reimagine our use of time at Parish so that we are even more effective producing “creative thinkers and bold leaders prepared to impact our complex global society?”

But here’s the catch: path dependence.

New York Times columnist David Brooks (who visited Parish last May) wrote a piece in 2011, Tools for Thinking, about attacking complex problems with holistic thinking. In it, he cited a linguist at Columbia University who warned of path dependence and identified it as “something that seems normal or inevitable today [that] began with a choice that made sense at a particular time in the past, but survived despite the eclipse of justification for that choice.”

While path dependence is terminology of economists and social scientists, it aptly frames the challenge of rethinking time in schools. We teachers are products of the very time system we seek to upend; it is all we know. It is our dependent path and, as such, any process designed to rethink it runs the risk of duplicating the very tendencies that have become entrenched.

Which brings me back to my day with Meha.

Our immersion experiences reflect our quest to break path dependence and design a truly reimagined time framework for Parish which begins with the user (in our case, the student) experience. We have teamed with the Director of the Deason Innovation Gym at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, Katie Krummick, and her colleague, Gray Garmon, to attack the question of our school schedule from a completely different angle. Katie and Gray are not K-12 educators or even schedule consultants. They are experts in human-centered design, a problem-solving process pioneered by organizations like IDEO.Org and places like the Institute of Design at Stanford.

Human-centered design aligns with Parish’s innovative disposition. It involves three general, though not always linear, phases:

  • Inspiration: understanding your challenge by empathizing with your user.
  • Ideation: making sense of what you have heard and seen from your users and generating numerous prototypes of possible solutions to test and refine.
  • Implementation: bringing your idea to life.

Our shadowing of students has been a vital part of our inspiration phase. In their letters later this month, Division Heads will share some of their perspectives on their shadowing experiences. My colleagues and I will be spending time with Katie and Gray in April and June to take stock of what we have learned and begin designing Parish’s reimagined schedule, a process that will occupy much of the next 24-36 months.

I can’t wait for Meha’s feedback on what we develop!

Purposefully Inclusive

In just a few months, the oldest Parish students – the class of 2016 – will receive their diplomas and move a significant step closer to the “complex global society” which awaits them. Lost in the relative imminence of this event is this reality: today, the youngest students at Parish Episcopal are the class of 2030! This fact, which I frequently share with present and prospective parents of young children, never ceases to fill me with wonder. Today’s 5 year old PreK student will leave Parish in 2030, graduate from college and then, in 2034 (assuming a 4 year collegiate experience is still the predominate path), will enter the “complex global society” to which we refer in our revitalized mission statement.

Since August, I’ve used this space and my speaking opportunities to unfurl our refreshed mission statement and reflect on the theme of purpose. As we begin the year’s second half, I invite you to further reflect on our purpose as a school – an even more compelling exercise when considering our youngest learners.

What will that world of 2034 look like? What will the most daunting challenges be? The world is inarguably complex. Just reading the headlines dominating the news over the vacation, one sees a wide range of complicated issues demanding impactful leadership: the geopolitics of the war on terror; environmental sustainability; national and local infrastructure rebuilding; and income and educational equity and access. The list seems endless and certainly will be populated in the next two decades by a set of yet unforeseen challenges.

Indeed, our world will demand creative learners, bold leaders, and individuals impassioned and prepared to make a positive impact.   Of these outcomes, to which Parish purposefully aspires, which one will be most essential? Is there a most important word or set of words in our mission statement?

The interconnectedness of the three outcome phrases makes this question provocative but nearly impossible to answer definitively. In fact, I could argue that the most important word isn’t in the above phrases but is tucked away in the midst of the statement. The word is “inclusive.”

While much of what tomorrow’s world holds in store for our PreK students of today remains unpredictable, this much seems certain:  the country – and Dallas – will be much more diverse (as indicated in tables below).

USPop_DiversityDallasPopProjections

 

Tomorrow’s bold leaders will need to think inclusively, bridging the gaps between people of different ethnic backgrounds, religious affiliations and socio-economic classes as they develop impactful solutions.

Tomorrow’s creative problem solvers will embrace the diversity of thought which stimulates innovative thinking. America’s top companies are investing in diversity and inclusion not because of political correctness but attentiveness to the bottom line. As the Diversity dividend analysis by McKinsey (right inset) suggests, purposefully inclusive companies outperform competitors.

McKinsey_DiversityDividend

Fortune Magazine recently released its list of the 50 Best Workplaces for Diversity with many recognizable and well regarded companies on it. Among them was Boston Consulting Group, whose President and CEO, Rich Lesser, said “we believe that passionate, open-minded people of all backgrounds ensure that BCG approaches problems from a broader perspective and challenges established ways of thinking.”

We at Parish share such sentiments and strive to live into the “inclusive Episcopal community” language of our mission statement. While we have much work to do, purposeful strides have been made.

  • We are an increasingly diverse community, with 21 different faith groups represented on campus and 27% of our students representing different ethnic and racial backgrounds.
  • This year, we appointed the School’s first Director of Diversity and Inclusivity. In this role, Tyneeta Canonge engages each of our constituencies – from the Board of Trustees, to parents, students, faculty and staff – to ensure programs, policies and perspectives reflect a commitment to inclusivity.
  • In April, 2015, the Board of Trustees approved not only our revised mission statement but also the School’s first Diversity Statement, which articulates that our bold leaders will demonstrate “knowledge of and respect for the rich variety of people and points of view which exist in our complex global society.”
  • For the 2015-16 school year, we granted over 2.5 million dollars in financial aid to 12 percent of our student body in our quest to ensure our community is socioeconomically more reflective of the broader Metroplex.

ParishDenomination2015-16ParishStudentDemographic2015-16

Each January, our Tri2 Legacy Event and Global Blast (visit link for participation/volunteer details) unite our community to celebrate the diversity in our midst. I invite you to join us on the afternoon of January 27 for our Global Blast activities and that evening when the Academy of Global Studies welcomes its second distinguished speaker of the year, Ambassador Brian Bowler, UN Ambassador to Malawi.

Building an inclusive community at Parish requires intentionality, fortitude and effort. But it’s among our most important imperatives. I recognize this when I look into the eyes of one of our 5 year old students and consider the world in which they will lead and serve.

Doing Things on Purpose

May 22, 2016. Yes, it is odd to cite this distant date in a back to school post, but experience tells us a school year goes quickly. Graduation day for the class of 2016 will be here before we know it.

No one graduating class or ceremony is more special than another, but this May’s does mark an important benchmark in the life of Parish Episcopal School. For on that day at the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center our 10th graduating class will receive its diplomas. These 90 seniors will join a corps of 751 young people already sent forth from this place since 2007 to discover their purpose, make meaning of their lives, and in so doing impact the world for good.

Considering this milestone, and the fact that among those 90 graduates will be my oldest son, I’ve reflected often this summer on the concepts of purpose and meaning.

MansSearchForMeaning_FrankelI reread perhaps the most compelling author on the topic, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel. Frankel’s memoir, Man’s Search For Meaning, provides an inside story of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. But as a psychiatrist, Frankel’s experience shaped his thinking on living purposefully. He wrote that “nothing in the world would more effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning to one’s life.” In fact, Frankel posited, our primary drive in life is not the pursuit of pleasure but the discovery and pursuit of what brings us meaning. He believed we derive meaning from three sources: work (doing something significant); love (caring for another); and courage during difficult times.

SpiritualChild_LMillerIn her book The Spiritual Child, Dr. Lisa Miller’s fascinating research affirms that humans are naturally endowed with a spiritual capacity. In a riveting chapter, Miller details how “the tumultuous period of adolescence is when values and priorities are forged, meaning and purpose are discovered, and an inner compass is honed.” Conscious cultivation at school and at home helps children develop a personal spirituality which “becomes a cornerstone for lifelong personal growth, success, satisfaction and happiness,” not to mention “empathy, forgiveness and resilience.”

PurposefulGraduate_Clydesdale“Sadly,” wrote Tim Clydesdale in The Purposeful Graduate, “disengagement if not disillusionment” pervade today’s colleges and universities, whose essence has been distilled to a “four to six year hazing they call ‘meeting degree requirements.’” Clydesdale offers an amazing analysis of the impact of the Lilly Endowment Inc.’s 88 campus, 8 year and 225 million dollar initiative which invited institutions to develop conversations about questions of meaning and purpose. These schools sought to systematically change the mindset from that of “college as an instrumental means to a practical end” to one yielding measureable results including “greater intellectual engagement” and “post-college trajectories that set graduates on journeys of significance and impact.”

As a new school year begins, it is appropriate for all of us to be thinking about purpose.

Students will hear much on this topic from me during my monthly homilies. What do they seek to discover about themselves this year? What gifts are they finding they possess? What tasks – be they in study, or work, or service – bring them the greatest joy? If together we can help our students ask more of these types of questions to offset those focused on the next test, the latest grade or the imminent deadline, we will do much to stimulate their thinking about the larger purpose of our lives.

Parents, you can capitalize on the year’s beginning to consider what purposeful parenting means to you.

As T.C.’s final year living with us begins, I recognize that Mollie and I have completed much of the “heavy lifting” of his parenting. We’ve done our best to instill and model values; we have sought to raise a young man with a sense of agency; and we stand ready to offer counsel as he makes important decisions in his adult life. Our greatest hope for him remains that he discovers what God has called him to be and to do, and that he experiences deep fulfillment when he finds it.

Finally, as a School we will continue to be a place that operates with purpose. Over 150 parents attended last fall’s “Reimagine School” meetings and were asked what makes Parish unique. We asked students and faculty the same question. As you can see from the responses, there is much unanimity on the traits and characteristics we value in Parish.

Wordcloud_Community

Utilizing this feedback, and building on the bold narrative borne of our expansion and positioning as the Metroplex’s most progressive independent school, the Board of Trustees crafted and approved a new statement of purpose last April:

“Inspired by our values of Wisdom, Honor and Service, our inclusive Episcopal community guides young people to become creative learners and bold leaders prepared to impact our complex global society.”

In my blog posts this year, I look forward to sharing insights on how we live out this statement each day.

At the Class of 2015’s graduation ceremony in May I asked this question: “Do we realize the incredible opportunity which has been afforded to us to be in relationship with Parish over the last decade?”

Together, we have helped to shape something – creating a sensational new entity called Parish Episcopal School from the foundation of an equally wonderful learning place called Parish Day. Growing this school remains a constant source of challenge and joy. While many school communities, businesses, non-profits and churches have chosen to stand pat admiring their accomplishments, Parish has dared to imagine, to dream big and to be among the first to do or try.

This is what makes Parish unique and special. This is what brings great meaning and purpose to our work.