Tag Archives: Purpose

A Perspective on Success and Impact

Among the books I am presently reading is Scott Cowen’s Winnebagos on Wednesdays: How Visionary Leadership Can Transform Higher Education. Cowen served as Tulane University’s President from 1998-2014, a period that included the institution’s recovery from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

WinnebagosYou may be as intrigued by the title as I was.

The Winnebago phrase emerged from a circumstance Cowen experienced in his first year as President. As Cowen tells it, he offered the coach of Tulane’s undefeated football team “an offer he couldn’t refuse – and he refused.” The coach (Tommy Bowden) left for Clemson where, he noted, the program was so spectacular that the fans lined up their Winnebagos on Wednesdays in anticipation of Saturday games. For Cowen, this phase frames his perspective on the current reality for higher education leaders: they face a range of competing, complex, and in certain instances, almost comical pressures that require transformative leadership to solve.
One compelling pressure addressed by Cowen relates to how one measures an institution’s impact and consequently assesses its reputational value. Cowen recounts what many of us know: In an age of skyrocketing tuitions, limited resources, and anxious students facing greater competition for admission, our society has defaulted to an oversimplified and flawed set of ranking lists to evaluate a college or university’s quality and impact. Cowen asks:

“…how can we construct a nuanced and accurate portrait of a school’s impact? How can we get a real picture of how graduates are doing, not just economically but in their lives as a whole?”

Several universities and higher education leaders featured in Winnebagos on Wednesdays have led the charge to reclaim the narrative and paint a more holistic and precise picture of their institution’s impact. To do so, Cowen suggests it requires that we “expand our longitudinal data to take into account what happens after graduation…collect qualitative data that illuminate personal satisfaction and contribution to society…and consider the mission of an individual institution when assessing its value and impact.”

As the head of a young school whose oldest graduates (from our first class of 2007) are just turning 30 years old, I find Cowen’s questions compelling and his suggestions affirming. We believe we can measure how effectively we have met the charge articulated in our mission statement to “guide young people to become creative learners and bold leaders” who positively “impact the complex global society.” Indeed, we seek a broader perspective on what makes Parish – or any school, for that matter – a “success” beyond standardized tests scores, college placement lists, or number of national merit scholars. We have formulated a plan to engage our alumni – through focus groups; as mentors and coaches to our present students; and via programs like ParishConnect. These points of contact help us gather meaningful data points on Parish’s impact on our graduates.

A part of this plan, not surprisingly, involves me. I am increasing the amount of time I spend with our alumni – and I must say it is one of my favorite parts of the job. Listening to them proves equal parts affirming and guiding. Our graduates are thriving and Parish has prepared them well.

At the same time, they hold us accountable. Elements of our program that have shaped them – such as the powerful, personal relationships they forged with high quality faculty and staff members or our focus on character development through chapel and ParishLeads – should remain steadfast institutional commitments. As new members of “the real world,” though, they recognize the urgency for the school experience to evolve – to, among other things, incorporate more open-ended, problem-based learning; to lessen stress by heightening engagement; and to promote student agency and personalization.

Recently, I have recorded five podcast episodes with alumni. I hope over the holiday break, you will take an opportunity to get to know these young adults as they share their perspectives on success and Parish’s impact. Through my conversations with these Parish graduates, I think you will recognize what Scott Cowen and I believe: that the lives an institution’s alumni lead represent the greatest testimony to that institution’s impact.

Listen to the complete Alumni Playlist or to individual alums on From My Angle podcast.


Seeking Engagement

Are you one of the 33%?

If you are a working parent, I sure hope so.

3TypesEmployeesIn this instance, 33% represents the small number of employed Americans who see their work as “engaging.” Consider that for a moment: In any room of adults, roughly 7 out of 10 of them are not happy going to work each morning.

How depressing is that?

Since 2010, Gallup has collected data from millions of American workers in order to report on the state of the American Workplace (see the 2017 report here: “State of the American Workplace”). It was the 2017 report’s data that indicated only one in three Americans intellectually and emotionally connect with their work.
More disheartening, of course, is what the remaining 67% of American workers represent. According to Gallup CEO Jim Clifton, “16 percent of employees are actively disengaged – they are miserable in the workplace and destroy what the most engaged employees build,” while the “remaining 51 percent of employees are not engaged – they’re just there.”

Just there.

This is no way to spend one’s day, be it at work . . . or school.

Indeed, engagement is as critical an issue in the schoolhouse as it is in the workplace. Across the country too many of our older students are “just there” while at school. They experience the courses, lessons and tests associated with their education as merely another set of rungs to be climbed if they are to have “successful” lives. This phenomenon of a joyless school experience has been dubbed “doing school.”

Among those who have studied engagement in schools like Parish is Independent School Management (ISM), a Delaware-based research and consultancy firm. Their research involving more than 13,000 students in private and independent middle and upper schools demonstrates that “early middle school students (grades 5 and 6) reported significantly greater engagement” than upper school students. Late middle school students (grades 7 & 8), while more engaged than their older peers, “were more likely to be classified as merely ‘doing school’.” ISM’s research concluded that “something happens between grades 6 and 7 to change the engagement picture.” Students continue to “play the game” of school behaviorally (e.g. hand in assignments, study for tests, etc.) as they move into the upper grades (especially grade 9-12), but their cognitive and emotional investment in learning diminishes.

In addition to being a waste of the precious days that God has given to us, disengagement at work or school poses an even more harmful consequence:
anxiety and stress. Data abounds to illuminate the inverse correlation between engagement and stress. Anxiety declines when our hearts, minds and actions are engaged in the work before us. When we question the relevance of the work we are asked to do; find it too difficult or unstimulating; and/or do not feel we have an advocate (as a boss or teacher) who cares about developing us to be more effective at the task, stress and anxiety rise.

AtWhatCostIn previous First Monday’s and From My Angle podcasts (including this one with Dr. David Gleason, author of At What Cost?) I have shared statistics on the elevated levels of stress and anxiety now evident on high school and college campuses alike.

Why do I talk and write about this so frequently?

Because since I arrived at Parish in 2009, we have sought to reimagine how students experience and perceive school. Especially since the birth of the Reimagine strategic vision in 2014, we have been laser-focused on creating vibrant, powerful learning experiences. To do so, our curriculum has been evaluated and articulated with greater specificity; our use of time has been scrutinized and new models tested; and our instructional and assessment strategies have been increasingly personalized. These efforts will continue in the months and years to come, all in our quest to find solutions that promote deep learning, student engagement and – as a result – student well-being.

We believe our work is at the leading edge of what today’s most thoughtful, forward looking schools are doing. This perspective was affirmed in August, when we were fortunate to have on campus Dr. Denise Pope, senior lecturer at Stanford and co-founder of Challenge Success. Dr. Pope is one of the leading experts on student engagement and school reform. In my latest From My Angle podcast, Dr. Pope and I explore the topic of student engagement and the work she is doing with our teachers to support the ongoing evolution of our program. Please listen to it and share it with your friends in the community.

See More. Be More.

What follows is my September chapel talk to the students and faculty at the Midway campus (grades 3-12) as the school year set sail. Each year I anchor my writing and speaking in the community around a central theme. This year’s theme is “perspective.”  The talk below, based on John 6: 35-44, challenged our community members to reflect on their aspirations for the year and their perspective on self.  Could they see more in themselves or would they allow their own self-doubt and the cynicism of others to narrow their perspectives on how they might grow and evolve this school year?

parisfaceSo I begin today with a photo taken by one Gianni Sarcone.

The basics of the image are evident: an outdoor scene; it’s a mall lined by trees.  In the distance you can see a domed building. A structure – resembling the Eiffel Tower – arcs over a pedestrian in the foreground holding an umbrella.  If you look more closely, you might discern moisture on the pavement and note that the person in the center is holding an umbrella.  I wonder, though, whether you see anything else?

Perhaps the photo’s title helps: “The Other Face of Paris.”

Can you see the face?  Notice how a dry spot of pavement forms the pursed lips of the mouth and the round of the chin. The shadow of the umbrella makes a nose of sorts and the person the nose’s bridge.  If you stare hard at the shadowing of the trees, it makes for two eyes – sometimes I see them as closed, other times as open; who knows?  The arcing gray sky constitutes the forehead.

I love illusions like these. You have likely seen them before – is that a duck or maybe a rabbit?


cigar_bricksWhy is this photo of a wall an internet meme?  Because people have spent hours looking at it…unable to see the cigar stuck between the bricks.

Besides providing amusement, these photos also exemplify vividly how it’s possible for two of us to look at the same thing and see it differently. We each bring a unique perspective to the world.  Our background, education, and age are just a few of the many factors that shape the way we view ourselves and how we experience our relationships with the people, places, and circumstances we encounter. Depending on our perspective it is even possible that we miss something right in front of us.  We can struggle to recognize that there is more to something or to someone than first meets the eye.


When I come to speak with you in chapel this year, you will hear this word a lot: PERSPECTIVE.


Those of you who have tuned in during my homilies the last nine years know I like using such an annual theme.  We have explored being remarkable (you seniors were in fourth grade); the infamous #success campaign (during your 8th grade year); and last year’s quest: the hero’s journey.  Using the theme, the scripture reading and our ParishLeads framework, I endeavor to promote reflection about how we might be the people of impact I know each of us can be.


Today, I want to talk about the perspective we have of ourselves – your “self-perspective” one might call it.

After all, we are at the beginning of a journey: the new school year.  Anytime we prepare to start something – be it a new school year, a next level of scouts, an advanced level our religious studies or music lessons – it should be natural to ask: where am I as this new chapter begins?  And, how might the journey to come help me become a better version of myself?

In our reading today, we see Jesus nearing the end of a journey of His own.  Jesus spent roughly three years, most believe between his 30th to 33rd birthdays, teaching by parable and miracle. Early in John 6, Jesus has performed a miracle most of us know well: He multiplied a handful of fish and loaves of bread to feed thousands of people.

Today’s verse picks up just after this miracle. Crowds are increasingly curious about this young, revolutionary teacher.  Their perspective? That Jesus is “just” another prophet sent by God, as Moses had been.  Just as you may have struggled to see the face embedded within the “Other Face of Paris,” the Israelites could not see past Jesus’ earthly form. Scripture tells us their doubt came in the form of murmurs:

 “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

To the crowds, Jesus was one of them. They could not envision him as the Son of God on earth, the one who would die for their sins and, in so doing, deliver them to eternal life.

As for Jesus’ self-perspective, listen again to what He said:

I am the bread of life.”

 “I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.”

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.”

Jesus didn’t murmur this under His breath. He did not say “I might be” the bread of life or “it would be nice to be the bread of life” or “I hope to be the bread of life.”  He declared it with clarity and boldness, even as those around Him murmured in doubt in a way that reflected their narrow perspectives on Him.

Do you want to accomplish something meaningful this year?

Then a lesson lies within the photo I showed you, Jesus’ declaration, and the murmuring of the crowd: See more to be more.

To be more you have to lift your head – from your phone, your shyness, or your doubt – and see more in yourself, just as we came to see the face in the photo or both a rabbit and a duck in the sketch when we looked harder.

Place you gaze on something. Focus on it. Make it something that matters to you, and declare your intention with the same certainty that Jesus asserted that he was the bread of life.  Be more consistent with your commitment to studies; express gratitude daily; climb a mountain; write a song. Whatever it is you dare to see in front of you, commit to making it real – something you can see, touch, and feel.


Well, for one, listen to the stern direction Jesus gave the crowd:  stop murmuring

Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring* among yourselves.”

bart simpsonThe murmur is the chatter in our heads that tells us we can’t be what we see; that chastises ourselves after we make a mistake; that fills us with worry that the game or the test or the project idea is not going to work as we think.  Stop murmuring negatively to yourself.

The murmur is also the doubt or displeasure you perceive in the voices and eyes of others.

If we listen to what others murmur, our “self-perspective” will be narrow, not broad. It will be limited, not expansive. Don’t allow the doubts of others to blur your vision for who you aspire to become.

In these opening weeks of school, look up and out ahead – toward May when this school year ends.  Look carefully.  Fix your eyes on who you aspire to be.  Declare your vision and move toward it with might and energy and confidence.  See more so that you can be and become more.


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.


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!

Parish Alumni: Boundless Thinkers in Real Time


The Apostle Paul faced quite a challenge.

A dutiful follower of the crucified Jesus, and a leader in his own right, Paul had discovered a fractured and fickle community of early Christians. Those Paul sought to lead to the teachings of Jesus kept falling back into old habits. Paul penned the people of Ephesus a letter meant to grab their attention. In it, he urged them to “take off” their old self, consumed as it was with worldly attitudes and actions, and put on a “new self” tailored for a relationship with God – one which reflected Jesus’ dispositions of compassion, kindness and meekness.

My First Monday letters and chapel homilies typically emerge from a theme. This year, that theme is “boundless;” more specifically, what it takes to embrace a mindset of possibility, hope and growth. I used this verse from Paul in my opening chapel talk to students in September, imploring them to envision how they might put on a “new self” by the conclusion of school in May. Successive homilies have extended the theme, looking in part at how boundless thinking reflects an attitude and how it requires us to forge a working relationship with fear.

My First Monday letters have offered complementary riffs on the boundless theme. In August, I shared insights derived from my summer reading. Each book reminded me why unleashing limitless possibilities for each child is a center-point of our Reimagine initiative. In September, I wondered what milieu produces individuals who lead boldly around and through obstacles. And last month, I highlighted a handful of the boundless thinkers who inspire our entrepreneurial work.

homecomingOur recent homecoming presented me with the precious opportunity to engage firsthand with living examples of the boundless theme: our alumni. As I move deeper into my tenure at Parish, spending time visiting with, learning from and continuing to mentor our graduates represents one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job. In their emerging life narratives, these young people (remember, the oldest Parish Episcopal graduates are only 26!) demonstrate what leading lives of possibility and growth look like. Quite often, they can trace their boundless disposition to their time at Parish.

Beginning with this piece on a recent graduate still in college and continuing later this spring with the profile of an “older” alum already tackling the “complex global society,” I’ll highlight how our alumni have answered Paul’s challenge to “put on a new self.”

Parish graduates presently in college share common experiences. Navigating new relationships – whether with a freshman roommate or through the fraternity/sorority system, for example – present opportunities for self-definition and value identification. Of course, the exploration of new ideas and exchange of perspectives with bright classmates and thought-provoking professors expand their horizons as well.

But increasingly, the most differentiating and liberating experiences for Parish graduates in college happen outside the classroom. Particularly in their choice of global travel opportunities and the verve with which they pursue internships, our alumni demonstrate their acumen as boundless thinkers.
colej14_textFor Cole Jones ’14, global travel has amplified his learning experiences post Parish. Cole spent the final three months of his sophomore year at USC studying in New Zealand. Of course, studying abroad represents a rite of passage for many college students. Cole, however, differentiated his global experience by embracing a boundless mindset. He constructed a self-directed excursion for himself and a travelling companion which took them to Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia in the weeks preceding their arrival in New Zealand.

Cole’s unique experience, one in which he charted his own journey, chose what he would see when and who he would meet along the way, proved to be formative. By stepping adventurously and curiously beyond the known, Cole discovered a worldview he will carry into his future as an impactful leader. “Understand first, judge second,” is how Cole explained it to me; his journey, he noted, “shattered the preconceived notions created by the boundaries of my own city and country of upbringing.”

colej14mtntopIf his horizon-broadening experiences beyond Parish have taught him anything, it has been the very relevance and applicability of the “balanced, thoughtful” mindset which Cole says Parish instilled within him. He sees now how “daily chapel and mentorship opportunities,” both with adults within the community but also between students in activities such as Legacy, sharpened his reflectiveness and relational skills. Such attributes, Cole is already learning, will benefit him in a complex global society fueled by collaborative thinking and flattening hierarchies.

Cole returned from his global travel to an internship experience at Stanford University this past summer. He leveraged his USC network – once again demonstrating the importance of the relational capacities cultivated at Parish – then learned how to “communicate with scientists who were a lot smarter than me” as he did heat and structural testing on the largest digital camera in the world. It will be used in the Large Synaptic Survey Telescope which will deploy in Chile to study the transient night sky.

We are so proud of Cole and our other alumni whose journey and discovery of becoming their new selves unfolds before us in such inspiring, exciting and boundless ways!

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. 


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.


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:


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:


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.”