Tag Archives: purposeful life

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?

duck_face

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.

boat_land

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.

ParishLeads

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.

How?

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.

 

An Eventful April

Not all of my days are like the ones I experienced between Wednesday, April 4th and Thursday, April 12th. A Head of School’s life often features a wide variety of activities and a dose of the unexpected, but rarely does it pack the type of stimulating public events the Parish community and I had a chance to be enriched by this month.

_WLW9879On April 4th, we welcomed Barbara P. Bush to campus.  This social entrepreneur – who also happens be both the granddaughter and daughter of a President – was honored by Austin College with their Posey Leadership Award.  As part of the events associated with that recognition – and through our partnerships with both the Dallas Fort Worth World Affairs Council and Austin College – we were able to bring Ms. Bush to campus to talk about global leadership.  Though I had never done it before, I survived my initiation as a “talk show host!”  One special facet of the event, held in our new Gene E. Phillips Activity Center, was the presence of over 100 students and teachers from 11 public, charter, independent, and private schools – representatives of their respective schools’ Junior World Affairs Councils.  They were joined in the audience by our Upper School students and faculty.  Ms. Bush’s insights on the powerful influence of early global travel experiences; the fearlessness required to start something, as she did in helping found the Global Health Corps and her core value of love as the fuel for her global service left a deep impression on me and the other audience members.  You can watch excerpts from the interview with Ms. Bush here.

On April 5th, I was one of a handful of local educators asked to participate in “Big Ideas in Education Entrepreneurship” as part of Dallas Start Up Week.  I so enjoyed meeting the entrepreneurs who came to hear 5 minute presentations from me and my fellow educational leaders on our “Big Ideas” for education.  These individuals, many of whom were in the educational technology space, possessed the shining eyes resultant of doing creative work which challenged and inspired them.  These are just the kind of shining eyes I love to see on our students’ faces when I visit the classrooms at Parish!  I also admire the comfort with ambiguity these founders exhibit.  These entrepreneurs have a vision – an idea they believe needs to be brought to life and will serve the world well – but are not entirely certain of what their platform will look like in its final form.  As we explore advancements to our program at Parish –  a new model for independent school education which both prepares students for the complex world while preserving their well-being and love of learning – I recognize that we, too, as a school community, must remain full of wonder.  The “Big Idea” I shared that evening reflected much of what I wrote in my October 2017 blog post.

Finally, on April 12th, our community welcomed author and TED-talk star Julie Lythcott-Haims.  The former freshman dean at Stanford University and author of How to Raise An Adult, helped us launch CenterED, our partnership with The Grant Halliburton Foundation.  I blogged about this partnership in January and our intent through it to marry our school community’s commitment to build an even healthier preparatory academic experience for our students with the Foundation’s expertise in adolescent mental health and wellness.  “Dean Julie,” as she was affectionately known by her students at Stanford, affirmed Parish’s direction; commended the unique partnership between Parish and the Halliburton Foundation; and energized a large audience of parents in her evening keynote to stop trying to construct the path their children will follow.  You can hear the panel discussion between Dr. Lythcott-Haims, Halliburton co-Founder and Executive Chairman Vanita Halliburton, and me here.

Parish embraces our role as a thought leader in the education community – as an institution that contributes to stimulating conversation, discussion, and action around positive change in the learning experience for today’s students. In this context, the week between April 4th and April 12th was an amazing one in the history of our School.

Why Not?

Everyone, it seems, has a podcast these days…

One not be at the top of their field, either, to assert their right to the digital airwaves.  Heck, Ricky Gervais and Snoop Dogg exemplify two entertainers with podcasts on Itunes!  While I understand cultural sports icons like Shaq O’Neal, I was surprised to see even an NBA player of modest accomplishment – JJ Reddick – has his own podcast.

There are, as you may already know, tremendous resources in the world of podcasts.  I regularly consume programs from Malcolm Gladwell (“Revisionist History”), Tim Ferris (“The Tim Ferris Podcast” & his new “Tribe of Mentors” podcast, and Tony Robbins (“The Tony Robbins Podcast”) for what they offer in personal development and intellectual stimulation.  I am thrilled that noted author and social scientist, Daniel Pink, has recently released his own podcast (the first two episodes of “1-3-20” – 1 book author, asked 3 questions, in 20 minutes – have been excellent!). For entertainment, I listen to ESPN personalities Tony Kornheiser (“The Tony Kornheiser Show”) or Dan LeBatard (“The Dan LeBatard Show”).

Indeed, our world today is choked with digital input options which we can consume whenever we wish. So many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming.

So, I hesitated to add to the noise. Who, I wondered, would make the space in our busy, overstimulated world to listen?

But, alas, I have taken the leap!  From My Angle now includes not only this blog but also a podcast.  Joining me to kick it off is special guest Lisa Clay, Director of Parish’s Center for College & Life Planning. You can watch the video below or listen to the Podcast.

In the end, I realize that the written word also has a lot of competition.  My letters to families, many of which find their way to this space in some form, are long.  In too many cases, I fear, they are too long to meet the eyes of the busy and distracted people I wish would read them. So, my podcast will be oriented to those in today’s on demand world who might wish to ruminate on what I have to say, or learn from those with whom I speak, when they wish, as they walk the dog, clean the garage, or get in a workout.

I hope you will subscribe, share the link with others in your network, and offer me your feedback as I embark on this latest adventure!

Here are the links to show all the episodes:

From My Angle on iTunes

From My Angle on SoundCloud

 

 

A Hero’s Windows and Mirrors

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

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

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

Here are some excerpts from that chapel message:

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

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

Hero's Journey

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

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

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

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

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

Windows & Mirrors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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.

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.