Tag Archives: reimagine school

Parish’s Challenger Brand Quest

Ikea. Warby Parker. Southwest Airlines. Red Bull.

You have likely heard of these companies. You might even be able to identify a trait or behavior which makes each unique – Ikea’s flat-packed furniture and distinctive catalog, for example.

These companies sell different products, but they share a defining identity: they are challenger brands. Simply put, while brand leaders in their space have zigged, these companies have zagged.

RedBullMost energy drinks, for example, sought to outdo one another attracting athletes in traditional sports to their product. Red Bull, on the other hand, embraced an edgy identity and aligned itself with extreme activities like cliff diving or airplane racing which demand not only physical performance but mental acuity.

WarbyParkerChallenger brands reject a fundamental driver of their category. Warby Parker’s founders disputed the notion that designer eyewear had to be prohibitively expensive. It shifted manufacturing in house, offered a home try-on program, and developed an- e-commerce site to enhance the consumer experience.

SouthwestOften under-resourced compared to legacy brands, challengers also refute the prevailing culture prevalent within their category. Southwest brought a new approach to flight scheduling and boarding. But it also redefined the passenger’s high fare, long-haul, impersonal flight experience with its fun-loving commitment to “positively outrageous service.”

Challenger brands project what Adam Morgan refers to in his book Eating the Big Fish as a “Lighthouse Identity” – a clear sense of who they are and what they stand for – articulated in strong emotional terms. As path forgers, they demonstrate a curiosity about where their industry might go and the courage to alight toward the emerging path.

Now Parish does not sell eye ware, produce furniture, or transport passengers, but we do share with the companies profiled above the mindset of a challenger brand.

I have written and spoken extensively on boundless thinking this year. How fitting it is, then, to highlight Parish’s lighthouse identity as an educational leader transforming teaching and learning so as to better prepare today’s young people for the “complex global society.”

Our present effort to Reimagine School stands as a challenger’s quest. We contend that long-held operating paradigms of schools – some of which are highlighted in the chart below – require deep reconsideration if today’s children are to be prepared for tomorrow’s world.

ReimagineComparisonThese operational features have defined the student (or consumer, if you will) experience. Other societal factors have arisen within the last generation: increasingly competitive college admissions, the global economy, and social media among them. Together, they have cultivated a learning culture in college preparatory schools fixated on outcomes and metrics (e.g. GPAs, test scores, college placements) and thus steeped in anxiety.

Julia Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford dean, is just one of many who have gathered data – derived in her case from college counseling offices (see image below) to demonstrate how unhealthy the prevailing culture of the college preparatory school industry has become for young people (her TED Talk is among the most frequently viewed).

Lythcott-HaimsIndeed, this culture is bad for our kids and needs reimagining.

Since 2009, we’ve unfurled a fleet of signature programs to uncover and feed the passions of students. More recently, we’ve piloted initiatives designed to blend disciplines, personalize instruction or enhance enduring habits of mind. Presently, we are deep into Reimagine School and how time, technology and curriculum delivery might best serve our students in the future.

We believe we can be a North Star in our industry – a school that garners attention for unquestionably preparing students for tomorrow’s world without breaking their spirit or squelching their love of learning.

There remains one other noteworthy trait of challenger brands. As a result of their fearless commitment to challenge category norms and embedded cultural characteristics in their sector, they become the brand “everyone is talking about” and evoke the “highest sensed momentum” in consumer’s mind. They become thought-leaders.

As you can learn more about in this video, Parish has been visited by close to 70 schools, colleges, businesses and community leaders since 2013. We have commanded attention for posing the provocative questions; demonstrating a boundless spirit; and leading the way.

We embrace our role as a challenger brand. We derive energy from our quest to better serve our students and our global community by producing a new generation of leaders replete with robust minds and thriving, intact spirits.

From Where Our Inspiration Comes (in part…)

Among the questions I am most frequently asked by those intrigued by Parish’s entrepreneurial culture are “who are your sources of inspiration?” or “who do you follow in the world of education?”

Indeed, Parish exudes a boundless mindset readily perceptible to those introduced to us. Our expansion story of the last decade exemplifies it; the radical hospitality and warmth people feel when stepping on our campuses conveys it; and our audacious vision to reimagine the dimensions of school as we’ve long known them to be derives its energy from it.

But we do not walk alone along the explorer’s path. We solicit guidance and draw inspiration from voyagers on their own innovation expeditions. Such crusaders can be found in a variety of locales – at public and private peer schools (both nationally and globally), in the world of higher education, and even outside of education in the corporate sector. This month, I’ve chosen to highlight just a few of the boundary-breakers we admire.

hightechhigh_sandiego

Inside High Tech High School in San Diego: Open, collaborative work spaces and student demonstrations of understanding (such as this student designed and constructed “Stairway to Nowhere”) reflect the learning culture

Student work and glass: these are the first things you recognize when you enter High Tech High School in San Diego, as I did during a September visit.

 

This reimagined high school, which began in 2000 and has since morphed into a network of multi-grade schools, has broken with many of the predominate philosophies of present day schooling –there are no AP courses; curriculum engages students using projects framed from real world issues rather than sprinting through volumes of content. Learning leads students off campus to learn from and present findings to community members beyond the doors of the school building.

hightechhigh_sandiego2

A vision for teaching drives instruction at High Tech High: students connect learning to the real world and student products reflect “voice & choice” in their uniqueness

I visited High Tech High as one of four Heads of School serving on the National Association of Independent School (NAIS) Commission on Accreditation – the body composed of leaders from 20 organizations which accredit over 3600 schools worldwide. On school visits such as these, I look for a unifying vision which drives innovation.

High Tech High clearly has such a vision. If you follow my writing or speaking, or that of our other academic leaders, you know Parish does as well.

 


Beyond a compelling, forward-looking vision, I’m moved by institutions successfully driving innovation throughout their entire system. Our Reimagine vision is comprehensive. At present, driven by our mission’s charge to guide “creative learners” and by our “why” statements, our work focuses in several key areas:

reimaginewhy

Parish’s quest to Reimagine the use of time, learning spaces, and texture of teaching and learning is driven by a clear vision

  • Articulating curricular content and skill mastery targets; these will open pacing pathways for students.
  • Reconfiguring our time model; this will maximize student engagement and promote flexibility.
  • Identifying a robust technological infrastructure to support the guiding, documenting and assessing of student learning.

Atop my list of most admired educational explorers is Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). In 2011, on a 21 hour flight from Kuala Lampur to New York, LeBlanc penned a thought paper which set Southern New Hampshire University on a course to be a recognized leader in competency based learning. In short, this model uses the results of assessment, not seat time, as an indicator of a student’s proficiency.

snhu_web

“This recognition from U.S. News and World Report reflects our commitment to reinvent higher education,” said Paul LeBlanc, President, SNHU. “We push the limits of the status quo every day through innovation, creativity and risk taking, to find new delivery models and ultimately, better serve our students.”

Not long after his initial musings on the topic, LeBlanc and SNHU launched College for America which now offers online degree programs for $3,000. And last month, SNHU was once again named one of the country’s most innovative universities. LeBlanc’s influence has had an extended reach. The entire public school system in LeBlanc’s state of New Hampshire has embraced this learning model which helps students reach new levels of mastery as they are ready. Read the full story “How New Hampshire Transformed to a Competency-Based System.”


As we bring our own Reimagine vision to life, we are watching and learning from
colleagues in the Granite State. Over the last 18 months, New Hampshire-based consultant Rose Colby – who has worked closely with many schools there on the redesign of their models – has teamed with Parish academic leaders to articulate curricular pathways in each subject from PreK -12th grade. This exhaustive undertaking will continue over the next 18-24 months, positioning us to launch our Reimagine model fully in August 2019.

But we know grand visions do not become realized at once. As such, identifiable prototypes of our Reimagine program can be found on both campuses:

rose-colby

Former New Hampshire principal, and college professor and consultant, Rose Colby has partnered with Parish, building our Reimagine curriculum model

  • Personalized math programming in all three divisions features learning centers, problem sets, small group instruction and “adaptive” software like Dreambox designed to challenge students optimally. These models will inform how we balance the collaborative, hands-on learning we value with opportunities for more individualized learning.
  • New Academic Support Teacher positions serving our 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades offer flexible, and smaller, groupings of students for more tailored learning. These positions may teach us lessons about new staffing configurations for our Reimagine model.
  • Our most recently launched signature program, ParishBridge, remodels the final five weeks of senior year to feature student-directed learning on campus, online and in the community through a professional experience. This tailored, 12th grade capstone may present scalable features we can use in our Reimagine high school design.

Prototyping like this serves as a proving ground to better understand which vision-aligned, new strategies work well and can be brought to a larger scale as we Reimagine our total program. We take our lead here from corporate bastions of innovation, such as Google and Amazon, where the consistent prototyping of new concepts is endemic to the culture.


georgetown_bass

Georgetown’s Vice Provost and professor of English, Randy Bass, leads the Unversity’s “Designing the Future of the University” initiative

But even some of the country’s most esteemed – and tradition-rich – institutions like the University of Virginia and Georgetown University have begun to model this disposition. Georgetown initiated its “Designing the Future Initiative of the University” in 2013 and located it in a red townhouse adjacent to campus. In what has become known as “The Red House,” Vice-Provost for Education, Randy Bass, and colleagues have launched a series of pilot initiatives.

 

mwmoct_uva_cropThe goal? To fundamentally rethink “the structures of the traditional higher education model: including courses, credits tied to seat time, the 15-week semester, the four-year bachelor’s degree,” and the divide between curricular and co-curricular learning experiences. (Read more about the exciting pilots at Georgetown here.)

It all sounds very similar to Reimagine Parish.

There are many more sources of inspiration beyond the ones cited here. Any explorer embarking on an ambitious journey is wise to gather tools and insights from as many fellow travelers as he can. Our journey will be our own, however, and the Reimagine model we launch in 2019 – and tinker with almost daily in the interim – will indeed prepare our students to “impact the complex global society” in which they lead and serve. In doing so, it will be a model from which future educational innovators will gain inspiration.

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.

What to Make of Summer Break

The midpoint of summer will soon be upon us. At this juncture, the final days of last school year represent increasingly distant memories. The change of pace afforded by the break from classes has likely taken hold and restored some energy. Yet, as I write, close to seven weeks of summer break still remain.

Now, I embrace summer’s more leisurely pace as much as anyone. Yet, as my career in school leadership has evolved I have increasingly found myself wondering whether summer break represents too much of a good thing. In this day and age, it puzzles me that a school like Parish would take an 85 day hiatus from pursuing its mission to prepare young people for the complex global society that awaits them.

Of course, most schools like Parish do stay somewhat engaged in the business of education during the summer months. Through ParishVirtual, our blended education program, close to 30% of our US students take for credit courses in subjects like religion, health, and history. They come to campus during the summer for 7-10 face-to-face engagements but otherwise complete their 6-8 hours of weekly coursework on their own schedule.

Our EXTEND summer program welcomes close to 500 young people to campus each week for a variety of courses, some academic, others not, but all offering students the opportunity to build skills, self-awareness, and confidence.

And through ParishAbroad, our global travel program, our students have journeyed to places like Peru, Spain, and Mexico to experience a new culture, hone leadership skills, study a foreign language, and/or engage in service activities.

 

Increasingly, though, I’ve wondered how Parish might play a larger role enriching the lives of students in those 85 days when they are “on summer break.” Is this something our families even desire? If so, what type of programming might engage students? What new expenses would it introduce to us as a school? What would it cost our families? How sustainable would it be for teachers and students with finite stores of energy, campus facilities which absorb added wear and tear, and administrators who need planning time to launch the new school year?

Beyond these questions, there is the reality that for a student population like Parish’s summer is anything but languid. Students attend camps or special programs – my middle son just returned from a two week backpacking trip in the Tetons with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), for example – pick up valuable work experience (as my eldest is), or broaden their global and cultural competency through travel with their families.

Clearly school as we offer it and students experience it for 9 months will not compete in the summer. I don’t believe our teachers, students, or families want 85 more days of “school as usual” in June and July. But it seems there might be a middle ground. While I do not have any immediate answers, an audiobook I am listening to this summer has provided a useful stimulant to further thinking.

SusanBlumIn I Love Learning, I Hate School: An Anthropology of College, author and anthropologist Susan Blum offers a commentary on the state of higher education, a system she believes needs “radical transformation.” A decade of research – including 300 student interviews and another 200 surveys (many done at Notre Dame where she is a professor) – has brought Blum to a conclusion: Our system of compulsory education – replete with its adult-curated and delivered curriculum and incentivized by grades and competition rather than student interest or engagement – has made schooling transactional. The learner does it because she has to while her more relevant, connected, and engaging learning occurs elsewhere.

Blum presents a framework befitting her identity as an anthropologist and informing to ruminations on what role, if any, school might play during the summer. Blum characterizes higher education as “Learning in the cage.” This term, which could aptly extend to educational institutions below the collegiate level, describes learning environments where students sit still in chairs; comply with the predominate expectation that they listen quietly; and complete the “schoolwork” prescribed to them. Schoolwork is just that – “work” to be tolerated until learning which occurs more naturally and engagingly can begin, often away from school.

“Learning in the wild,” on the other hand, Blum characterizes as “learning by doing, learning through play, observation, imitation, trial and error, guided participation, and apprenticeships, in which young people or novices are assigned to an expert to learn a craft or a trade.” When I think of what kids do during the summer, I think “learning in the wild.” If school is ever going to penetrate the mindset of “summer break,” we best consider Blum’s paradigm.

At Parish, we want our whole program to be more “learning in the wild” than “learning in a cage.” We are presently trying to reimagine school at Parish to infuse it with learning experiences which reflect the voices and choices of students, which engage them in meaningful, authentic work, and which focus more on building powerful habits of mind than warehousing endless volumes of content. Maybe once we complete the design of our reimagined model to reflect these outcomes, students would find the notion of being disconnected from us for 85 days as bewildering as I do today!

 

 

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!

Parish Battles Back Against Perfection Pressure

An epidemic has arisen stealthily in the last decade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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