“You made a difference in my life, and I am sorry I never told you so.”

I recently had the opportunity to speak with our wonderful middle school students in chapel. My actual speech was perhaps a little different than the way I wrote it. I hope the kids took me up on my challenge!

“You made a difference in my life, and I am sorry I never told you so.”

I heard this recently, and I honestly cannot remember where I was. Maybe I was at a teaching conference, listening to an inspiring educator. Maybe I was right here in chapel, listening to someone reflect on their past. The reason I don’t remember is because it is very common.

It is too common because sometimes, we do not appreciate all that we have, and we very often do not appreciate the things people do for us. In this case, the speaker was telling a story about how a former student came up to him decades later. Something had been gnawing at the student who was now an adult. He finally found the teacher and thanked him for all he did for him many years ago, and he also apologized for not having done it sooner.

“You made a difference in my life, and I am sorry I never told you so.” A simple statement, but a powerful sentiment.

I don’t know if you know this, but my wife is a former teacher. She taught first grade for many years, and she recently received this email.

Hello!  This is an old student of yours (and I mean old)!  You had me for 1st grade in 1993. I’m not sure if you’ll remember me, but I just wanted to let you know that you were by far the most caring and wonderful teacher I’ve ever had, and that to this day I think back to your classroom with a smile.  Just wanted to say thank you for being a wonderful person, and I hope you are doing well these days!

That email probably took her 30 seconds to write, but I will tell you my wife felt great for weeks!

I joined Facebook in January of 2008. I had to look it up. I remember hearing that all of my upper school students were using Facebook, and I wanted to see what it was all about. I assumed it was some silly thing for kids to use to gossip, but I was pleasantly surprised. I joined and people from my past started “friending” me, and it allowed me to catch up with everyone. But the biggest joy for me was when my former students and players I coached reached out and connected. They just wanted to say hello and see what I was up to. They shared their favorite memories of my classroom,  and they thanked me. It made me feel so good to know I made a difference. And the bonus for me was that many of them went on to become teachers.

Recently, a student I taught in 8th grade found me on Facebook and told me that he was constantly ridiculed as a kid because he was very short and because he was, in his words, “different.” He thanked me for always making him feel special and safe in my classroom. I cannot tell you how happy this made me.

An EA teacher just received a note from an alumna, who is about my age. Here is an excerpt of what she wrote about one of our teachers at Episcopal:

She was my physics teacher but she became so much more! She became my advisor and a great friend at EA. We all loved her dedication to making us believe we could do anything, even when it was really challenging…Most of all, though, we loved the love we got from her! She treated us all fairly and with a gentle hand and made us smile even in the midst of challenges. I remember her telling me that I could do anything because it was all possible and that I had talent within, even when high school got a little rough for me….She was a wonderful example of a great teacher, a great friend, and a great mentor.

When teachers hear something like this, it changes their lives.

So when I heard the story about the student finding his teacher many years later to thank him for making a difference but also apologizing for never saying so earlier, I thought of you. I thought of you because you have a special gift. You have the gift of not going through your whole life and regretting you haven’t said thank you. When I heard that story, it made me want to come here and ask you to give thanks to someone.

Find a way…Find a person…Find a reason…Be creative!

What are some creative ways people have said thank you?

If you sit with your friends at lunch today and talk for 5 minutes about this, you will think of a dozen different and creative ways to thank someone. It can be a surprise like the bank commercial, or it could be something very simple. Think of a teacher or someone here at school whom you want to thank and find a way to tell them.

Do it together…Do it by yourself…Make it anonymous if you would like

The point is, it does not matter how you do it. It matters that you do it.

If you want, you could let me know what you came up with. I’d love to hear from you. Share with me what you did and why you did it. I promise you it will make you feel good.

All teachers have a few examples of these because we are very lucky to be rewarded each day with the gift of working with young people. And sometimes, someone will go out of his or her way just to say thank you. And when they do, I can tell you it means the world to us.

Awe-inspiring collaboration! Matisse at EA

DSC_0079Even though we are already preparing for our next show, I wanted to comment on the last gallery exhibition by the Art rEvolution class. Our students were impressed early on in J-Term with the work of this class, but the final product was awe inspiring. The crowd who attended the Arts on the Move evening was treated during intermission to a collection of work as prolific as it was impressive. My favorite piece was the collaborative Matisse wall mural. I love that it was inspired by the field trip the class took to see the Matisse exhibit in New York. I love that they all started with white paper and mixed the colors themselves, and of course, I love that it was a collaborative piece.

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Winter Shorts- Lots of Layers

IMG_0257One of the many J-Term classes on display at the Arts on the Move event was the class that wrote, directed, and performed one act plays. I had heard there were good things brewing when our J-Term class submitted this early piece highlighting the power of community within the class.

Our students were struck by the fact that “no one is ever alone.” Even though there were students from four different grade levels in the class, the students supported each other in a true collaborative effort. “Mr. Clay, who teaches with Mr. McCreary, explained that they begin the class by listing community norms so students understand what it takes to create a safe environment on stage.”

I was able to witness the final product last week, and once again, I was impressed with both the quantity and quality of work that J-Term classes were able to produce in just two weeks. The class produced nine “shorts,” ranging from funny and satirical to moving and disturbing. I remember cackling pretty loudly during the evening, and I definitely remember one truly horrifying scene. And while some of the school’s most experienced actors were on display, there were many newcomers who may have just discovered their calling.

If we can do all this in two weeks, I cannot wait to see this Spring’s production of The Sound of Music!

Guest Blogger Reverend Tim Gavin: SIMPLY BREATHING IN, BREATHING OUT

SIMPLY BREATHING IN, BREATHING OUT

Challenging and nurturing Mind, Body, and Spirit, we inspire boys and girls to lead lives of purpose, faith, and integrity.

IMG_1185Inspire is one of the words that by-passed me in our mission statement. Considering the fact that I am a priest and one of the chaplains of the school, I feel somewhat embarrassed in overlooking it. The word inspire in Hebrew is ruah, which is the same word for breath and spirit. Hence, we look to the second creation story of Genesis in which God breathes his spirit into Adam, and, as a result, Adam receives life. In Greek the word pneuma is the word for spirit. It also means wind and breath. The religious implications of the word inspire is breathtaking – no pun intended. We receive the breath of God and live. At the end of our lives, we commend our spirits back to God. In other words, what we have received at the initiation of life, we return at the termination of life.

The word inspire in our mission statement, especially as a church related school, implies that we are to take the spirit that God has given us and pass it on to others – both our colleagues, students, and parents. However, the gift of inspiration or having the spirit enter into us signifies that our lives come from God, and, therefore, our lives must dwell in God just as God dwells in us. It is important then to become aware of God’s presences within us and within others. In essence, it is having the image of God in me recognize the image of God in you. This awareness of self and others can lead us to a greater respect of all people – especially our students.

As a result, the best way we can challenge and nurture the mind, body, and spirit of young people is to direct our own spirit to embrace the needs of other as our own. We, ourselves, must live lives of purpose, faith, and integrity if we expect our students to follow suit. In essence, they breathe in the spirit, which we have already exhaled into our surroundings. The only way we can challenge our students is to challenge ourselves to acknowledge the spirit of God that is all around us. The best praise we can offer to God is to be mindful of his spirit that is in us and to direct our intentions to glorify that spirit by sharing his ruah and pnuema with our students by helping them to recognize his ruah and pnuema within themselves.

How can we do this? First, we can share ruah and pnuema with our students by giving them the respect they deserves as people who carry God’s spirit within them. Do we show them respect when they fail? Do we talk to them as people and not as second class citizens? Do we encourage them to set appropriate goals? Do we encourage them in their success and failures? Do we inspire them to do their personal best. Can they trust that we are doing our personal best? Second, we can hold fast to the faith of ruah and pnuema that it will allow us to challenge and nurture our students based on their needs and not based on our own needs for success. Third, we can practice self-control in thoughtfulness of the spirit that is around us. Helping our students to believe that there is something greater than ourselves and inspiring them to want to be part of it. Fourth, we can be honest about our own shortcomings and come to rely on the gifts of others and the righteousness of God to supplement our own limits so that we can, even in our limits, grow in mind, body, and spirit. Fifth, we can show kindness and courtesy to everyone we meet on our campus and beyond, practicing hospitality as a way of life and community. Sixth, we can be generous with our remarks, acts, and thoughts. We can practice the spirit of God by embracing the needs of our students as if they were our own. Yes, that may mean practicing the Golden Rule even when they, in our own estimation, may not deserve it. Seventh, we can show the gratitude for this God given spirit and mindfully worship God and give room to others to do the same, especially if they see God differently than we do. Eighth, we can have the courage to admit our mistakes and shortcomings, seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness, and realize that there is no such place as a mistake free-zone.

As a profession, education happens to be prescriptive in practice; nevertheless, we need to be more introspective. We often tell students and parents what they need to do in order to succeed. We also need to have the courage to say there are things we need to do in order for our students to succeed. We can have the courage to allow others to fall short of our expectations and allow them to use that experience as a springboard for development and growth. Finally, we can demonstrate sportsmanship in all aspects of our lives – not just in athletic contests. In closing, to inspire our students goes far beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic, it goes to the place God has set aside for us to be fully human, fully alive, simply breathing in and breathing out.

Mission Driven (Part II): Inspiration is the key!

Last week I wrote that I referenced our mission statement in my opening address to the faculty:

Challenging and nurturing Mind, Body, and Spirit, we inspire boys and girls to lead lives of purpose, faith, and integrity.

But in addition to the fact that I feel my own personal philosophy is closely aligned with EA’s mission, I wanted to share another insight about the power of our mission.

I think the most important part of the mission statement might just be the word “inspire.” I believe when we are at our best, we are inspiring our students and each other.

As I get to know our faculty better, I thought it was important for me to share with them some of my beliefs about education.

Content Knowledge is important.

Pedagogy is important.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge is important.

Good teaching can be learned (I believe in the growth mindset)

And…

I believe in the art of teaching.

When you see a great teacher teach, there is an inspirational magic to it. The beauty that only artists can attain flows through the classroom.

I then asked each teacher to share with me at some point in the year a moment of true inspiration. I look forward to sharing those magical moments with you. Have a great year!

Mission Driven (Part I): Personal Alignment

In my opening speech to faculty this year I referenced our mission statement:

Challenging and nurturing Mind, Body, and Spirit, we inspire boys and girls to lead lives of purpose, faith, and integrity.

When I applied for the position of Head of School, I was required to submit a statement of my educational philosophy. In this opening excerpt, I notice the close connection to the EA mission:

It is our responsibility as educators to vigorously challenge and support each and every student, and it is this dual focus that creates a synergy to empower all learners to stretch toward their potential.

I go on to explain a bit more about what I mean:

Schools must emphasize high cognitive demand, engaging tasks, and lofty expectations so that students are able to reach new academic heights. We must however, pay equal attention to creating supportive environments that allow students to take risks, make connections with others, and feel, in every sense of the word, “safe.”

From my very first day here, I felt that EA was a good fit for me as a leader. I see countless examples each day of challenging and nurturing. It is what we believe in, and I am proud that I witness not only a pursuit of academic excellence but also a rigorous commitment to community.

Every time I talk with someone who has been here a while, I hear powerful anecdotes about the strength of the community. It seems everyone has an “EA was there for me” story.

The beginning of the year is a great time to remember why we are here, confirm our beliefs and mission, and acknowledge our gratitude for all we have.

Our Senior Master: 45 years of wisdom

135_2014-5-30There are so many rich traditions here at Episcopal, and one of my favorites has to be one that begins our school year. Each August, the Senior Master (the teacher with the longest tenure) addresses the faculty and staff. And while I do my best to set a positive and inspirational tone to begin the year, there is something special about hearing from our most experienced teacher. Our Senior Master is Chip Hollinger. Chip began his 45th year at EA telling us all a story of small bridge at a summer house “in a place called Hogestown-just outside of Harrisburg.”

His father built this bridge along with his grandfather, and there is “a set of footprints placed ‘walking’ across the bridge (all very typical of a teenager when confronted with wet cement!)” Chip continued to tell such a lovely story of walking in those footsteps, and then he turned the story into an important message for his colleagues.

“Not only are we following in the footprints of our predecessors, but we ourselves are placing footprints of our own in the hearts and minds of our students and the historical lore of the school.”

Everyone looks forward to Chip’s speech each year. It is always lovely and poignant, and we all benefit from his wisdom.