Welcome Back to the Hilltop

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

 

There it is again. That buzz, that palpable energy flowing down hallways and across campus. Students and teachers filling the school with warmth and excitement.  It began with today’s new student orientation—tomorrow that energy will swell as our full student body arrives, ready to make a new beginning.

For the first time ever, I’ll miss greeting students as they arrive for the first day of classes. A small cohort of St. Luke’s teachers and administrators will attend Jim Decatur’s service in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Wild horses could not keep me from Jim’s family—but I am saddened to miss the fresh faces and endless possibilities of the first day.

I cannot adequately thank this community for its support. In true St. Luke’s form, we came together to deal with a terrible loss. Parents, students, and alumni wrote, called, and came to the Hilltop in droves wanting to know one thing: What can I do to help?

Our teachers, though still deeply shaken, have made our students top priority. Classrooms are sparkling, lessons are primed, and everyone is ready to make this a wonderful year.

I’m back on campus Thursday. Jim will be in my thoughts—his big smile in my heart.

Why Unplug?

It’s my pleasure to feature Academic Technology Director Grant Russell as my guest blogger…

Why are we unplugging on Friday, December 12?

I posed this question to several faculty members. Others offered their opinion without prompting. Here is a sampling of responses.

For more face time with students. To practice talking in person. To have time to reflect. To raise awareness about our technology use. To realize those moments when we reach for our devices and what that means. To challenge our students differently. To train intentional and academic use of technology. To refocus our attention on what this device is and does for us. To remember that technology is important at school.

This multitude of reasons speaks volumes of our faculty’s ability to think deeply about the pedagogical approach we are taking with the integration of technology into academics.

Despite the benefits that technology affords, we often focus on our perceived overdependence on it, the anxiety to be constantly connected, and other negative effects that it has on us. Email is a terrible monster. The Huffington Post sucks too much of my time. Snapchat, Instagram, and Yik Yak are overwhelming. I haven’t checked my text messages in 5 minutes – I just know that someone texted me! We tend to focus on technology’s intrusive elements and take for granted the wonder of these devices that enable us to know more, to do more, and to be more.

Yes, I am optimistic about the screen in front of me. No, I am not unaware of the challenges it presents to me. Part of me knowing more is knowing when to step away and look at and interact with the world around me. This is a skill that I practice. It is a skill that we all should practice. It is a skill that we are practicing when we unplug on Friday, December 12.

I would argue that mostly everyone knows that being intentional about technology use requires practice and reflection, and that perhaps the best way to use technology is in moderation. The difficult part is actually motivating ourselves to practice being intentional, to reflect, and to use technology in moderation. And so we can think of Friday, December
12, as a gentle catalyst for motivation.

I would also argue that being mindful of our interactions with our mobile devices is now an important aspect of education. Having open, honest, and sustained dialogue with students now about technological balance, fears, hopes, benefits, and challenges will be highly valuable once they leave for college and confront the next wave of technology without our guidance.

But let’s remember. Wonderful things can happen in the absence of mobile devices. Wonderful things can happen with mobile devices. Our challenge is to create a balance and to revel in the fact that we can have the best of both worlds and mitigate the perceived challenges that technology presents.

This is why we are unplugging on Friday, December 12.

Welcome Back St. Luke’s

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Head of School Mark Davis welcomes new parents to the Hilltop at the New Parents BBQ.

Today, we are like baseball players arriving at Spring Training. We show up with new cleats and high hopes. The batter steps into the box… the shortstop leans left on a hunch… the outfielder gets ready to run… it’s electric. Anything can happen. And nothing is sure.

I’m only recently comfortable with that last part, “nothing is sure.” After all, don’t we want to know the plan? Shouldn’t I be able to bank on an outcome? Don’t we need to take a side, make a stance, and take action with certainty? Maybe it’s St. Luke’s growing culture of curiosity and inquiry, but I now embrace uncertainty. The truth is, I’m certain about almost nothing. I know I love my wife and my children, and that I’d give my life for each of them. But I can’t think of anything else important I’d say with absolute certainty.  It feels too rigid. There always seems to be room for doubt, another possibility, or the tiniest bit of gray.

Perhaps this flexibility is why I’m so taken with the theme for the October 9th State of the School: Preserve & Innovate. It reflects our dual need to hold preservation and innovation in our two hands. In one hand we hold what is essential, proven, and timeless about school—that “personal element” we all value so highly. And in the other, a culture of collaboration and innovation that enables us to be a school of the future, and in fact remain a school in the future.

How well we collaborate, how well we trust and appreciate each other so as to step into new territory, how well we employ the new tools available to us, and how effectively we help our children become productive, moral citizens and leaders – this is what will define us as a great school.

I am certain of almost nothing–except the love we feel for family and friends and the commitment we make to our Hilltop community. We can feel safe in the promises we make to each other: to be kind, to be curious, and to be lifelong learners.

Welcome back to St. Luke’s.

P.S. You can read more about what Preserve & Innovate looks like at St. Luke’s in my August post: Always Changing, Always St. Luke’s.