Above & Beyond in Action

Preserve and Innovate. Shame on us if we choose one over the other. We have a dual need. So we 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.

This opening from my State of the School presentation comes back to me often. And with it, questions.  Are we continuously examining our structure, our teaching methods, and our assumptions? Are we asking ourselves, is this the best way to teach today?

Three January initiatives fill me with gratitude for the extraordinary faculty who enable me to answer those questions with an emphatic yes.

 

The first January, or J-Term, just came to a close for our ninth grade.  J-Term began, as Liz Perry outlined in our On the Horizon video, as a question: How would we teach if we didn’t have the traditional confines of set class periods, separate subjects and tests? In response, a talented group of teachers came together and launched an eight-day, immersive learning adventure. Students worked in teams on an array of human rights issues (homelessness, illiteracy, clean water, women’s rights—to name a few). They employed design-thinking, learned how to create a plan of action, interviewed experts and conducted extensive research on and off campus.  

As important as the knowledge gained, new levels of freedom and responsibility drove deeper understanding, self-directed teamwork, and commitment to action. In Liz Perry’s words, “We wanted to stretch their comfort zones…Discomfort is growth.” Read more about J-Term.

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.19.34 AMSt. Luke’s first Hackathon also took place in January. Center for Leadership Director Jim Foley and Upper School Science Chair Michael Mitchell were the mad scientists behind this creativity-packed weekend. Jim’s blog, including a video from our Marketing & Communications team, captures the Hackathon magic better than I ever could. Suffice it to say, young minds expanded and a new SLS tradition was hacked.

 

Dr. Stephanie Bramlett, Director of Diversity and Upper School Student Life, and Grant Russell, Director of Academic Technology, launched St. Luke’s second annual Social Justice Leadership Summit. As I said last year, this summit creates a lifetime experience. This year’s attendance doubled and nearly all of last year’s attendees returned. The word is out: St. Luke’s Social Justice Leadership Summit is not to be missed. Read more about the SJLS.

If I can persuade an attendee or two to share their personal thoughts, I will feature their voices right here next week.

My deep gratitude to the Above & Beyond teachers who put heart and soul into creating exceptional experiences for our students.

Peace On Earth

Last night I came across this “Remembering Sandy Hook Victims” article. I admit, it’s a struggle to focus on the faces of the children. I don’t want to feel that mix of anguish and sorrow moving through my gut again. The re-realization that this actually happened.

I look at their toothless smiles. I read the stories about what they loved (horses, dancing, arm-wrestling, dolls). I read again about the teachers and administrators who leapt in front of bullets. I can’t change what happened, but I can remember them.

Recently a video of Samaria Rice appeared in my email. She describes the night her 12-year old son, Tamir, was shot dead. Though the circumstances are completely different from Sandy Hook, I feel the same obligation to bear witness. This should not have happened. I need to hear and feel this woman’s grief and anger. I need to remember, in the words of Dr. King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Peace on earth. Sometimes it feels like a wish we bring out during the holidays—like ornaments soon wrapped up and stuck back on the closet shelf. How do we change that? How do we make kindness, respect, and justice for all a tangible, reachable goal?

In a few weeks, our ninth grade will begin St. Luke’s first January Term (J-Term). This will be an eight-day cycle when regular classes will suspend and students will study one domestic or world problem, collaborate on solutions, and present their findings and ideas at a symposium. While still in eighth grade, students were asked what topic they’d most like to explore. Their collective answer: human rights. Students at this age are ripe for asking big questions—Why is there unfairness in the world? What can I do about it? We want to fan that flame and show our young people that they can use their hearts and minds to change the world.

Later in January, St. Luke’s will hold our second annual Social Justice Summit. Student and faculty participants will engage in activities and examine case studies that deepen our awareness, strengthen our capacity and commitment to oppose injustice, and foster trusting relationships across the perceived barriers of race, ethnicity, religion, identity, gender, age and power. When we intentionally strengthen our students’ (and our own) capacity and commitment to oppose injustice, we demonstrate a St. Luke’s tenet—developing good people is as important as developing great scholars.

Lyndon B. Johnson said, “Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time.”  St. Luke’s does not have all the answers, and we’ll certainly uncover areas of disagreement and misunderstanding even as we seek to understand each other better. But I know we’re walking the right path. Our Center for Leadership encourages students to find your voice and make a difference. Imagine the difference every community could make by teaching children to respect all people— not because it’s good manners or politically correct—but because it will bring peace on earth.