Three Educational Pillars

Lifelong learning is a given not a goal, each voice adds to the rhythm of a community, and you cannot underestimate the potential of every moment.

Lifelong learners

Having grown up in independent schools, I have an insatiable thirst to learn. The penchant to question the world around me was bestowed early on and reinforced in my home. My father was a professional student spending his life in education as either a student, professor, or administrator. My mother is a career clinician turned attorney, and entrepreneur. My grandparents were Southern Baptist Ministers and import/export merchants. I come from a lineage of learners, servant leaders, survivors, and innovators. 

It is this thirst for knowledge and critical lens on the world that was at the heart of my upbringing and essential to today’s students and learners young and old. Everyday it seems I draw upon my own childhood experiences to guide my connections and relationships with students. The empowerment I received inspires me to share and pass the same along to our students and colleagues. 

Lifelong learning should not be something we strive for, but imbue in our cultures and communities daily. Schools are the forge for honing that which is instinctual to us as human beings, and as a curator of knowledge and skills, empower, inspire, and cultivate communities of learners. It is endemic to who we are, and essential. 

The rhythm of a community

Each year I engage my students in an activity of voice. The instructions are very simple. 

  • When I point to you, using only your voice, come up with a sound or something that you can repeat indefinitely. It should be authentic to you and evocative of how you feel at that very moment.
  • When I point to the next person to start, do not stop. 
  • We go around the group until each student is contributing “their voice.” 
  • As we continue around, you can change your sound or add physical sound (clap, stomp, snap, etc.). 
  • We continue for three rounds and stop.
  • As we stop we stand in silence and reflect.

What we discuss and observe is how each “voice” is unique and different, but that somehow we fall into a rhythm and seek harmony. Subconsciously, we yearn to belong and be as one. Yet we can still maintain our own identity and uniqueness through our own “voices.” It is a lesson of both belonging and a celebration of self and our identity as individuals and a community. 

This lesson is an essential metaphor for school communities and how we can come together and emolden our mission and values. It is at the heart of everything we do.

The potential of every moment

There are two moments in my school life which are pivotal to my identity, and motivate me in my support of students and colleagues each day. 

I recall it as vividly as a dream. Standing at the rear of the auditorium awaiting my queue. As the lights dim and the audience falls silent I begin. I practiced my opening monologue for weeks. Standing in my parent’s bathroom mirror, working on my diction, my mannerisms, and memorizing my lines. As I took my first steps up the aisles, I began and it came as effortless as breathing. I was in my character and in a zone. The audience melted away and all I saw were my fellow actors awaiting my arrival on stage and the imagined scene around them. As I ascended the steps to the stage, I felt a tug, and then another, and then in a flash found myself on my knees on the stage. I stopped speaking and all I heard was the trailing hush after a collective gasp from the audience. 

The director and musical teacher slowly stood up from her piano and leaned over and asked, “Are you okay?” in a whisper. I turned to her, stood up, straightened my crown, and in what seemed like the unpausing of a video, slipped right back into the stride of my monologue. 

I continued on that day, finished the play impeccably, and received the adulation of my peers and community. It was also the last day I was ever able to act in front of an audience without stammering or paralyzed from stage fright. 

That moment changed me, but it is the very same auditorium where I have given numerous speeches in front of our school’s community as an adult. It is the same auditorium where I sat with a former teacher/now colleague of mine and shared this second connected moment…

Honors day, a day where academic accolades and school acknowledgements are bestowed, was a day reserved for other students, students not like me. I was an artist, nary an A on my transcript, and silent on the stage (but not invisible). I knew I wanted to be a painter since the sixth grade and was on my way to New York to live my dream and dive into my art. I sat there under the hot California sun, and appropriately daydreaming, nearly missed the taps on my shoulders and egging on from my classmates to rise. What? What? As I stood up to applause, and my musical theater teacher standing by the podium gazing at me affectionately and proudly, I realized at that moment that I had been recognized for my contributions to the performing arts and awarded the honor for that department.

You see, I had performed in every musical in high school, but not as a star or even supporting character, but as a member of the chorus and dancer. My fifth grade stage fright-inducing experience limited my ability to effectively audition for those speaking roles, but through my movements and singing in the chorus, I was able to find “my voice.” Yet that day, I was speechless. She had seen my desire to star, but paralyzed and haunted by my past, and found a way to show me that she knew. She knew me. She saw me. It would be a pivotal moment for me that would empower me to believe in myself, and the potential to do anything I wanted to do with my life. It is foundational to the circuitous path of my career and my dedication and commitment to our students and colleagues today.

When I shared this moment with my former teacher and now colleague, and how impactful and important it was to me, it brought us both to tears. 

The importance of being seen by adults in the community of a school cannot be underestimated. Her acknowledgement of me saved me. She and other teachers in the art departments gave me a home, and a place to find myself, created space for me to discover who I was, and make “my voice” heard. 

It might not seem like a lot to some educators, but we cannot forget those moments and gestures of acknowledgement that can ultimately change lives, and just might someday save them as well.

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