Head of School Reflections

December 2019

During the Thanksgiving break, I decided to read back through three years’ worth of my blogs, both as a reminder of past themes and as an attempt to battle holiday writer’s block.  I had forgotten the number of personal stories I shared along the way, how enjoyable it was to write the Summer 2018 narrative, or that I suggested in February 2017 that I would occasionally “reflect on things I’ve learned” as Head of School.  Grateful for the prompting, I began to write.

This fall was an excellent one on our hIlltop.  It is easy to tally our students’ external successes - 11 Sixth Form Honor Society inductees, 3 teams (girls’ varsity soccer, field hockey & football) advanced to postseason play, 309 college applications submitted for early deadlines, 48 students involved in the Italia Mia instrumental/vocal concert and Murder Mystery Double Feature theater production  - but it is far more difficult to measure the depth of their personal growth, the impact of our students’ service to others, and the daily acts of commitment to Canterbury and to one another that define and differentiate our School.

Case in point: how can I illustrate the power of a Sixth Former standing up in School Meeting - unprompted and unscripted - to tell her classmates that she knows that everyone goes through tough times, and that reaching out for comfort, advice or understanding is critical.  Moreover, she offered to be that source of help to anyone - anyone - who needed a friend.  What is the metric that quantifies Compassion?

What else did our students teach me this fall about Canterbury’s Five Values?

Respect.  Our 18-1 varsity girls’ soccer team won the Class C NEPSAC Championship with skill and speed, but their talent was built on a foundation of respect.  Respect for one another, their coaches, their opponents.  I was so impressed by the teamwork they showed, even (especially) in their fiercest moments. Not to mention respect for oneself, which fuels hard work, strength of character, and personal accountability.  Well done, Saints.

Spirituality.  Each November, our Fifth and Sixth formers opt in to attend the annual Emmaus Retreat, a 48-hour retreat grounded in the Catholic faith and welcoming to students of all faiths.  This year, 70 students returned from Emmaus inspired by stories shared by their peers, emotionally energized and exhausted, and challenged to stretch themselves spiritually.  They came together in our Chapel upon their return to reflect on their shared experiences as well as their individual next steps.  The lesson?  A simple reminder that faith is (should be, can be) an avenue to the common ground of shared values and intentions: service to others, moral citizenship & leadership, acts of kindness & respect, community building.       

Honesty.  While truthfulness in our words and actions is a core ingredient of honesty, our ability and willingness to be honest with ourselves is equally as important.  Once again, there is no way to “benchmark” honesty, but I give our students high marks regardless.  Why?  Every day, I witness their self-awareness (an outgrowth of honesty) in their conversations with faculty members and peers: seeking counsel from an advisor, feedback from a coach, perspective from a dorm parent or proctor, extra help from a teacher, guidance from a sacristan.  The journey of adolescence  is not one to travel solo but rather with help, humility and an honest look at one’s strengths, challenges and opportunities.  One day at a time!

Self-Reliance.  Each year, I make a commitment to visit the dorm room of every boarding student.  This year’s “dorm tour” started with our Third Formers in Duffy and Havemeyer and finished just before Thanksgiving with Carmody and Sheehan.  On one level, stopping through our dorms is a good and fun way for me to know our students and feel the vibe of each residential community.  On another, these visits provide a critical reminder of the clear and compelling difference boarding school provides in comparison to our public and day school peers: learning to be a responsible, self-reliant young adult.  We often jump ahead to college placement and career aspirations, but let us not forget what must come first: getting yourself up in the morning, cleaning your room, managing your laundry, and showing up to commitments on time.  A look at our students’ rooms helps me understand how well they are building that foundation and reminds me of Canterbury’s truly invaluable impact.  

Many of these values evoke sentiments of the holiday season, but they are embodied throughout the year, day after day, by our Saints. While all schools offer “signature strengths or slogans,” Canterbury’s Five Values run deep and true at (and as) the foundation of this remarkable community. And so it is with gratitude that I offer these “fall lessons” as I look forward to those that will follow this winter and spring.

Happy holidays!

Rachel Stone
Head of School