From the Head of School...
Whether you are a new or returning member of the Canterbury family, welcome back to our hilltop and to a new school year! The faculty, staff, and I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of our students after a summer of reflection, planning, and preparation. To be sure, the energy and spirit of the opening of a new school year never get old.
Each August, we bring our new faculty back to campus for a week of orientation meetings, followed by a week of sessions for all faculty. While the framework varies a bit each year, we annually cover a myriad of bases, from summer professional development and new academic initiatives to emergency preparedness and student life case studies. This year, we also reviewed our entire Sixth Form as well as all new students so that we can collectively hit the ground running in knowing our students well. It was a powerful and affirming element of our meetings.
In addition, to frame the 2018-19 school year, our faculty and staff joined me in Canterbury's Chapel on the evening of August 27th. My opening remarks were quite personal this year — and likely more compelling and/or relevant when heard than read - so I am including a partial selection below to share the framing I offered that evening. Perhaps we shall have the opportunity to follow up in person over the course of the year ahead.
Excerpt: Head of School Opening Remarks, August 27, 2018
When my thoughts first started taking shape for this year's remarks, we had just wrapped up our administrative retreat in mid-July. I had asked the administrative team to complete an exercise that collected our responses to questions like - Would you say you are more serious and determined, or easygoing? Is it better to be merciful or just? - and then assigned each of us to one of four categories: Guardian, Artisan, Idealist, Rational. This provided the foundation for interesting, reflective and - at times - cathartic conversation, and it certainly helped us better understand the ways in which we are wired similarly and differently. So, in thinking about this evening, and my annual goal of pausing to frame the year, I wondered if there were some seeds in that exercise worth sharing.
Two weeks later, as Matt Mulhern and I braved the Long Island traffic to visit three schools, a consultant, and a former trustee, the question we are so frequently asked was at the forefront of our conversations: What differentiates Canterbury as a school and community?
My answer to that question goes like this: at Canterbury, we ask our students to explore their values and spirituality, to begin to figure out what matters to them and why, and to embrace the role they play in the lives of others. As the world grows more complicated and - in some ways - more splintered, the commitment to our mission of - "inspiring moral leaders in a complex, secular world" - remains central to our work. From that initial response, it is easy to weave in details of our profile and program, but I always lead with Values, Service, and Spirituality.
In the weeks since that trip to Long Island, my thinking about this evening's framework changed. If this is what we truly and consistently ask our students - to explore their values and spirituality, to begin to figure out what matters to them and why, and to embrace the role they play in the lives of others - then shouldn't we also ask that of ourselves and be willing to share our thoughts and stories with one another? We should.
[This is where I shared my story.]
I need to be very clear - in talking about faith, spirituality, and belief, I am not suggesting that there is a singular path. At Canterbury, I do expect that we all BELIEVE in our School - its mission, our students, and one another. But the specific role of faith and spirituality in your own lives - and what you believe - is personal. You have already committed to work built upon service and values by choosing Canterbury. For that, I am deeply grateful.
How do we know our students are absorbing these questions focused on values, service, and spirituality? There are the obvious indicators -- interest in our service trips, desire to serve as Sacristans and members of Interfaith Council, demand for the Emmaus retreat—just to name a few. But when looking beyond the obvious, we see and feel an ethos of compassion for one another. We see Third Formers seamlessly joining the community without judgment. We watch students genuinely care for our own children. And we realize that our students steadfastly protect their opportunity to be a part of this place. Of course our students are complicated, messy (literally and figuratively), and learn by making mistakes. But I would put the culture of this community up against that of any other school - boarding or day, independent or public - and expect that our cornerstone of values, service, and spirituality set us apart. And, as the adults on this hilltop, we live this community's mission every day by shepherding our students to be young adults of character and respect. It is not easy work; it is good and meaningful work.
To that end - the faculty will bookend tonight's remarks during their final meeting on Thursday with a focus on our new Center for Spirituality, Service & Justice and the programming now centralized under the Center's umbrella. The elements of the program - from community service and retreats, to campus ministry and cross-curricular dialogue - have grown from the seeds of our Catholic heritage and remain an enduring and impactful element of Canterbury's infrastructure. Yes - good and meaningful work; work that drew me to my first job, and most certainly work that fuels my commitment to our School and our mission.
And so in closing: this year, I ask that we all pay attention to the following three questions and that we consider sharing our answers and perspectives with other members of this community:
One - What do you value, and why?
Two - What role does service to others play in your life, and why?
Three - What role does spirituality and/or faith play in your life, and why?
My faith journey is ongoing and never complacent. It is not blind, proud, or judgemental. It leaves room for questions and the perspective of others. But most of all, it is deeply personal and private . . . well, until tonight.
I look forward to hearing threads of YOUR stories in the year - and years - ahead, and I know our students will as well.
May we all reflect upon and embrace these three questions as we together build another extraordinary year on our hilltop.
PS - Please be sure to stop by our newly-renovated theater in Hume Hall - Maguire Auditorium - when you are next on campus. The student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive already!
Head of School Blog