Aug 27

Opening Address to Faculty and Staff 2014


Welcome to our new colleagues, and welcome back to all of you.

As many of you know I have a strong fondness, ok some might call it an obsession with baseball.  And as Elane often reminds me, it is because of this obsession, I mean fondness, that I will often use sports metaphors to make a point.  So forgive me if I break into a sports comparison – but I really think this metaphor works well.

My favorite part of the baseball season doesn’t even occur during the season itself – it takes place at the end of February.  After a long cold winter, when we as fans believe the temperature will never get above freezing, players begin to report to spring training. New members of the team find quiet corners of the field and begin to get to know the veterans; in the press box there is always talk of a new player or two who has joined the club, and will make a big difference in the success of the year’s campaign.

In February every team is in first place, every team has a chance to go to the World Series – this is no small order for my favorite team – the Chicago Cubs, I mean we haven’t won a World Series since 1908.  Yet in the spring every team is full of energy and looks forward to the 162 game season believing it will be the best they have ever played.   Spring Training is a new beginning, a fresh start for every player – so what if you hit .230 last year, it’s February and during Spring Training every player can be a member of the Hall of Fame.

I love the beginning of the school year – September is filled with anticipation, excitement and energy levels that could seriously reduce our need for fossil fuels, it is the time of the year when we are all refreshed, and hopeful.  Every student is at the top of the class, every parent conference is filled with the promise of partnership, and the schedule is filled with endless days teeming with the opportunity to cover all the projects we dreamed of doing during the summer.

It’s a new beginning; a fresh start for our students, a chance to work with new colleagues and an opportunity to try something new in our classrooms.

While it is autumn on the calendar, September for educators is a time of rebirth and renewal.  Those of us who have spent our lives living the cycle of the school year enter September with hope and anticipation.  Like our students, we have had one more year of growth, development and experience.  We come to campus with an eagerness to connect with our students and to make this year our best year.  There is idealism in this cycle that I hope we, as educators never lose.  Built into this time of new beginnings is the extension of opportunity we give to every student.  Like the baseball player who comes to spring training in February, our students come to us in September filled with potential and eager to succeed.  Each of them is a candidate for the Hall of Fame and it is exciting to consider the season ahead.

Like most of you, I have a stack of summer reading that has collected over the months waiting for those magical weeks of vacation when I can fully engage in big picture thoughts, and ideas.  I must confess that Sandra Boynton and Dr. Seuss have dominated my reading lists since my granddaughter arrived.

However, one of the books I read this summer ended up in my stack after I watched an inspiring TED Talk by author and educator Simon Sinek. In the book, Start with Why, Sinek asked – why are some people and organizations more innovative or influential than others?

Why do some companies and organizations build immense trust and command great loyalty?  Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their successes over and over?

As Sinek put it, “Any organization can explain what it does; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why.”  Why is not about raising money or meeting a budget – those are results.  Why do we exist?  Why do we do the things we do?  Why do families choose us instead of another school?

Sinek argues that those who start with why never manipulate, they inspire.  And people follow not because they have to, but because they want to.

Sinek suggests that the most successful people and institutions, those organizations that build trust and inspire people to support them start with why as their foundation.  He concludes, “People don’t buy into what you do, they buy into why you do it.”

I found Sinek’s argument compelling; it reminded me of the conversations we had during the construction of our Educational Statement of Purpose.  After all the Statement truly is a document that sets out to explain why we do what we do – it is a statement of our beliefs as an educational institution.

The book also reminded me of a feature NPR ran a few years back called “This I believe” in which a person is given a chance to articulate his or her personal philosophy on a given topic or on life in general.  It’s a wonderful concept that allows people to put into words the feelings, hopes and aspirations that they possess; it’s a chance for people to look at the world philosophically and to codify their values for others to hear, but more importantly it provides the individual speaker with the chance to articulate for him or herself ideas that have been long held and seldom stated aloud.

I was struck by how similar this process of, starting with why, is to the formulation our school must have undertaken as George and Annemarie first put to paper the School’s Philosophy almost 75 years ago.   I began to wonder what those brief statements of belief would sound like if we as educators had the chance to sit in that NPR booth and gave our own statement of “This I believe.”

We have each come to Roeper with a philosophy of education, with a set of guiding principles and beliefs that direct our work with children and families.  Some of us developed this philosophy through course work in schools of education on educational philosophy and pedagogy, some through years of hands-on teaching working with hundreds of children.  Some of us have seen our philosophy shift as our understanding of teaching has developed in our practice.  Wherever you are in the formulation of your personal philosophy of education we have each come to understand that the one thing we have in common is that our work at The Roeper School is guided by a common School philosophy.  As we think about The Roeper School of 2014 let’s begin with the ideas that have sustained us since 1941 and will be at the core of our school decades from now.

Our session in the NPR sound booth might sound something like this:

  • I believe that all human beings have two central tasks: to come to understand themselves and to discover how they will contribute to the world.
  • I believe our purpose as educators is to guide students on the journey to becoming discerning, humane, engaged adults.
  • I believe that an educational approach that is highly individualized and focused on the social and emotional needs of students — is particularly appropriate for gifted children.
  • I believe in an academic program that appreciates the dignity and emotional complexity of each student, one that fosters an authentic partnership with children in the learning process.
  • I believe that when children are genuinely offered a voice from young ages, they grow to become adults who will do the same for others.
  • I believe that curriculum should be purposefully structured around the needs and input of students.
  • I believe that our goal as educators is to prepare students with the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate the unknowns on our collective horizon.
  • I believe that diversity not only ensures multiple perspectives, but also enriches decision-making and the search for solutions.
  • I believe that playfulness, exploration, and personal discovery are essential elements at all levels of school.
  • I believe that when the intellectual, emotional, ethical and physical needs of gifted children are cared for they flourish and become compelling thinkers, compassionate agents, and fulfilled adults.
  • I believe that schools must offer educational experiences that reach past the scope of college and vocational preparation and inspire individuals for life.

– This I believe

President John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” 

In my conversations with alums I have witnessed the strength of our history – We have an amazing past!  Our alums eagerly return to our campus to remember their PreK-12 days – they send their children here because they know the value of The Roeper School experience.

Walk through our classrooms, chat with your colleagues talk to our students – our present is rich and vibrant.  We are a school where children eagerly arrive and yearn to return in the morning. Roeper is the only school I have been where I have seen a student genuinely sad to see the arrival of the weekend or a vacation.

Our future is bright because we are a community that is continually asking ourselves whether our actions are good for children.  Our future is bright because we understand our obligation to sustain this incredible institution so our children’s children can enjoy the benefits of a Roeper School education.  We will not miss the future – it is not in our nature.  We will, as educators before us, offer our wisdom and guidance as seeds of growth for this special school.

The rosters are set, and the field is full of dreams – it’s time to take the field to start the new season. This is a glorious time of year to be a teacher! I wish you a year of fellowship, collegiality, fulfillment and most of all joy!

Play ball!


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