It is an honor for me to welcome you to the opening of the 2019-2020 school year at St. Andrew’s. This is a day of celebration and appreciation for new members of the faculty whom I will introduce in a few minutes. Each of them has made a leap of faith as they have moved into this community.
During their interviews and visits, during conversations with St. Andrew’s alumni, former teachers, and even students who had chosen to go to another school, they heard that something powerful, distinctive, and important was taking place at St. Andrew’s. They sensed a spirit of goodness, possibility, warmth, and intention that quite literally and symbolically moved them.
We collectively promise our new teachers and their families that we will create the best educational environment possible for the flourishing of students, teachers, and staff members. I think this promise involves our collective commitment to the following cultural principles:
- St. Andrew’s seeks to be a community and a School that is as transformational for adults as it is for students. I believe strongly that the continued development of students and faculty in schools is the most important sign and demonstration of school excellence in the 21st century. We as adults change, develop, and grow when we have the following elements alive within the community:
- When we have good, challenging, and inspiring work to do; our calling at St. Andrew’s should inspire our best efforts, our steady attention and study, our most generous and creative spirit.
- When we have mentoring, support, and affirmation from those with whom we live and work; when we are seen, recognized, affirmed, and mentored. These moments of guidance, this culture of support allows each teacher to know each day that their effort, spirit, performance, and grace are essential to the success of the whole school.
- When we have opportunities to collaborate, create, and problem solve in teams. Schools in the 21st Century must find time for faculty reflection, problem solving, innovation, and assessment of success and failure.
- When we have the opportunity to pursue professional development work both on and off campus. At St. Andrew’s such commitment to professional growth begins with engagement at the full faculty, department, residential, and athletic levels and then extends out to conference, graduate school, consultation, and school and college visit work.
- When we ourselves commit to service opportunities that lie beyond the boundaries of the School. As a School dedicated to a public purpose of engagement and generosity, we need to model and explore the art of serving a larger civic vision.
- When our faculty peer relationships make us feel that we belong here. We see the influence of peer culture and influence at every stage of life. In the world of academia, the pursuit of an adult culture of humility, generosity, patience, and optimism is essential.
- When our respect, collaboration, and honoring of the dignity of the staff remove remnants of a hierarchy that once divided us. Even as we teach our students the history of our country’s movement towards a more enlightened, inclusive approach to the dignity of every human being, we need to heal the arrogance and superiority that once marked faculty perspectives on the work of staff members within their communities.
- When we find inspiration and hope in the students, faculty, staff, and guest speakers who address us in the Chapel or Engelhard. We have so much to learn as we attend services and lectures at St. Andrew’s, and we need to open our minds and hearts to these opportunities each year.
- When we connect our work here to the needs and concerns of the nation and the world. Secondary schools too often turn in upon themselves and become cultures of gossip, triviality, and entitlement; the opportunity to connect education and community to a public purpose rescues schools and cultures from irrelevance.
- When we cultivate habits of health, vitality, and wellness. The most important opportunity for 21st century schools and colleges will be found in our work towards creating cultures that blend principles of wellness with ones of human excellence.
- When we show up for and demonstrate support, not only for our students, but the teachers, coaches, and directors who surround us every day. The best professional cultures celebrate those who come to work every day to help colleagues thrive and succeed. The worst feature adult behavior characterized by jealousy, envy, and cruelty.
- When we define the art of teaching as the equal in complexity, urgency, and dedication to the work of any professional group responsible for the health, vitality, and well-being of their patients. Schools are the very source of life, illumination, and meaning. Why do schools settle for procedures and processes that are casual, complacent, and self-satisfied?
As Head of School, I celebrate this faculty’s range—not only the expertise, experience, vitality, and passion you bring to your chosen discipline, but also your ability and willingness to stretch and share your gifts so broadly and generously throughout the life of the School. This range of versatility I speak of also honors this faculty’s deep commitment to one another and to the students: when a colleague on the faculty or staff, when a student faces a crisis, we have a remarkable ability to express love, faith, grace, and support in so many powerful ways.
Because we live for one another and for our students, we have little adult rot, little adult cynicism, little adult gossip, few adult conspiracies to undermine others. But this seems like a good time to take any vestiges of such poison and banish them altogether.
Precisely because of the way our American culture has become so coarse, so cruel, so dismissive, of the humanity of others, I call upon you as a faculty to excel in the art of compassion, empathy, and grace this year. I call upon us all to not only talk about St. Andrew’s values, our values, but to enact them with intention and consistency throughout the year.
Here are the values that seek to inspire culture, behavior, language, human rights, and human relationships at St. Andrew’s:
1. Humility: A recognition that the human desire for and expression of power, dominance, ambition, and success can and will lead to words and actions that are destructive, selfish, and cruel. In contrast, humility suggests that all we contribute, share, and give to others is meant as an expression of generosity and grace towards others. We give, share, support, listen, heal, and care because that is all, we, in our common humanity, can share. As teachers, we create, problem solve, and inspire not to fulfill our own emotional or psychological needs: we work to liberate the independence and energy of our students.
2. Grace: The gift of time, patience, forgiveness, and belief in the human capacity for change, development, and transformation. Grace calls us to honor one another, listen to one another, see one another, and respect one another. Bryan Stevenson defines grace in these memorable words:
“We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and as a result deny our own humanity.”
The opposite of grace is aggression, harassment, an insistence on our own way, an abiding and relentless pressure to be heard, seen, followed, and rewarded.
3. Empathy: The gift of imagining, consistently and powerfully, what the life of another person might be: that person’s hopes, dreams, fears, anxieties; that person’s struggles, doubts, and failures. Empathy rescues us from the worship of ourselves and quiets our voice, our judgement, our certainty about our own world view. Its opposite, selfishness, self-absorption, and narcissism find expression in George Eliot’s phrase: “We are all of us born in moral stupidity, taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves.”
4. Human Rights and Human Dignity: St. Andrew’s was founded on two radical propositions: that a private school be open to those who could not afford it; that Christian qualities of love, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, service, and generosity could actually live, flourish, and grow in the most unlikely of all institutions for such equality and kindness, the American boarding school.
Educational opportunity, educational access, the re-definition of the American private school is a St. Andrew’s principle and imperative. For us, equality of opportunity is not a marketing slogan or a novel 21st Century initiative. It is our foundation, our great abiding insight, opportunity, and commitment. It has to live, flourish, and spread even as private schools slide and ultimately retreat into segregation and enclaves of affluence.
Our obsession over the years has been to bring the radical promise of Christian values explored in Chapel into reality in school and community life upstairs. I did not know at the beginning of my Headship in 1997 that the expansion of human dignity and rights would need further strengthening and affirmation twenty three years into the 21st century, but so be it. I did not know then that we as a country and world were incapable of learning from what tragedies unfold when we demonize, objectify, and label human beings as the other, but there it all is again. I did not know that internal and external forces of division and hatred could seek to and succeed in undermining the trust and decency of democracy by hacking into democratic systems and spreading lies, distortions, and divisions in our credulous nation. But this too is our reality.
We do have an obligation to respond, however. The Presiding Bishop is clear on this point, recently writing:
“Show compassion. Show mercy. Help the stranger… love your neighbor as yourself.”
We stand with Michael Curry and leaders of all faith traditions across the world in an expression and articulation of human rights, human dignity, and a human community.
We remember and respond to the late Toni Morrison’s reminder that education at its heart should only be a commitment to creating “more humane” citizens of the world; she suggested that the greatest gift we could share with students is giving them the capacity to dream. She writes:
“I want to talk about dreaming. Not the activity of the sleeping brain, rather the activity of an wakened, alert one. Not idle wishful speculation, but engaged, directed daytime vision. Entrance into another’s space, someone else’s situation, sphere. Projection if you like. By dreaming, the self permits intimacy with the Other… And this intimacy that comes from pointed imagination should precede our decision making, our cause mongering, our action. We are a mess, you know; we have to get out, and only the archaic definition of the word dreaming will save us: to envision; a series of images of unusual vividness, clarity, order, and significance… Undertaking that kind of dreaming we avoid complicating what is simple or simplifying what is complicated, soiling instead of solving, ruining what should be revered… We must do all we can to imagine the Other before we presume to solve the problems work and life demand from us.”
5. St. Andrew’s is meant to be a private school with a public purpose—a phrase, an aspiration that pulls us out of private school absorption with self into the responsibility we share with our town, with our country, with our world. St. Andrew’s commitment and connection to other non-profit groups seeking rescue, opportunity, and hope is a deep expression of our identity and mission. In the midst of governmental disarray and paralysis in the country, we see schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, social service groups, citizens fighting very hard for the health, vitality, and aspirations of our democracy and the world. We are a part of this movement for good, for proximity, for connection, and for healing.
We have decided collectively over the years at St. Andrew’s that this ambitious good must be pursued by a faculty of generosity, warmth, and commitment. I quite deliberately asked you to be a part of this transformational school because I so fervently believe in your goodness and grace as people.
In the end, this era of St. Andrew’s history, we will be judged by our embrace of human enlightenment, illumination, and hope. I am honored to work beside each one of you.
- Headmaster News