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Collecting Rocks, Cultivating Students

Blog Type:  Head of School Date Posted:  Monday, August 14, 2017

This summer I realized that one of my favorite hobbies has quite a bit in common with my vocation as an educator.

When I go to the beach in the summer, I love collecting rocks.

I find most of rocks on the beaches in Rhode Island that I have visited since I was a child. Misquamicut, Weekapaug, and Quonochontaug are a few of my favorite beaches. Their names were given by the early Native American tribes who settled the Rhode Island coast line.

In the mid-1970’s, my parents rented a blue and white striped house on Misquamicut beach for a week each summer. The extended family loved their time at the striped cottage so much that my parents and grandparents decided to buy a small gray cottage with pink shutters on Atlantic Ave. in 1978.

As a child, I returned many of the rocks that I found to the ocean as I worked to perfect my skimming technique on the waves.  Rhode Island’s beaches have both large rocks and granular sand. The rocky and sandy shoreline is the result of the last glacial period when continental glaciers pushed across New England and deposited large rocks and sand into landforms called moraines.  When the glaciers receded about 12,000 years ago, the ocean currents and the weathering process formed sandy beaches on rocky outcrops.

Granite, which makes up a great deal of the surface rocks in New England, is composed of three minerals: quartz (white, gray, clear), feldspar (pink and orange), and mica (black). In addition to granite, there are many other minerals in the rocks.  Needless to say, there are an amazing variety of rocks on the shore.  

When we visit Rhode Island in the summer, we always come home with a huge bucket of rocks. This summer, we filled a 5 gallon bucket to use in our garden in Shandon. Our three boys have joined in the search for interesting rocks, but they leave it to me to lug the heavy sand pail down the beach.  

 My favorite rocks are small (1-3 inches) and smooth.  These rocks are white, gray, pink, black, orangey/rust, and sometimes greenish.  I find beauty in the variety, and it reminds me of my job as a parent and educator. Each student is unique, and at Heathwood, we embrace that variety.

The size of the mineral grains in the rock also tells a story.  Larger crystals indicate that the rock, as it cooled from magma (melted rock) into rock, cooled more slowly (likely deeper in the earth), and rocks with small crystals cooled more quickly and likely closer to the surface.  Likewise, our students come to us with a rich history and reservoir of life experience.  This undoubtedly impacts their starting point and their finish line, but it is also the essence of their uniqueness. 

I also appreciate the smoothness of the rocks and know that it took thousands of years for those sharp angular rocks to smooth out under the influence of water and sand into beach stones. 

Like the rocks, our students are a work in progress.  They will all be smoother stones at some point as their experiences, whether successes or failures, help to smooth out some of those bumps.

The six beach stones I brought back this summer sit in my office to remind me – and my colleagues – that we must always open our eyes to the diversity of student learners, appreciate the unique beauty of each individual, and display patience during the slow and steady work of education and life.  There are not always quick and tangible results, but the relationships and trust we build during the journey is what helps to shape and mold our students.

"Sometimes, we just need to give it some time."

Blog Type:  Head of School Date Posted:  Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I love March Madness, and watching Heathwood alum A’ja Wilson ’14 win the NCAA championship and earn the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award made this year’s experience extra special.

As a former basketball player and coach, I enjoy the basketball on TV – both men’s and women’s games – and I am also spoiled. I’m a Connecticut native, and the UConn Huskies have set the bar very high, winning 14 NCAA championships in the last 22 years.

The University of South Carolina’s men’s and women’s basketball teams both competed in the 2017 Final Four, and I had the pleasure of getting to know A’ja Wilson during my first year on campus, and men’s Head Coach Frank Martin when he spoke to our faculty last year about leadership and working with young people.

The intense coverage of the NCAA tournament and the Final Four is always exciting, but it also magnifies the winners and the losers in college basketball, and it places a tremendous amount of pressure on a strong return on investment. Fans expect immediate returns and society seems less able to take the long view with respect to a team’s, or a player’s, development.

The other night, I watched the two NCAA women’ basketball regional finals: UConn versus Oregon and South Carolina versus Florida State. Geno Auriemma, UConn’s legendary coach, was going for his 111th NCAA tournament victory, and a win was going to break a tie with Pat Summit and move him further ahead of Mike Krzyzewski (3rd on the list). Of course, all three of these coaches are legends, and they combine for over 3000 collegiate victories. 

Interestingly, it took all three of them a few years to hit their stride. For example, Coach K posted records of 17-13, 10-17, and 11-17 during his first three years at Duke (combined 38-47). In fact, his last year at Army – before being hired by Duke – his team at West Point had a 9-17 win-loss record.  His four-year win-loss record, including the last year at West Point – 47-64 – was certainly not a strong resume for the Hall of Fame. 

Pat Summit fared slightly better, but during her first two seasons at Tennessee, she posted records of 16-8 and 16-11. And Geno Auriemma’s win-loss record during his first three seasons in Storrs CT of 12-15, 14-13, and 17-11 for a combined won-loss record of 43-39 was not overly impressive. Would these three Hall of Fame coaches have kept their job today? After three seasons, they were still struggling to keep their winning percentage above .500.

Heathwood educates children ranging in ages from 2-18. A lot happens during those 16 years. But increasingly, whether in the classroom, the field, the studio, or the court, there seems to be a pressure for faster results, greater successes, and recordable victories.

I have been working in education for 26 years, and during most of my career, I coached basketball, though I did not experience the same degree of success as the aforementioned coaching legends. Prior to coming Heathwood Hall, I worked at a great school in the northwest corner of Connecticut: Salisbury School.  Salisbury is an all-boys boarding school and for 12 years (1994-2006), I served as the Head Basketball Coach. I loved my time as a Crimson Knight.  From 1996-1999, I coached a young man named Cal Griffin.  Cal was from New York City and he was fawn-like when he arrived. He was all arms and legs and not much muscle. He improved a great deal during his three years at Salisbury and when he graduated in 1999 he was the captain of the team, a leader at the school, and a scholar.  I still remember him shutting down a much heralded player from Choate in Wallingford, CT in an important late-season game. 

Why do I share this story with you? Well about 12 years after he graduated from Salisbury School, Cal returned to campus for the dedication of the new Athletic Center. He was working in New York City and he said one of the most profound things a former student and player had ever said to me. “Coach, all those things I hated - chapel twice a week, no-girls, Saturday Classes, your anatomy quizzes, your practices, wearing a jacket and tie to class, and being away from the city – they made me the man I am today.” I was blown away. I had not given as much thought to the impact the school had had on this young man as he had a full 12 years after graduating. When and how do we measure success?

When you are charged with the development of young people, you must have patience. Sometimes the set-backs and successes do not tell the whole story. It is the body of work and the accumulation of life experiences, challenges and wisdom that ultimately tells the story. One of my favorite quotes comes from the book Season of Life by Jeffery Marx. In the book, the main character, Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL football star and volunteer coach for the Gilman School (MD) football team, responds to a question about whether the football team will be successful. Joe Ehrmann responds, “I’ll tell you in 20 years.” His comment alluded to the fact that the men these boys would become were more important than the wins during the upcoming season. That is a long view.

Last year, Mississippi State lost to UConn by 60 points. This year, they beat UConn in the NCAA semi-finals at the Final Four in Dallas, TX. Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer was 80-110 during his first seven seasons as a head coach at Sam Houston State.

This year, South Carolina University coach Dawn Staley won the NCAA Championship. She was 24-33 during her first two seasons at South Carolina. 

As an educator and coach, I appreciate the work needed to win and the desire to record victories. Sometimes, we just need to give it some time.

Making Our Mission Matter

Blog Type:  Head of School Date Posted:  Monday, March 13, 2017

Make your mission matter. That was the focus of the 2017 NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) conference in Baltimore. 

Joining me on the conference journey this year were Middle School Head Suzanne Nagy, Upper School Head George Scouten, and Columbia Connections Director Donnie Bain. We left campus on Wednesday afternoon in the Hinchey-family Honda minivan and flew from Charlotte-Douglas to Baltimore–Washington International (BWI). 

The conference featured four general session speakers and hundreds of small workshops. I heard presentations on legal issues, experiential learning, introversion, branding, marketing, enrollment, and diversity. 

I was also proud that two Heathwood administrators had the opportunity to present at this year’s conference. George Scouten and Donnie Bain co-presented with their Winchester-Thurston School (PA) counterparts about “Community Based Learning: From Our School to Yours.” Their workshop was a synopsis of our collaboration with Winchester-Thurston, WT’s 8th year of their City as our Campus program, and our one-year-old Columbia Connections program.   

However, all sessions in some way connected to the conference theme, and this year’s conference invited a lot of reflection on mission, and its relationship to the daily life of a school.

Why is a school’s mission so important? 

These are challenging times to be an educator, a parent, a school administrator, and a student. Change is happening quickly, and to prepare our students for the world they will inhabit as adults, the best schools must look boldly forward, while embracing and respecting their history and tradition. How does a school respect the past and prepare for the future? They must utilize their mission and vision statements as both a compass for future change and an anchor to the strengths of their past.

The conference confirmed my commitment to steward a school that, as our mission statement says, “cultivates creative and critical thinking, develops leadership and social skills, and promotes service to others over the pursuit of self-interest through a rich academic and extracurricular program.”

Sir Ken Robinson spoke at the conference, and he called for schools to create a school culture or “soil” in which students can grow and develop. This was particularly affirming, and it reminded me of Heathwood’s vision statement: inspire and empower students to unlock their potential, develop their character, and gain the confidence to transform a dynamic world.

It is an exciting time to be at Heathwood Hall, and I will continue to follow our vision and mission, remain committed to your children’s future, and strive to be a school that unlocks potential and develops character. Go Hall!

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