No start to a school year has inspired a more meaningful response to this age-old writing prompt: What did you learn this summer?
Whoever and wherever we are, the pandemic has forced us to reflect on first principles.
Who are we? What is it we value most? And what can we learn from something that hasn't happened in our country for over a century—from what may be this generation’s greatest challenge?
With more solitude, there is more time to reflect on what is most important in life.
In my case, it is the power of human relationships and the opportunity to strengthen family bonds. Anne and I were given the gift of unexpected additional time with our adult daughter, as she returned home for an extended visit. We rediscovered family meals and their importance in leading to substantive and important discussions about politics, about religion, about the law, and about our primary and extended families.
This summer connected me, more than ever, to current events. I began each day by reading four newspapers. The summer’s solitude afforded more time to keep up to date with what was happening throughout the world. It was rarely a positive experience, truth be told—but, nonetheless, an important one for nurturing intellect and empathy.
There is tremendous value in reconnecting with friends and former colleagues whom we’ve cared for and loved, but with whom we’ve lost touch. I connected with one colleague with whom I had not exchanged a word for 40 years—reigniting a friendship that had waned. Numerous Zoom meetings and virtual dinners with friends fed the soul.
This past spring and summer also reaffirmed my fervent commitment to children, teaching, and the art of education. As I taught my own classes in a virtual format, I gained greater insight into my rising seniors through their ardent participation in Advanced US History. And I was constantly analyzing what the future holds for education. I question how this pandemic has changed the educational model, and what positive elements can be brought into a more normal situation after such a long period of abnormality.
What else have I learned?
More exercise! I realized again how well it relieves stress.
Humility. As a head of school, I sometimes delude myself in thinking that I can control everything—or, at least, that it should be my goal. If the events from March onward tell us, none of us can control everything. Dr. Fauci reminds us that we need to remain humble in the face of the coronavirus and its uncertain nature, because we still don't know nearly enough. Humility is a choice that we make. Although it does not come easily, it is something toward which I continue to aspire.
The power of resilience in young people. I applaud our students’ buoyancy, and how parents have nurtured this characteristic in their children—a trait that doesn't necessarily come naturally.
My colleagues’ aptitude for creativity appears boundless—they are the best group of professionals with whom I have ever had the privilege of working. Their flexibility to adapt on a dime and incorporate that which challenges us into their teaching and into their lives has made distance learning more enriching than I ever could have imagined.
The rebounding of nature. I spent time watching birds (I saw my first Scarlet Tanager this summer and promptly reached out to Mr. Topping to confirm its identification), looking at deer, observing people with their dogs, and enjoying all the shares about new and old pets that have comforted so many of you these past months. (Yes, Anne and I are still discussing if we, too, should get a pet!) The worldwide “pause” has allowed nature to surge, a positive reminder of earth’s resilience and our responsibilities of stewardship to our planet.
A commitment to flattening the curve remains strong, especially in this intrepid city. Through social distancing, wearing masks, and reaching out, our dedication to taking care of one another prevails.
Having reflected on these lessons (and so many more), I think it is apt to set a goal for the coming year. Please join me.
With humility in all we do, let us embrace the challenges ahead of us, and embrace one another. Despite any evidence to the contrary, let us hope and believe that we will not only get through this period, but that we will thrive. Much of what becomes of our country, New York, and our school is in our hands. Although we acknowledge that the future is not entirely in our control, we can do so much to play our part in healing, remaining whole, and prospering.