Welcome back after so many miles hiked, biked, and paddled, services rendered, new connections made, old relationships deepened, and our collective appreciation for the natural environment heightened. It is a lot to ask of faculty to spend four days and three nights away from their lives be with you on these trips, but every leader I have spoken with so far has reported great things about being in your company such that the experience has fired them up about the school year. I certainly feel that way about my time with the 9th graders. That says a lot about you as a student body. So, when you see your trip leaders around campus – especially Blake who as OE coordinator has been breathing in for weeks now and is just now getting to exhale – thank them for all they do and then pat yourselves on your backs for a job well done.
As you move around campus, those of you who have been at Waynflete will notice many changes from last year. The Lower School is no longer embedded in our spaces and now occupies its beautiful new space, which you will have the opportunity to see at the official opening ceremony on Friday. Although you can’t go on it yet until the grass has taken hold, Waynhenge is returning to its function as your play space, including granite blocks on which you can sit and sun yourselves and others that have been arranged to create an outdoor theater space which I hope will become the site of many performances, planned and impromptu.
We have also moved offices around. Among the changes, Cathie has moved into my old office, and Ben and I will be moving to newly configured spaces by the Emery entrance. And after noon today, Waynflete will have joined the ranks of I believe every other school in the area and most across the country by locking our exterior doors during the day. Your advisor will give you a Fletecard when you go back to homeroom this morning that will not only get you into buildings but allow you to charge food at the café.
The reason we and other schools are locking our exterior doors is to provide physical security from the kind of horrific outside threats we have all witnessed in the media. You may be wondering, why are we locking doors now? Is that threat increasing?
The answer is no. We are as safe today as we were last year and the year before and the many years before that, which is very safe. We are locking doors and practicing various forms of safety procedures for various disaster scenarios now for the same reason we have practiced fire drills forever. Although the likelihood of any particular particular danger coming to campus is as small as ever, being prepared in case it does is now considered standard practice for schools and other institutions.
But given the fact that pretty much all of the information you will ever need to know is on the Internet, why bother coming to school at all? Why not stay home and learn everything you need to know on youtube?
The answer, quite simply, is that learning is made exponentially more powerful in community because in community, we learn from each other. But powerful learning communities don’t make themselves. They depend on all of us choosing to be fully present at school everyday challenging each other, looking out for each other, valuing the interaction, and learning together.
As we start a new year, I want to make two requests. First, I want to treat our classrooms as sacred learning spaces by observing a rule we have had in the books for several years but haven’t always followed, which is to ask you as you enter your classrooms to turn off and put away your electronic devices unless they are needed for the lesson at hand. Once we are in a classroom even before class starts, we should be present for each other, ready to learn together, not checking messages from away.
Secondly, I want to emphasize and expand on something Geoff said during our orientation meeting with the ninth grade and all of the students who are new to Upper School. He challenged the students who have been at Waynflete to reach out to those who are new to ensure that the newest members of our community feel as though they matter and belong.
I want to expand Geoff’s idea of building community by asking all of us – students and adults – to double down on our commitment to each other by really looking out for each other and making sure that everyone knows that we all have a place at Waynflete and truly belong. A school administration can take steps in an effort to ensure physical safety but it actually takes a commitment from all of us to ensure psychological and emotional safety. It takes a commitment from all of us to create a community that is infused with an ethos of respect and kindness. If each one of us makes that commitment everyday, we will create the kind of powerful learning community in which everyone will have the opportunity to thrive.
Based on what I’ve seen so far, I am feeling really optimistic about the new school year.
Thank you for listening. Advising is next.