End of Summer Thoughts from our Head of School

It is August and that means I am filled with anticipation for the return of our students and faculty. I’ve had some realizations this summer with the longer days and some openness in the daily schedule. One of my biggest is that I truly miss the day to day presence of our Grace community when summer reaches this point. While I love the time I gain to walk my dog to the Potomac River, the amount of ice cream I consume, and the many books I find a way to devour, I still look forward to September because it allows me a chance to start over, to press reset, and to see newly grown students I am so very fond after many months apart. I crave the coming back together of our very special community of students, parents, and faculty, and I feel privileged to be a part of it.

There are some summer experiences that stay with me and feed my yearly work as an educator. I always enjoy the chance to read more books – fiction and non-fiction – to give me inspiration and insight for the fall. One that will remain with me this coming year is The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh. I know at least one parent who also had this book on her list! Chugh’s book plumbs the notion that as people who have good intentions, we can be prone to not seeing our hidden biases. She mentions some antidotes to this that include “activating a growth mindset of being a good-ish work-in-progress, not a premade good person; seeing the ordinary privilege we hold and putting it to good use on behalf of others; opting for willful awareness, though our minds and lives make willful ignorance likely; and engaging the people and systems around us.” I found all of her anecdotes and her research illuminating, particularly as we continue to grow into our ability to listen and understand the world around us. As a faculty at Grace, we mean to create a school community that challenges all of us to listen and learn with compassion and understanding, and Chugh’s book provides some signposts on the way to making that more possible in our world and in our school.

Once again, this was a summer of turmoil in our world. I admit that I was most missing our community during some of those darker moments. I found myself wanting a chance to remind our students and all of you that we value belonging at Grace. That we all belong here – no matter our background or history. The day I learned that Toni Morrison had died, just a few days after the horrific weekend of yet more shootings, I was shot through with more grief and loss.  As a former English teacher, Morrison’s work was central to my coursework in high school English. And teaching Beloved to seniors before turning 25 myself, was a turning point in my own awakening as an adult around issues of race, identity, and trauma.

But Morrison speaks to me as a parent as well. The New Yorker re-ran a piece this month by Morrison. In it, she describes working for her mother at a young age helping to clean homes in the afternoons. This work gave her purpose and pride in her family and fed her sense of herself. She writes: “A larger part of my pride was based on the fact that I gave half my wages to my mother, which meant that some of my earnings were used for real things — an insurance-policy payment or what was owed to the milkman or the iceman. The pleasure of being necessary to my parents was profound. I was not like the children in folktales: burdensome mouths to feed, nuisances to be corrected, problems so severe that they were abandoned to the forest. I had a status that doing routine chores in my house did not provide — and it earned me a slow smile, an approving nod from an adult. Confirmations that I was adultlike, not childlike.”

Her story reminds me of another book, The Good News about Bad Behavior by Katherine Lewis. Both her book and Morrison’s description of work for her family highlight the value of purpose in our lives as humans. Children crave opportunities to serve a purpose in their circles of family and community.  Lewis urges parents to consider switching from an obedience model of parenting to the Apprenticeship Model. In this comprehensive approach there are three critical steps: connection, communication, and building capability. We invite you to learn more about this method and Katherine’s book when she joins us here at Grace for  a morning event on Tuesday, November 5. She will share more about her book and have copies for sale.

Back to Toni Morrison. The end of her essay illuminates a core value she gained from her father. She complains one day to him about the work and its challenges. She writes: “Perhaps he understood that what I wanted was a solution to the job, not an escape from it. In any case, he put down his cup of coffee and said, “Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.”  She then observes: That was what he said. This was what I heard:

  1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.
  2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.
  3. Your real life is with us, your family.
  4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.”

As we prepare to come back together at Grace and build another year of great learning and growth with your children, I share this important set of lessons from Morrison with you.  Ultimately, your children are more than students and they will grow up to be so much more than their work or degrees. May we always love them exactly as they are, unconditionally, and may our “faces light up when they come into any room” — another piece of priceless advice from Toni Morrison. I look forward to having you all back to remind me of my own purpose and to rekindle the life that is our school community.