My Uncle John

President Obama awarded Mr. Doar the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. (photo credit: NBC News)

President Obama awarded Mr. Doar the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. (photo credit: NBC News)

The phone rang early this Tuesday morning in my office; it was my 94-year-old father. Dad’s message was a sad one — my 92-year-old uncle, John, my father’s only sibling had died. I took a deep breath, said I was sorry and heard myself comment, “He had quite a run.” My Dad and I shared a few memories, commented that, while very sad, it wasn’t a surprise because John’s health had been failing.

I have spent the last couple of days thinking about my uncle, he did, indeed, have quite a run. His obituary in the New York Times referenced his notable lifetime achievements. In the 1960s, John was the chief lawyer in the Justice Department’s civil rights division. In that role, he rode with the Freedom Riders in Alabama in 1961. He and a federal marshal escorted James Meredith when he enrolled at the University of Mississippi in 1962. In 1963, John dramatically quieted an angry crowd of protestors by stepping between the protestors and the police who were waiting with drawn weapons and convinced the crowd to disperse. After leaving the Justice Department in the mid ‘60s, John returned to government service in 1973 and served as the Chief Counsel for the Judiciary Committee and led the investigation for the possible impeachment of President Nixon, an investigation that ultimately led to President Nixon’s resignation. Finally, in 2012, John was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. My Dad was with John in the White House that day two years ago, along with my cousins, John’s four children.

Despite these amazing accomplishments, John was always my uncle. Always there to take an interest, offer perspective, offer encouragement or tell a story. He liked me and I liked him. While I didn’t see him in action in the 1960s, I did get a chance to see him regularly in the 1990s. In that time, it became very clear to me that John was incredibly hard-working, very bright and committed to do the “job right,” whether that job were being a father, grandfather, brother or uncle; supporting a friend; taking on a case; or sorting through a business dilemma. He showed respect for everyone and took no short-cuts.

I have heard many stories about John’s childhood, his optimism and energy, his sense of fun and his love of sports. He, I think, was like many of our North Shore students – eager and able, full of potential and possessing the ability to make a difference. I know that I chose the teaching profession for a lot of reasons, some logical and some probably a bit random, and I would like to think that one of the reasons I have remained a teacher is because of my Uncle John – knowing that the students I would meet and work with could grow to become people like him – people who were principled, seekers of justice, people who could make a difference for those close to them, a difference for the larger community and/or even the country as a whole.

Potential is a very powerful thing – and no doubt our classrooms, hallways and corridors, performance spaces, gyms and fields are forums for the development of this potential every day. Is potential always reached? No, certainly not, but, I believe it is reached more often than we might admit. How do I know? My Uncle John.

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago. 

Learning to Let Learning Happen

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A distinct part of North Shore Country Day School’s method and culture encourages communication and dialogue between parents and teachers and students. Our Founding Headmaster Perry Dunlap Smith promoted this communication and partnership. He often used the image of a triangle, with the three points representing students, parents and teachers, as a metaphor to explain how best to support student growth and development.

I have always found the triangle image helpful. I believe, in some ways, the triangle may be more useful today than ever before.

What is important to understand is that for the triangle to be strong and maintain its shape, all three points must be stable and secure. In addition, each point must be distinct from the other two. For schools to function best, students need to be allowed to be students, teachers need to be teachers and parents need to be parents. If the roles are confused or interchanged, things get complicated and problems occur.

In today’s age of instant communication, hands-on parenting, constant score-keeping and even “helicopter parenting,” I worry students are not allowed to own their agenda, and operate with the autonomy and independence necessary for meaningful learning.

Students clearly do best when teachers and parents play an active role in their lives and their development. However, when the adults in a student’s life are too involved, when they circumvent a student’s opportunity to problem-solve, overcome struggles or even enjoy success without great fanfare, we rob them of critical learning opportunities, rob them of the space and time to be themselves.

From my years of experience as both a parent and an educator, I’ve always found the best outcomes result when we keep that in perspective and let learning happen. The triangle works if we give it a chance.

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago. 

Homecoming and Coming Home

Homecoming Week at North Shore has become a highlight for many throughout the School community. Raider spirit is high; the campus basked in purple and white, and our students and parents energized and enthusiastic to cheer on our teams. A sense of belonging and pride seem to carry the weeklong festivities.

In addition to our current students, parents, faculty and staff, we welcome back to campus alumni, parents of alumni and former faculty/staff. They, as a group, recapture their Raider Spirit, and find themselves, again, enthralled by what is North Shore.

This past weekend, we greeted 15 reunion classes ranging from the Class of ’39 to the Class of ’09. While at times sobering to greet a returning student who you remember as a young high school student and be introduced to their spouse (am I that old?), it is always a treat to reconnect. As I think back to the week and weekend, I have a wide range of memories but two stand out.

First, the awareness that: “Time marches on; people do evolve and grow; life is for living – not being stagnant or stuck in the past.” I had countless conversations that reinforced people and places don’t stay the same. Change occurs, challenges are met and while people’s character and values may not change, their life circumstances do. As a school, we clearly need to continue to develop in our students a sense of optimism, resilience and curiosity.

Second, our alumni’s North Shore experiences remain a critical part of their lives. Countless comments were made about how meaningful the education was — from the personal connections to the growth that the North Shore experience provided, all are valued. Seemingly, the further away from North Shore our graduates get, the more valued the experience becomes.

John Howard, Class of ’39 who has an undergrad degree from Princeton and a Ph.D. from Northwestern, looked me in the eye at Homecoming and said, out of all the educational experiences he has had North Shore has stayed with him the longest and served him the best. It doesn’t get any better than that.

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago.

500 Words

 

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In the last year or two, it has become my opinion that we adults at North Shore need to be more thoughtful in the way we interact, guide and support our children/students. Maybe it’s my age, but as I look at the world I see greater complexity and more moving parts than ever before. Wonderful families who are committed and invested in one another appear to be more multifaceted than in the past and our children’s lives more busy and fragmented.

In response to this shift, Tura Cottingham, our director of communications, Chris Boyle, our academic dean, and I talked about how we can best raise the level of discourse within the School community. How can we best educate one another about who we are as a school, who we want to be and why we do what we do?  From these discussions, the idea for a new series entitled “500 Words” surfaced.  Our thought is to tap North Shore faculty and others in the School community for their thoughtful input. They will examine and address those areas important to understanding students, and articulate what distinguishes North Shore Country Day.

For our initial topic we thought of the word “community” — a word that is used often here, and we thought of Drea Gallaga, Upper School English teacher and Upper School service coordinator. We asked her to share her thoughts on the topic of community. We chose Drea, in part, triggered by her very thoughtful remarks last June as the Commencement Speaker and also because of her instinctive and broad engagement in our own community.

We hope you will enjoy the insights this new series offers, and gain a greater understanding of the strengths of North Shore, our need to be proactively thoughtful and our need to be truly in tune to our students’ experience.

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago.

Remarkable and Inspiring

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Last week on September 11, we were privileged to host Michael Hingson and his guide dog, Africa, on campus. Mr. Hingson was in Tower One of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  He and his guide dog at the time, Roselle, led a group of people down 78 flights of stairs to safety. Following the events of the tragic day, he has emerged as an inspirational speaker and author of two books.

While at North Shore, Mr. Hingson met with an Upper School biology class, the 5th grade and spoke at Morning Ex to our Middle and Upper School students. His message was one of courage, resilience, resourcefulness and hope. Interestingly, as much as we were captivated by this 9/11 story and its aftermath, it was Mr. Hingson’s story as a blind person that resonated even more. He challenged all of us to look beyond the stereotypes that impact those who are blind and/or have a disability, and presented numerous examples of the great disservice we do to ourselves and others when we mistakenly impose limitations or preconceived misconceptions. In addition, we heard stories of his life and all that he has accomplished. We learned that he, and others who are blind, have the same abilities for achievement and success that sighted people do, just through different means.

Through his presence, his message, his manner, his energy and his example, I, and others who heard him, will never look at 9/11 the same. The 9/11 event was real and horrific, but the human spirit moves on as exemplified by individuals like Michael Hingson.

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago.

“Don’t You Just Feel a Little Bit Taller?”

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As I made my rounds on the first day of school, I overheard a 6th grade girl make a comment to two of her classmates upon returning to the hallway outside her old 5th grade room: “Don’t you just feel a little bit taller?” The comment made me realize the reason why I had a huge smile on my face that first day of school as I checked out students and teachers in all three divisions.

This 6th grade girl was, in fact, a little bit taller and her comment was actually reflective of a young person who is quite self-aware. She was probably a bit different in other ways as well – such is the pattern of growing and maturing, such is the matter of moving from grade to grade in a good school.

The 9th graders had a similar experience as they navigated their first day in the Upper School. This group, many of whom I saw every day in action a year ago when they were 8th graders, seemed not only to be taller, but were standing a little bit straighter, walking more purposefully and were a bit more engaged in the manner they communicated – there was a new maturity and greater sense of belonging.

Finally, figuratively, being a little bit taller describes our seniors, the class or 2015. On the first day of school, I observed them, as a group, in a class meeting getting information about the day, the week and the year. Expectations were clarified, and questions asked and answered. Through the course of the meeting a reality set in – this was it, senior year, a year they had been waiting for — a year where they are in charge, they will set the tone, they will lead the way. It was clear to me there is no question they are ready, no question they will step up.

As I took a step back and processed things, I got the very clear sense the 6th graders were ready for Middle School, the 9th graders more than ready for Upper School and the seniors right where they need to be (and where we want them to be) as seniors.

What made me so confident of this readiness? They are all a “little bit taller.”

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago.

Great Teachers

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This week has been a full one with numerous meetings – large groups and small – classroom preparations, planning dialogues and schedule fine-tuning. In addition, we are privileged to host, Pat Bassett, the former President of NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) to meet with faculty, staff and Board of Trustees to engage us in being all that we can be as a school.

I have known Pat for over 25 years and have had the privilege of hearing him speak on numerous occasions and reading his many articles. There is no one who understands independent schools and education more, no one who is more current on educational change, opportunities, challenges and best practices. Pat, a dynamic speaker, started as a classroom teacher, dorm master and coach; he was Head of School at two different schools; led ISACS (Independent Schools of the Central States) and served as President of NAIS from 2001 to 2013.

Each time I have heard him speak or read one of his articles, I learn something and curiously, I also feel challenged and inspired to do my job just a little bit better.

I distinctly remember attending a session with Pat in my first year as Head of School. Pat began his remarks affirming that which I thought that I knew – the challenges facing independent schools and the unique challenge that comes from a Headship. Just when I thought I had a handle on things, he shifted gears, asked a number of probing questions and then brilliantly challenged me, and others, to think more deeply, examine a wider range of options and aspire to a higher level of teaching and learning for our students.

I can’t think of a better way to start the year than to have Pat Bassett here. In many ways, his presence was a “twofer.” He provided faculty, staff and trustees with a wealth of relevant information, and just as importantly is a model of a great teacher.

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago.