Homecoming and Community

2015-2016_Homecoming 2015_Pep Rally _976375 (1) Last weekend, we celebrated Homecoming. While Homecoming is about reconnection, Raider spirit, purple and white, bonfires and reunions, it’s also very much about community. Despite the fact that many of our current students remind us that we talk too much of community and, at times, it gets a bit tiresome — the reality is that community is the heart and soul of North Shore and impacts all that we do.

Last Sunday morning, following the Homecoming festivities, I received an email from a new colleague with a photo of his two senior kindergarten twins sitting on the laps of their senior buddies at the Pep Rally in the Mac Gym. The kindergarten students were dressed in purple and white, they were beaming, obviously very, very comfortable with their “big friends” — their senior buddies.

While these two kindergarteners have only been North Shore Raiders for just over a month, it was clear North Shore is THEIR school.

Interestingly, I received the email the morning after I attended a gathering for North Shore Raiders at the other end of the age spectrum. On Saturday night, 70 members of classes that ranged from 1937 to 1960 enjoyed one another’s company and their reconnection with the School. My dinner partners were not senior kindergarteners; instead the women seated on my right and left had a combined age of 186. Both were there because they, too, are Raiders and North Shore is THEIR school and they care about it deeply.

As I’ve processed the weekend, I’ve been struck by the strength and substance of our community, and by the large number and wide range of people – countless, really – who make us who we are.

North Shore is a place where all ages count and contribute. To be convinced, all you have to do is ask our youngest, our oldest or our in-between students and alumni.

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

What a Neat Kid

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Typically when I leave my office, which fortunately is quite often, I have a specific task in mind whether it’s to touch base with a colleague, follow up on a conversation or attend a meeting. Beyond accomplishing the task, my wanderings provide me with very real and, I think, meaningful perspectives on how we are doing as a school. I get a chance to observe the interaction between students and teachers, see how students are engaging in their day – whether in a class or moving through the halls – and get a sense of my colleagues – their energy and focus.

I also have a number of unscheduled conversations with my colleagues whether it’s a quick “Hi, how are you?” or something more substantial, possibly a follow up on a previous conversation or my making an inquiry about a specific issue or topic.

It is no surprise that the start of the school year leads to many colleague conversations that start with my asking, “How is your class?” or “How are your classes going?” Thankfully, we are off to a good start and, without exception, the responses I have received have been enthusiastic and very positive. Interestingly, I find myself making note of a number of these conversations so I can follow up. I am convinced these moments have real value — enable me to connect with people, gain insight and work to leverage our collective commitment to our students in productive ways.

A conversation I had on Monday has stuck with me. In response to my inquiry about how her classes were going, an Upper School teacher immediately mentioned individual students in her classes, how well they were doing and how much she was enjoying them. Then, she named a senior, commenting “What a neat kid and really able. I am excited to work with him this year, I think he is really positioned to excel.”

This conversation stayed with me because the feedback I would have gotten from teachers who taught this student four years ago when he was in 9th grade would have been quite different. In 9th grade, this student was “young,” an “adolescent” who not only struggled getting his act together as a student – finding his backpack, getting to places on time, staying focused – but also as a person – being attentive, respectful, and understanding how to build and navigate trusting relationships with adults. As I have observed him over the years, I’ve been aware he has grown, become more focused and more aware. In fact, he has become a real contributor and is well positioned for a positive senior year.

I have talked and written often about the power of education and North Shore. As I think about this student and so many others – young and old – it occurs to me I may have focused too much on the power of education and North Shore. My new view includes the “power of young people” as an important element of successful school outcomes.

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

Packing Right

As I walked from the Library through the Arts Center early yesterday morning, I passed a number of 7th grade students making their way from drop-off to the Middle School. All were carrying duffle bags and sleeping bags in preparation for their Outdoor Ed trip that day. For many, it seemed as though their duffle and sleeping bags were as big as they were. In fact, I commented to a couple students that it looked as though they were packing for a week or two and not for just two-and-a-half days.

Interestingly, seeing these students with their duffels and bags got me thinking about where they are in terms of their overall development. I realized it is, in many ways, very appropriate they may have over packed. In many respects, our 7th graders are packing not just for who they are, but also for who they will become.

At the start of every school year – before routines are established, class identities take shape and getting caught up in the day-to-day routine – it’s easy to focus on what good education should be. While incredibly complex and multifaceted, good education needs to recognize where students are in their overall development and meet them at that level. After all, the best teachers understand their students and “get where they are.” It is this understanding that allows teaching and guidance to be personalized, to be targeted to what students need when they need it. It makes the learning dynamic, real and responsive.

At the same time, good teachers teach in a manner that keeps the end in mind. They recognize where individual students are heading – whether it is a student growing throughout the year, their time in a division or, ultimately, where they will be when they leave North Shore – and the student’s potential.

Our students’ potential is enormous. Their ability to grow and evolve is actually quite inspiring. It is our job as adults to recognize this potential and create the conditions for it to be reached.

Critical to the endeavor is “packing right” – bringing enough of the “now” so our children/students feel safe and secure, while packing what they will need on their educational journey. They need to travel with those things that support them as they grow and change, take on new roles and new challenges, and continue their paths to become the people they can be.

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

Thank You North Shore


Earlier this week, faculty, staff, trustees and friends gathered to salute Pam Whalley and Emily Denesha on their retirements from North Shore after 23 years and 29 years, respectively. It was a fitting tribute to both Pam and Emily. A wonderful cross section of the School community came to acknowledge their very meaningful contributions. The energy, spirit and sense of warmth were felt by all in attendance. We had a short program to formally wish Pam and Emily well and to offer our very genuine thanks.

As the sequence of the remarks played out, Pam was the last to speak. Pam made it clear she hadn’t been looking forward to the point in the evening when she would give her remarks. As we all know, Pam is much more comfortable when the spotlight is on her students and not on herself. After thanking a number of people, she thanked North Shore. “One of the things I love about North Shore is that the School instills a curiosity in children that is carried on long after they leave. North Shore helps students find their passion and follow it.” She commented that she has seen generations of North Shore students become empowered and leave North Shore with the confidence to take on whatever they can imagine. As an example, Pam acknowledged neither her son Ned ’04, a journalist currently living and working in Beirut, nor Nick ’02, a business consultant currently on assignment in London, were able to be there on Tuesday night. Their incredibly poignant email softened Pam’s disappointment, as did the fact that they were doing what North Shore had taught them – following their dreams and their passions.

Thank you Pam, thank you Emily and thank you all North Shore teachers, for all you have done for our School and for our students – igniting their curiosity, inspiring their creative problem-solving and encouraging them to pursue their dreams.

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


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Among the many advantages of working at a school as a teacher or administrator is that one finds oneself being inspired by others on a regular basis. This week alone, I have been inspired numerous times.

Just yesterday, I witnessed the incredible strength of a tight-knit family as they dealt with the loss of a loved one. They demonstrated a commitment to one another – love, courage and strength, despite their deep sadness. Despite my own sadness, I felt buoyed by who they are, how they are there for one another and for others. I felt inspired by their example.

Earlier this week, North Shore learned of the death of one of our oldest alums. Fisher Howe ’31 died just days shy of his 101st birthday. I knew Fisher, admired him and over the years have been inspired by his energy, spirit and example. As an expert in the field of not-for-profit governance and a true believer in the power of young people, Fisher clearly lived a life that exemplified the North Shore motto “Live and Serve.”

Very early on Monday morning, I had a conversation with one of our coaches to catch up on his team’s performance over the weekend. As he described the performance of one of his student athletes at a recent competition, I was struck by how invested the coach was in his team and each of the team members. He didn’t talk of his athletes in the context of winning and losing, instead it was about their growth, the habits they were developing and the lessons they were learning. I left the conversation energized and, yes, a bit inspired my colleague’s commitment, his knowledge of his sport and his knowledge of his athletes. I found myself inspired.

Every day in school “inspiration walks the halls,” whether it’s four- or five-year-olds or 16- or 17-year-olds. I find students who are “doing school,” inspiring — each positioned to grow, each collaborating with peers and teachers, each investing themselves in their education.

Finally, I have been inspired by our trustees who have stepped up whenever they have been needed the most. In recent weeks, three key Board leaders went above and beyond to provide guidance and perspective as I was preparing to announce my retirement. Their commitment to North Shore — to our students, faculty and staff, parents and families — is inspiring.

I realize that 14 months from now, I will leave a routine that has meant so much to me and through which I have found inspiration. Am I worried about what comes next? Not really. I will have 40 years of inspiring memories to look back on.

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

A JK-12 Community

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When I talk to prospective teaching candidates, particularly those who are not from this area, I try to explain what sets North Shore apart from other independent schools, what we do or believe in that makes us distinctly North Shore. When having those conversations, I focus on a handful of things. One is our long-held commitment to being a true JK-12th grade school. In doing so, I often hear myself say that North Shore is more “JK-to-twelvey” than most JK-12 schools.

We believe in the power of educating a wide range of ages on a single campus. We have generations of evidence that show learning opportunities abound when there is interaction between “big kids” and “little and middle kids.” Our structure allows us to ask different questions, learn from different voices, and it allows for modeling – challenging our students to be role models and benefitting from the modeling of others. We know the benefits go both ways. Many times my colleagues and I have had discussions about the kindergarten-senior buddy relationships and are undecided as to which group learns more.

The power of that dynamic was evident on Monday when 3rd and 11th grade buddies joined together for a project in honor of National Poetry Month. Third Grade Teacher David Green introduced the work of writer and artist Joe Brainard, who wrote a book-length memoir/list poem.

The buddies were asked to write a set of “I Remember” memories, learning more about each other in the process. Their favorites are displayed on a wall for all to read whenever they pass through the Conant Science Center Atrium.

I didn’t participate in the exercise. In fact, my observation was limited to walking through the Atrium space while the students were working. The positive energy, willingness to connect across ages, positive connections and spirit came through loud and clear. Kids learn from each other – both ways.

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

An Inspiring Life

tomsblogcakeLast week, I wrote to Lower School families with the sad news that Pam Whalley’s 93-year-old mother had passed away in England. Fortunately, Pam was there with her family and today is participating in the celebration of her mother’s life.

I was able to connect with Pam yesterday. I again offered my condolences, and we then talked about the last two weeks and about her mother. Pam explained that despite the fact that her mother was 93, her death was a surprise. Prior to developing pneumonia, she was leading a vibrant, fully engaged and very connected life.

As Pam described her mother, she talked about her life in a small English village and what a strong and wonderful presence she was within the village. Pam’s mother apparently had an unusual ability to connect with others – all types, always reaching out, always making time for people. Pam’s mother was known for doing things for others. She baked cakes to welcome new people to the village and to support and help friends, neighbors and acquaintances during difficult times. She played a very key role in the village for so many – young and old. She played this role by being herself.

One of her last words to Pam and her sister instructed them to take 20 pounds from her purse and give it to one of her nurses (she couldn’t remember the nurse’s name) who is running a marathon and was looking for sponsors. Despite her frailty in her last days, she continued to think of others, and it was important to her that the nurse be supported and encouraged in her race.

There is a saying about “a life well lived.” Aren’t we fortunate to have so many wonderful examples to inspire us? I didn’t know Pam’s mother – but she has had an impact on me, and I am grateful.

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