It’s the People

Working in schools is (has been) a very satisfying career. There are a range of reasons that make it satisfying. The single biggest reason became clear to me when I attended an Alumni Event on Monday evening in New York City. That night, I had separate conversations with at least 10 different alums all of whom talked about their North Shore experience and referenced individual teachers and coaches who had made a difference in their lives. “Do you remember so-in-so? Where are they now? I think of him/her often. I’m still in touch with him/her”—were the phrases that I seemed to hear again and again.

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Interestingly, there were four former teachers who were also in attendance. In my conversations with them they, too, talked about individuals who had made a difference in their lives—former students who they think of often, some of whom they remain in touch with today.

In my remarks to the group, I updated the alumni and former faculty on our Strategic Plan initiatives, changes on campus that have taken place in recent years, our excitement to welcome Tom Flemma as our new Head of School this summer and how we are beginning to prepare for our Centennial that will take place during the 2019/20 school year. Our guests were polite and interested, asked a few questions and, when I finished, they immediately went back to what is, was, and continues to be, really important to them—people.

My time in New York reminded me what I already know—it is the people in our lives that make a difference. How fortunate we are at North Shore to have such people in abundance, along with a culture that perpetuates the desire for young and old to appreciate each other.

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.

“Conversation is gold.”

It’s not a surprise that I receive many, many emails, articles and magazines all related to the subject of education. Typically those that catch my attention deal with best practice in teaching and learning, and child and adolescent development. During the recent Winter Break, I found time to catch up on my reading and was struck by two articles—one dealing with high-school students and the other kindergarten students. I find it interesting that the messages contained in these articles overlap, despite the fact they focus on children and adolescents at opposite ends of our North Shore experience.

2015-2016_Buddies_JK-SK-Sr. Buddy Introduction_891169The first came from Challenge Success, a program affiliated with Stanford University that partners with schools throughout the country. North Shore has been a part of the Challenge Success network for four or five years. The mission of Challenge Success is “to partner with schools and families to provide kids with the academic, social, and emotional skills needed to succeed now and in the future.” We have found the program to be very valuable in helping us guide students to not only manage, but thrive, as they work to take full advantage of their high-school experience.

Madeline Levine, Ph.D., psychologist, educator and co-founder of Challenge Success, wrote in a blog post, “The greatest predictor of academic success (for students) is engagement; the greatest predictor of workplace success is emotional intelligence; and the greatest predictor of emotional health is self-control.”

I would agree. Since North Shore’s founding in 1919, we have remained committed to the development of the whole child and focused on preparing students to be successful adults. While we have a clear and ambitious academic agenda—information to learn, skills to develop and master, habits to establish, work to be done—it is done so in a manner that supports the outcomes that Dr. Levine advocates and serves our students well—done in a manner that contributes to our students engaging, interacting and self-regulating.

The second article that caught my attention was The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids—Today’s young children are working more, but they’re learning less, written by Erika Christakis, author of The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups. Interestingly, it was one short, three-word sentence that really stayed with me. “Conversation is gold.” In essence, it is dialogue, discussion, interaction with others—fellow students and adults—that meaningfully advances student learning and is the critical element to the development of students becoming who they are and what they can become.

Engagement, the development of emotional intelligence, emotional health and conversation—all critical, all advance student development—whether the student is in kindergarten or high school.

Not surprisingly, all exist at North Shore—every day and, hopefully, for every student. Clearly, conversation and interaction are hallmarks that define North Shore. It is nice to know that Madeline Levine and Erika Christakis would give us their full endorsement.

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.

Firouz

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Yesterday’s Morning Ex was a preview of the Holiday Concert featuring Lower, Middle and Upper Schools performing selections from this evening’s full concert program. The song selection and the singing were at a very high level. Hearing our students perform and getting a sense of the progression and growth that occurs from Lower to Middle to Upper School was very compelling.

Following the Upper School’s performance, Middle and Upper School Chorus Director Michael Querio called the Lower and Middle School choruses back for the finale. As students made their way on stage, a member of the Upper School chorus, 11th grader Firouz Niazi, walked to the front of the stage and waited patiently for the entire group to assemble. Firouz was poised and comfortable, and his presence alerted the audience he would have a special role, perhaps a solo. Mr. Querio introduced the song I Sing Out, and encouraged the audience to listen—really listen—to the words, pointing out that the lyrics are a metaphor for the power of each individual’s own voice. Then, in a very light-hearted way, he said the song featured a solo from “Firouz, who we all know, have been waiting for and can’t live without.” Everyone laughed, Firouz smiled modestly and the stage became quiet.

As the music started, all on stage seemed eager and focused, and then Firouz sang—he was remarkable. After completing his part, he took his place with the other members of the Upper School chorus. The song, the sound, the energy and the spirit were all touching.

Interestingly, yesterday morning wasn’t the first time I have heard Firouz sing a solo. In fact, as he sang so beautifully, I couldn’t help but remember sitting in on one of Michael Querio’s Middle School chorus classes four of five years ago. As the class ended, Michael reminded those who wanted to audition for solo parts in an upcoming concert to stay after class. Four or five students stayed; one was Firouz.

I remember marveling at the mix of eagerness, hesitancy and confidence displayed by those Middle School students. Each one stood by the piano all alone. Mr. Querio played as they all sang with great earnestness. Some were good, some OK. Mr. Querio guided and encouraged each one, and then thanked all who tried out. As the students left, he asked Firouz to stay. I then witnessed a conversation I still remember.

It went something like this: “Firouz, thanks for trying, you’re getting better. Your voice is changing, though, so it will be a while before you are ready for a solo. Don’t be discouraged, keep working.”

Firouz’s face fell and his response was something like, “Are you sure? I really wanted a solo part. Yeah, I know you are right, though. I had a hard time with the high part. Hopefully, next time.”

I know there have been many “next times” for Firouz—and for all our students. As many know, one of the things I value about schools and, more specifically, North Shore is how well we do “next times.” We do them often, we make them count, we provide multiple chances and we guide our students to aspire to reach new levels, to believe in themselves, to keep trying, to learn to excel and to give their very best.

Firouz’s very best yesterday morning was awfully good. I was truly moved.

Credit goes to “next times,” to teachers like Mr. Querio, to our students, and most of all—Firouz.

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.

You Have More to Give than You Think

My daughter Mullery, a 5th grade teacher and coach at an independent school in Boston, a Middlebury College graduate and North Shore graduate class of 2006, sent me a link last week to a Middlebury Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony. One of the honorees is a parent at Mullery’s school whom she really admires – a mother of three, facing some very serious health challenges.

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I found the woman’s remarks at the induction ceremony inspiring.

After being acknowledged by her coach for her athletic prowess and, more importantly, for her spirit, leadership and commitment, this mother took the podium and thanked the college – and, more specifically, her former teammates, her family and her coach – for the support she received. She was very modest and genuine and clearly grateful to be honored.

During her remarks, the woman emphasized the role her coach played in her development – not just as a lacrosse player but also as a person. She referred, a couple times, to what was apparently a very consistent message the coach imparted, “You have more to give than you think.”

These words resonated with me in many ways, especially with the upcoming Thanksgiving week. I think all of us associated with North Shore have a great deal to be thankful for, including our teachers/mentors/coaches – parents, grandparents and friends – who believe in us, and, in many ways, instill the belief in “You have more to give than you think.”

“More to give” can mean many things, and it is in each of our personal journeys that we will discover what and where we can give.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am very grateful to the many people who have believed in me and instilled this same strong message that I, in fact, have more to give than I think.

Managing our relationships with our children and our students takes commitment, awareness, instinct and insight. And to the extent that we, like the Middlebury coach, can convince our children and students they have more to give than they think, we will have made a very meaningful impact on their lives – and possibly the lives of others.

For that, we can all give thanks.

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.

Go Raiders!

2015-2016_Homecoming 2015_Raider Fans - Saturday_983763 I’ve always held a very strong belief that young people gain a great deal from participation in athletics and more specifically from the team-sport experience. I played a variety of sports growing up, coached a lot in my first years as a teacher and spent a countless hours watching my children play sports.

Being on a team, and working with teammates and coaches to reach a common goal (pun intended), has great value. While North Shore may never be an athletic power in the traditional sense – i.e. a narrow focus on wins and losses – in terms of student development and student growth, those traditional powers could learn a lot from North Shore.

I am also convinced that our fall athletic season has been as successful as any in North Shore’s long history. Not because we won more games – although our teams did very well, including a couple that had the strongest seasons during my time at North Shore – but because our students participated with energy, engagement and focus. Our students were guided by talented coaches/educators/mentors. They worked hard and they worked together. They had fun and exhibited wonderful spirit. They won and they lost. They celebrated and they faced disappointment.

The success that took place last fall began this summer when many members of our teams came to campus on a regular basis to work out, build strength and athleticism, and build partnership and teamwork with one another and their coaches. Not only did our students gain physical strength and skills, but more importantly the time spent with their friends and coaches provided a structure for their overall growth as young men and women. They learned and grew, not just as volleyball players or cross-country runners, but as people, learning who they are and who they can develop to be. A sense of connection and belonging was established as was the initial development of a common purpose.

Each team has its own story – stories that include individual successes as well as disappointments, relationships deepening by coming together, role models emerging, frustrations dealt with, and empathy and awareness growing for teammates and even those we competed against – the “other” teams.

While our students’ wins were celebrated, we worked to remain committed to focusing on energy, effort, collaboration and the sense of team.

At the beginning of the school year, Athletic Director Patrick McHugh told me he felt better than ever about the strength of our coaching staff and he predicted a successful season for our students and teams – success defined by growth, commitment, friendships, accomplishments and fun. It seems clear that Patrick is not only a talented teacher/coach and athletic director, but he is a bit of a clairvoyant as well.

In a video produced last year about North Shore’s athletics program, Patrick concluded by saying “The outcomes of our athletic program go beyond the physical. They come back to the values like cooperation, determination, persistence — values and traits that will help our students decades later when they are in their 30s and 40s faced with the challenges that life deals all of us. So those are what we hope will ultimately be our outcomes. We love having championship athletes, but we’d also like to see championship people.”

As I look at the increasingly long list of North Shore graduates who have built on their North Shore experience to play sports in college, I smile. Not because they are captains of teams or part of winning programs (although they are), but because of who these individuals are as people – well-rounded, aware of others, focused and wonderfully positioned to move forward and contribute – in multiple and meaningful 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.

Tell Someone What You Love About The School

NSCDS_2015_1306I had a conversation with a fellow Head of School a few weeks ago about, among other things, marketing and advertising strategies. In doing so, I was reminded that NAIS (the National Association of Independent Schools) research reports that 70% to 80% of new families indicate what compelled them to investigate independent schools, and ultimately enroll at a particular school, is word-of-mouth —conversations with current students and families already enrolled in the school.

This Head confirmed he works to deliver a strong message to his faculty, parents and trustees that they all share the responsibility of admissions. It’s as simple as telling people what you love about the school.

Last weekend, we hosted the first of our Open Houses, an indication we have entered the admissions season. As I thought about our enrollment marketing and advertising, I concluded that while we are clearly in a strong enrollment position, I have not reminded everyone enough to spread the good word about North Shore.

In my role, I hear quite often from students, parents, alumni and faculty why North Shore is their school. To the extent we can empower our best ambassadors — our North Shore community — to share their good thoughts and their North Shore experience, we will have the best ad campaign a school can find.

I don’t need to tell you why or what you love about our school, but I will share with you what I tell prospective families what I love about North Shore.

  • North Shore students – Our students are our great strength. From our youngest to our oldest, they are bright, motivated, curious, invested, responsive and respectful. In how many schools do students say “yes” I will try, I will volunteer, I will extend myself, with the regularity of North Shore students? In how many schools do students routinely thank their teacher at the end of a class and in how many schools are students referred to as “open, nice and genuine?”
  • North Shore adults – faculty and staff, parents and parents of alumni and alumni commit, contribute, care and engage. All want what is best for our students, what is best for our school.
  • North Shore’s program – “A very big program for the size of our school.” From academics to the arts, from service opportunities to athletics, our students are required to participate in it all, and in turn become well-rounded young adults well prepared for college.
  • Our Culture – in some respects this is hard to define, but very easy to feel. People – young and old – like being together, bring out the best in one another and themselves, and generally just like being on campus and at school.

There are many, many other things that I love about North Shore, I could go on and on, but selling the School and encouraging others to investigate North Shore shouldn’t just come from me. You are our best advocates . . . so, spread the word. “Tell others what you love about North Shore.”

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.

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.