A Week in the Life of North Shore

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At our Board of Trustees meeting held earlier this month, I gave a Head of School Update. I started my remarks by reading the following list — a quick summary of some of the events that took place in the previous week to 10 days.

  • The Parents’ Association held a volunteer day to “Live and Serve” at Bernie’s Book Bank
  • Teachers enrolled in our Global Cohort program met after school for a two-hour presentation and discussion
  • A gathering of Alumni in New Orleans was held
  • Our 8th graders attended a Shakespeare performance
  • Upper School students attended the Model United Nations conference held at Harvard University
  • The Benefit Board held a kick-off event for its annual Auction/Party “The Purple Wave”
  • Middle School held its annual Service Week
  • Liam Davis ’86 performed at Morning Ex
  • Candidates to fill Pam Whalley’s role as Lower School Head were on campus meeting with faculty, touring the campus, observing classes, seeing our students in action and meeting with our Search Committee
  • There was a Lower, Middle and Upper School band concert
  • Our Middle School Science Olympiad team competed at a local invitational
  • 29 Basketball games were played
  • The track team attended a meet in Champaign, Illinois
  • There was a meeting for Upper School baseball parents to discuss the upcoming season
  • Daily rehearsals for the Spring Musical, Footloose, in anticipation of the mid-March performances

This list doesn’t even include the classroom presentations, homework assignments, projects, experiments and discussions that take place each and every day.  My intent was to communicate to our trustees (lest there be any concern that winter is a time for hibernating) that activity across the divisions — from students, to teachers, to parents — remains at a high level, and that we continue to move full speed ahead.

Many of my most talented teaching mentors were consistent in their message that often the best learning is “learning by doing.” Fortunately, if that is the case, learning is at a very high level this winter.

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.

Dual Stewardship

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Morning Ex yesterday featured singer, songwriter Liam Davis, North Shore Class of 1986. Liam sang a number of songs, many of them that he had written. Beyond his singing and writing talent, it was his comfort on stage and his ability to engage the audience that stood out. Liam came across as exactly who he is — a bright, aware, interesting and interested individual. Liam is a person who takes a genuine interest in others, a person wonderfully adept at making personal connections. (Not a bad role model).

I remember when Liam was a student at North Shore in the mid ’80s. He was then what he is now — talented, open and very aware. As I watched him in various concerts and plays, in the hallways and on sports teams, I wondered what he would become knowing very well he would make his mark. So it was particularly gratifying for me to see him now, almost 30 years later, in such a positive place.

After Morning Ex, Liam admitted he got a bit emotional when he looked out and saw our kindergarten students on the laps of their senior buddies. The sight of these buddy relationships brought back great memories. He observed that the connection between our youngest and oldest students nurtures a kind of “dual stewardship” — both are there for one another and both benefit from the other. I have often commented that I am never sure which group learns more from the buddy connection, our kindergartners or our seniors. Liam’s observation affirmed what we have known all along — these students benefit greatly and very meaningfully.

Liam also demonstrated a type of stewardship as he shared his talents with our school community, talked with an individual student interested and passionate about music, connected with students in the Upper School hallways who offered congratulatory comments about his performance and engaged with faculty who remembered him as a student and welcomed him back to North Shore.

Thank you Liam.

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.

“It’s Not What You Look At, It’s What You See”

lookingatart I recently saw a video interview of Jim McLaughlin, the newly appointed women’s volleyball coach at Notre Dame. McLaughlin, who I had never heard of, has had a very successful career and is the only coach in NCAA history to lead both a men’s and women’s volleyball teams to national titles. In the interview, McLaughlin was asked how he had grown over his years as a coach.

I was surprised by his answer. Instead of focusing on his recruiting philosophy, on training techniques or game strategy, he talked about having developed an improved ability to see, really see, what was happening whether it be with his players, a game situation, or the various elements that contribute to the development of a team. And, secondly, he talked about his improvement in his ability to listen.

McLaughlin’s words made me think about the exciting challenge we face as teachers – how can we teach our students to move beyond “looking” to really seeing and how can we help our students listen and really hear?

Whether it’s being able to see another person’s point of view, or approach a particularly challenging problem, science experiment or difficult dilemma, we recognize that “seeing, rather than just looking” is an incredibly important skill. Similarly, listening and really hearing is a requirement for any successful student, or for that matter, any successful person.

I find it affirming that at North Shore we do, in fact, focus a lot on teaching seeing-and-hearing skills. While the learning dynamic might be framed in class discussion, reading and summarizing, problem solving or a more creative endeavor in an art class or music class, much of what we ask of students is to “see and to hear.”

And just like Coach McLaughlin, adults, whether they are parents, teachers or coaches, should seek continued growth so we can better model the skills of seeing and hearing for students. In doing so, we help them and ourselves, as we open our eyes and ears to a much bigger world of thoughts, ideas, inspiration.

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.

Charlie and Anita

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The highlight of my winter break was the wedding of my son, Charlie, North Shore Class of ’03, on December 20.

He met Anita when they were both teaching at Norfolk Academy from 2010 to 2012. At the wedding reception, my daughter, Mullery, North Shore Class of ’06, in her role as co-“best man” with my other son, Tom ’00, gave a toast. She pointed out that when Charlie made the decision to move from his teaching position at a school in Greenwich, CT to take the position in Norfolk, VA, he went against my advice. My advice was that Charlie stay at the school in Greenwich where he had established himself, where he was respected and valued. Mullery explained that had Charlie, whose nature is to please others and be respectful of his “elders,” followed my advice, he wouldn’t have met Anita, fallen in love, and none of us would be there celebrating their union. She then acknowledged her love and respect for both Charlie and Anita and her excitement for them as they prepare to spend their lives together.

As I stood against the wall listening to Mullery’s words, I swelled with pride – for Charlie and Anita and for Mullery. Her words were tender and loving, her delivery funny, kind and poignant.

As I think about the wedding and its great spirit and energy, a wide range of thoughts keep filling my head – many very sentimental, some quite random, some a bit daunting that I now have two sons old enough to be married.

But the one thought that prompts me to write about my son’s wedding is parenting — our need to balance guidance and advice with providing a framework for empowerment and letting go. I firmly believe that parents do, in fact, play a very key role in the development of their children; that kids become who they are influenced by their parents’ guidance, values and example. We, as parents, need to take this role seriously; we need to be mindful, thoughtful and invested. All that said, we also need to give our children space and recognize there are many decisions that need to be driven by our children, and our children’s individuality, interests and passions need to be honored and given space.

How do we find the balance? Despite being an “experienced parent” I must admit I’m not sure. I do believe, however, that if we continue to care, to respect and to believe in our children, the chances of finding the right balance will lead to good things. . . and great times, like the one we experienced on December 20.

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.

The Spirit of Giving

Upper School Northwestern Settlement House Drive

At this time of year, the phrase, “A Spirit of Giving,” brings up a different image in all of us. For me, the most vivid is the annual gift collection and wrapping that the Upper School Community Service Club sponsors to benefit the Northwestern Settlement House. Students and faculty shop for specific gifts for specific families. The gifts are brought to school and gathered over a period of days. When the time is right, the word goes out to Upper School students and faculty asking for volunteers to stay after school and help organize and wrap all the presents.

That day this year was Tuesday, December 9. The academic day ended, and almost magically the Upper School first floor and “V” area were transformed into a hive of activity. Holiday music blared as 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade students, faculty and staff (and even a couple of Lower School students) were busily wrapping and organizing. I peeked out of my office and saw our school community at its best – individuals working together, everyone smiling, some singing and even a few dancing – the joy and spirit of giving was truly apparent.

My hat is off to the Community Service Club, to all those in the School who contributed and, just as importantly, to those who participated in the packing/organizing. Seeing the activity and feeling the positive spirit did more to set the stage for a “season of giving” than anything that I can think of.

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.

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.