Respect the Pupil



The Season of Gratitude

December 13, 2019

When you think of giving thanks, there’s an (aptly named) holiday for that. But gratitude shouldn’t be limited to the fourth Thursday in November, or to any time of year in particular. It should be hourly. Daily. Weekly. Monthly. As I try to live and appreciate my life—both as a human being and a head of school—the more grateful I become, and the more things, it seems, I find to be grateful for. 

That said, this month’s blog is going to be a snapshot of some recent moments, people, and experiences that left me scribbling frantically in my gratitude journal. 

Our annual Thanksgiving Assembly
It’s my personal most wonderful time of the year. In addition to the inspiring (and impressive) performances by our string orchestra and our choirs, I love hearing the thoughts of our student speakers.
 
  • Gracie Fowler shared a 13-year story of gratitude and how for years she’s been looking forward to expressing her gratitude at that assembly. As I told her that day, after she spoke with her mom and grandparents in the audience: I know that her whole family is so proud of her. 

  • Caroline Sudler, our eighth grade speaker, talked a lot about family. I know how much family means to her. It’s her second year here, and it was so impressive to hear her talk about how much she appreciates her parents’ investment in having her here. That a middle schooler already has the perspective of ‘Thanks, Mom and Dad, for having me at this school’ was a wonderful thing to hear.

  • I’m also grateful for Cara Freeman, our fourth grade speaker. She was poised and gave a terrific speech at the assembly, then wrote me a thank-you note telling me how much she appreciated the opportunity to speak. That was my first gift of the holiday season!
Since the assembly, the opportunities to appreciate and say thank you for other people and other moments have been rushing at me. Here are a few, but please know that these are only a sampling. Truth to tell, I’m grateful for ALL of our students, our faculty, and our families. 
 
  • The annual post-Thanksgiving party for alumni and friends at Footnote. Cooper Alan (aka Timmy Cooper) headlined, and I got to see so many people I only get the chance to see at that gathering. It’s become one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions.
  • Thank you, Brandon Morgan, for making the half-court shot that sent us into overtime in the game against Calvary on December 10. It was so much fun watching people jump and scream and rush the court (even though the game wasn’t over yet). In that incredible moment, we were completely present, completely joyful, and completely alive. 
  • I’m incredibly grateful to our many supporters who are financially generous to our school. Their philanthropy is one way in which they express gratitude to our school, and it’s such a pleasure to be a part of these conversations.  
  • Charlie, our new chef, is a thoughtful person. He’s eager to do things right, and he cares not only about serving us great food, but about the people around him. 
  • Mike Martin is one of my personal heroes in the classroom. He tends to fly under the radar a lot with his engaging manner, and he isn’t one to self-promote. But if you’ve got a kid in his class, you’ll hear about how funny he is, and how much fun he makes science to learn.
  • Madeline Stambaugh, who’s new this year, is kind, loving, and passionate about art. She helps children overcome that little (often mean) voice everyone has that tells them they aren’t good at art. She fosters creativity and self-confidence in our students every day!
  • Nancy Snyder is an incredible resource to all of the students she works with. 
  • Kristin Boone is so warm, welcoming, and loving. 
  • As I teacher, I’ve been so impressed with Yu Otaki. She is an independent thinker. Her ability to articulate what she thinks and why she thinks it is incredible. She embraces learning things not for extrinsics like grades, but for learning things because they’re worth learning. 
Finally, I’m grateful to Forsyth Country Day and the community we have here. We share deep bonds and relationships that transcend learning mere academics. It’s a far richer connection, and our dynamic, welcoming, and close-knit community is the source of so much joy and gratitude for so many.

As we sprint towards year’s end, I hope you will slow your place, look around, and allow the gratitude to wash over you.

How Can You Work Smarter Not Harder?

October 31, 2019

If you had the chance to attend Carson Tate’s presentation on campus based on her book Work Simply, then you already have a good idea of what’s going on in my mind.

I was struck by the simplicity of her message to “work smarter, not harder”. Time management, she told us, is a myth. It doesn’t help productivity—it often just gives us more to do and more to manage instead of giving us strategies to be more productive. Strategies—personal strategies—are what enable us to work—you guessed it—smarter, not harder.

Carson’s whole philosophy and the need for it really resonated with me because it dovetails with what I’ve been talking about for quite a while—how can we model balance for our students when we can’t seem to achieve it ourselves? Moreover, how can we learn to achieve balance (working smarter, living smarter) in order not only to maximize our potential at work (or school), but to live our lives in a happier, more intentional way instead of living in a constant state of waiting for the next thing to happen?

Certain people make this look very easy. One of them is Avery, a young woman (now in her 20s) whom I taught years ago. Avery was a driven, high-achieving student and the eventual valedictorian of her class. Despite her packed schedule and impressive achievements, Avery never seemed stressed out; she was always smiling and happy. It was so remarkable that I finally asked her: “What’s your secret? How do you do it?”
Her answer was strikingly simple: “No matter what’s going on in my life, I go to bed at 9 p.m. every weeknight. I get my sleep.” It didn’t matter if she had an event or if she had an exam the next day. She honored her biological need to get quality sleep, and it was the secret sauce that allowed her to move past surviving her life to living it happily.

Avery’s healthy strategy, combined with Carson Tate’s recent talk, had me looking around campus at folks who really seem to “have it all together.” They’re incredibly organized and productive, and are often tasked with organizing others. They’re full of energy and good cheer. I wondered if, like Avery, these folks had a strategy. As it turns out, they do.

School nurse Nancy Hart keeps our students (and faculty) healthy every day, but how does she support herself? “The one thing I do that helps me keep balanced is to work out for one hour after school every day,” she said. “I do a variety of workouts each week that help me keep my body (and my emotions) balanced. When I miss (which is rarely), I notice a huge negative effect in my emotional response to stressors.”

Middle School Receptionist Rhett Newton draws strength from playing to what makes her happy—helping others. “My innate desire to help others and build relationships is what keeps me going and gives me energy,” Rhett said. “This desire motivates me to be a better listener, communicator, and problem solver every day. Helping others is my joy!”

Marla Reece, our overachieving front desk receptionist (or concierge, as she styles it pretty accurately), relies on faith and coffee. “Every morning I do two things in tandem to begin my day: To give me physical energy I drink a hot latte with steamed milk from my Nespresso machine. To give me emotional energy, I read a daily devotional on my phone.” Did you know there was an app for that?
Most of you know Aaron Craven as our orchestra director, where he runs classes with incredible efficiency and organization—all while managing to inspire his students. He’s also doing a great job of project management for the school. “I’m not afraid to make a quick decision,” he said. “I’m focused on the outcome and work hard to meet that outcome on time. On a personal note, I block 40 minutes during the workday for exercise. This helps break the day and gives me time to think about some of those quick decisions I need to make.”

Lower School Counselor Megan Martin-Wall, as you might expect, has a lot of great strategies to steal, but one that’s especially helpful is list-making. “Making lists helps me naturally take inventory of what things on my list require more time and energy and what things can be taken care of quickly,” she said. “It also forces me to recognize those items that get carried over from one day to the next and ask myself, ‘Why are you avoiding this?” or ‘Why is this something you are always having to do’?”

Kevin Westwood, our associate athletic director and athletic trainer, works long days taking care of our student-athletes (and has more than a few adults he takes care of on a daily basis, too). He (or his counterpart Aaron Parks) is always on hand at games to ensure our athletes are well cared for at their games and practices, so how does he fuel his own tank? Although he admits that he doesn’t believe there’s any one “magic bullet” for him, humor is his go-to. “I try to add humor as a means of gaining perspective on the tasks each day either for myself or the folks we care for.”

Megan Newbauer, our Lower School administrative assistant, has a strategy that really resonates with me and shows just how well she understands her own productivity. “I have been leaving by 3:45 or 4 at least four times a week this year and it has really made a difference,” she said. “Also, I typically do not respond to emails once I have left for the day. I want to be present for my kids, and I’ve realized that it is all going to be there the next day.”

I love all of the above strategies, but Megan’s hit closest to home: it’s all about the email. Carson Tate devotes a whole chapter of Work Simply to taming your inbox, and it’s no wonder why: The average person spends about 28 percent of their workweek managing email. I was horrified to have the number quantified, and I quickly realized that it was dead on for me. I’m spending more than a quarter of my time at work managing a tool that should be helping me work better, faster, and more efficiently?

It’s become a cultural norm to answer email as quickly as possible, but—as Carson said—whenever you say “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to something else. Is it important that I respond to emails? Sure. But is it truly urgent? Is responding to a colleague’s question about the schedule within the next 20 minutes key to anyone’s survival? Of course not. It’s important, but not urgent.

So, I’m going to follow the examples of the people who seem to have it figured out, from my former student to Megan Newbauer. I’m going to set a rule for myself and see what happens when I follow it, even though it goes against a current cultural norm. I’m going to say “no” to email so I can say “yes” to the rest of my work and my life.
What I’m saying “no” to: constant email checking. My goal is simple: only check email six hours per week. Six days out of seven (I’m giving myself one day off completely), I’m going to block off one hour during which I will do nothing but read and respond to emails.

What will this allow me to say “yes” to? Everything else. Yes to walking around campus. Yes to having face-to-face conversations. Yes to lunch with actual humans, maybe in the fresh air. Yes to more intentional, fully present time with my family. Yes!

Will my emails pile up worse than ever? Or, given a solid hour to focus on nothing but email, will I find I’m more productive and watch that count on my inbox dwindle? I’m planning to give it a try and measure the data (I’m a data wonk, after all) to see if my plan is something I want to continue saying “yes” to, or if it’s another great opportunity to learn from failure. Stay tuned for my next blog, in which I’ll discuss this experiment—success, failure, or wash.

Paddle Out

September 28, 2019

Steve is a friend of mine who has one of those minds that fascinate and baffle you at the same time. I marvel constantly at his intellect and creativity, and how he’s able to get out of his own way when he’s attempting to innovate. When I asked him how he’s able to take the intellectual risks he takes, he told me a story that I’ve since latched on to, given a bit of my own spin, and shared with faculty when we first came back together after the summer. I hope it will resonate with you as well. 

If the world is the beach, he said, most people just wade in - they might go up to their waists. They see the waves coming, and they brace for the impact. As they look out towards the distant horizon, they can see wave after wave coming, so they keep enduring the waves, those inevitable waves, waiting for the next impact. 

This is how most people live their lives: standing there and waiting for things to happen TO them, waiting to get through the next challenge. They SURVIVE their own lives and what gets thrown at them - they endure. Please don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot to be said for being able to endure hardship and struggle, to remain when things happen, for getting up every time a wave knocks you down. 

But there’s an alternative to living in a constant state of dread as you wait for the inevitable NEXT BAD THING. Don’t just stand waist-deep in the water: paddle out.

It’s been my experience that once you break through that mentality of bracing for your life, you can actually have some fun. Get on that surfboard and paddle out past the waves, swim past the fear and into possibility. 

Are there dangers? Sure. In the metaphor, you could get eaten by a shark or caught in a dangerous current. But in the real world, fear and the anxiety created by a constant state of preparing for something awful is probably a lot more dangerous. 

Our culture is fundamentally different than it was when I was growing up - when most of you were growing up. The world seemed safer. There had been no 911, no Columbine, and there was no 24/7 news cycle. There wasn’t the constant presence of social media, which is shown in study after study to make us more anxious, more worried. The world is trending towards fear, but we can make choices - and teach our kids to make choices - counter to that trend. 

We must ask ourselves, “To what extent do I want to let fear control how I behave?” Obviously, we don’t want to behave with reckless abandon or advocate that our kids do so. If I see a shark in the water, I’m probably not going to paddle out that day. But no sharks visible? I think the joy of swimming outweighs the fear of what MIGHT be in the water. 

Helping our kids brace for life and play it safe will, in my view, make them more anxious, less happy, and less fulfilled. In their future careers and lives, they will be asked to take risks aplenty. They will be asked to think divergently, to solve problems, and to create value in a way that no generation has before. It’s a bit unsettling, but it’s also pretty exciting. 

My choice, and my advice to kids, is to get out there and see what you can make happen. Be an active participant in your own life. Catch a wave. Swim. Live your life with joy and intention. Paddle out. The risk is well worth the rewards. 

Zooming in from 30,000 Feet

August 31, 2019

It’s often said that the head of an organization
in my case, the head of this schoolas to take the 30,000-foot view. For the past several years, I’ve worked first with the Board of Trustees and then the administrative team to define our mission, then our core values. Finally, we mapped out how those core values of respect, integrity, compassion, curiosity, and responsibility and that missionto be a community of learners committed to preparing our students for what’s aheadwould live each day, which led to the development of the new schedule and programs we’ve added this year.
 
On the first day of school, I zoomed in from 30,000 feet for the first time in four years, stepping back into the classroom as the AP Macroeconomics teacher. I’ve taught AP Macro at a previous school, and I’ve also helped teach various economics and business classes at Wake Forest University, sodespite the breakI felt pretty comfortable stepping back into the classroom.
 
My 11 amazing seniors were eager to learn. Ironically, my job in this class is to teach my students to take the long view, the macro view, the 30,000 foot view of the world and all the complex factors that comprise macroeconomics. So I gave them a project on the very first day.
 
They broke out into groups to address the question, “What will the world’s population be in 2100?”
 
At first, they were confused. No overview? You’re not going to discuss these things with us first? Shouldn’t we read the book we just bought? They didn’t ask the questions directly; these kids are too polite. I read the room.
 
I told them to get online and start researching. I told them about the first article they’d find when they googled the question. (It’s from The Washington Post, by the way.) There’s no shortage of sources in our information age and certainly no paucity of opinions about what the world population will be. I didn’t tell them what to look for or impose limitations. They didn’t need a “sage on a stage” as their teacher when all of the information in the world is a few clicks away.
 
I thought I would have a lot to teach them about big-picture thinking. I may yet. But on the first day, one student pushed the envelope of even my definition of macro.
 
“By population, do you mean how many people will live on earth or how many will exist?” Wow. This student was asking if I wanted to include the possibility of human colonists on other planets. Yes, absolutely. Think THAT big.
 
My first few days with these studentsinspired in particular by that one incredible question and their amazing curiosityhave inspired the way I plan to teach this classand it’s different from how I’ve ever taught it before.
 
The AP textbook and what will be on the ultimate exam will give us a shared vocabulary and the topics that they’ll have to master, but how we approach those topics is wide open. And these kids are capable of SO much more than listening to lectures.
 
In accordance with our mission and core values, I want to prepare them for what’s ahead, even if that’s colonies on the moon or on Mars. I want to nurture their creativity in a way that respects these thinkers and what they’re capable of doing, and make it their responsibility to carry much of the weight of this class.
 
For that reason, I’ve changed my email signature. It doesn’t say “Gardner Barrier, Head of School, AP Macroeconomics Teacher”. It now says, “Gardner Barrier, Head of School, AP Macroeconomics Learning Guide”.
 
I know. It sounds a bit woo-woo at first read. Give it a minute. The designation “learning guide” is the most accurate description of what I plan to do. I want them to research, come up with meaningful questions, and answer those questions. I won’t be telling them the answers. I’ll be guiding them through discussions of the topics that matter in AP Macro, bringing in speakers ranging from dynamic business leaders to financial analysts to a Nobel Laureate in economics, and giving them the freedom to make connections as well as a structure and framework in which to make them.

I’ve never been more excited to be back in the classroom. I get to work with students again, and having those touch-points keeps me grounded in the reality of how the schedule and our mission and core values live every day. Zooming in like thiseven as I guide my students to zoom outbrings perspective that I could never get from 30,000 feet.

Coming Together on Community Nights

May 4, 2018

We’re busy. We’re overscheduled. Work. School. Practices. Games. Concerts. Interest meetings. Chores. Homework. Multiply all of these things by the number of people in your family, and most of us have more on our plates than we should.

Schools clearly contribute to this. I know there are weeks when you probably feel like you’re here almost as much as your kids are. I love how involved our families are - that’s one of the things that makes our community so strong. I love that one of the questions parents ask me most frequently is, “What does the school expect from me?”

In order to answer that question and to help lessen your load, I’d like to add nine things to it. Sound counterintuitive? Bear with me. During the 2018-2019 school year, we’re introducing Community Nights. On these Thursdays, we ask that you come to FCDS and take part in meaningful programming, meet up with fellow parents and teachers, and spend time together. We’ll use these nights to focus our major activities including Parents’ Nights, many (though not all) concerts and plays, guest speakers, parent socials, interest meetings, and more, thus reducing the number of one-offs you need to come to campus for. We’ll have dinner available to families, childcare, and those evenings won’t include homework for students.

Please put the following nine Thursdays on your calendar:
August 30
September 20
October 18
November 15
January 17
February 21
March 21
April 18
May 16

I ask everyone to join us on these evenings as we move to strengthen and deepen our ties as a school community. We’re dedicated to preparing our students for what’s ahead, but let’s also embrace the opportunity to live in a meaningful present.

Do you have thoughts about this you’d like to share? I invite you to comment below or to contact me directly at gardnerbarrier@fcds.org.
 

How We’re Preparing Students For What’s Ahead

April 5, 2018

In my last blog, I discussed how our mission and core values form the foundation for our strategic plan, and how the four elements of that plan - program, environment, organization, and finances - build the school. The four pieces are deeply connected, and in reality, none of the elements exist on their own. You need the right environment to house the programs, and when you consider the environment and programs, you have to keep an eye on the financial piece and the organization to ensure that you’re putting your people in the best environment.


Today, I’d like to talk about the program.

Program


The program piece is really just an expansion of our mission: FCDS is dedicated to preparing our students for what’s ahead. It’s here that we ask questions like, “What’s ahead for this generation of kids?” and “What does preparation look like for these students?”

We can never know exactly what the future holds, but we do know that it will be quite different from what our lives looked like after high school. In previous generations, education was content driven. The teacher had the information and taught it to us. Now, content is only a Google search away, and merely knowing things isn’t as valuable. Our kids’ education needs to focus on how to THINK about this content and provide the context and the time to go deep.

The academic curriculum (what we teach) will stay much the same, but the way it’s approached (the pedagogy) will be adjusted to focus on deeper, more complete understanding of the material to allow students to go beneath the surface for deep learning. Instead of a volume proposition (how much we can cover), we will focus on a value proposition (how well our kids know what we cover and how much they truly understand - how much we can uncover and discover).

In order to facilitate the kind of deep learning that will prepare our students for what’s ahead, we’ve adjusted next year’s daily schedule in the Middle and Upper Schools, as you probably already know. In 2018-2019, Middle and Upper School will have six-day rotating schedules that feature two days of four 75-minute classes instead of six 55-minute classes.

These longer blocks will allow teachers time to dive deeply into what they’re teaching, and students can begin independent work during these longer classes with direct teacher supervision and feedback. Instead of having 43-minute classes as we have now (with homework), the teacher will be able to assign practice, then guide students as they work independently to deepen their understanding of the material.

Another focus will be personal development, because to truly prepare our students for what’s ahead, they need practical skills that will assist with their transition to “adulting.” Our students need to learn how to learn, to build a skill set, and to adapt successfully to change - one thing that is likely to be a constant in their lives.

One example of personal development in action is the Fifth Grade Academy, which will debut next year. Did you know that, both emotionally and academically speaking, the transition from fourth grade to fifth grade is one of the most challenging to make? The Fifth Grade Academy will help support this transition by making it more gradual. Like fourth grade, students in the Fifth
Grade Academy will have two main teachers - one for language arts and social studies and one for math and science - which will reduce the number of transitions they need to make during the day. Like the rest of the Middle School, fifth graders will eat in the main dining hall, attend the same assemblies, and rotate electives including chorus, orchestra, visual arts, technology, and physical education.

By making the transition less jarring and providing more support, we’re helping them develop the executive functioning skills they need to plan, organize, and complete tasks as we support their move to increased independence.

In Upper School, the personal development program will look more like LifePrep on steroids. Every sixth day, some time has been set aside for grade-level meetings. We’ll discuss and practice different components of wellness and personal development, including good nutrition, coping strategies and stress management, interviewing, public speaking, personal finance, balance, how to cultivate healthy habits. These are all deeply practical life skills that our kids will need to know in order to function as grown-ups.

In Middle School, a wellness period that includes PE, guidance, and an interdisciplinary project block has been set aside. Wellness will include physical movement, health, and learning how to embody our core values.

As we look at our program, we will continue to bolster what we do well and what is special about FCDS, such as our great writing program, College Counseling, and the Johnson Academic Center. If we see a deficit, we’ll work to correct it. In all of our decisions about programs, we will remain true to our mission, and be sure that what we do continues to prepare students for what’s ahead - as it did in my days as a student here, as it does now, and as it will in the future.

Mission and Core Values: The Foundation of All We Do

February 21, 2018

As I told those of you who joined me for my talk in January, now is the time for us to celebrate FCDS’s identity as an independent day school led by its mission and focused on our kids. Today I’d like to touch on our mission and values.

The  Mission
Forsyth Country Day School is a community of learners dedicated to preparing our students for what’s ahead.


Everything we do as a school centers on the word “preparing”. This school is preparation. The phrase “community of learners” carries equal weight, because we’re not just talking about our students - we’re talking about faculty, staff, parents, and all other community stakeholders. Finally, “for what’s ahead.” You’ve seen that phrase in our ads, on our signs, on our website. It’s our tagline, but it’s so much more than that.

What’s ahead, for our students, is their future. That future won’t look like ours did, and the education of today can’t look exactly as it did when we were in school. At times, that might make us uncomfortable as adults, but we will need to continue with courage. We can’t predict exactly what our kids’ future may hold, but we can be aware of the trends and adapt to the way the world changes. As an independent school, changing and adapting - always led by our mission - is something we are well-equipped to do.



Core Values
Led by our mission, our core values shape how we see that mission. They are five lenses, if you will, through which we as a school community will view our mission and frame our decisions. These core values are: respect, responsibility, integrity, compassion, and curiosity.

As we live our mission, we will constantly ask ourselves: is this fostering curiosity? Is it respectful of our students? Does this show compassion for others? Our faculty and staff take these core values very seriously, and we believe that they resonate with parents and our broader community as well. Let’s celebrate the joy and sense of purpose that stems from a community of adults working together - using a shared language and a strong foundation of belief and mission - in the spirit of community and in the service of children.  

New Year. New Strategies.

January 58, 2018

Each January when the joyful frenzy of the holiday season is over, many of us set our sights on the brand new year. It’s a time of possibilities. A time for reflection, growth, and positive change. A time to wipe the slate clean and start anew.
 
I have always been someone who embraces the promise of a new year. Those of you who read my blog know that I in 2017 I resolved to keep a gratitude journal, and that has become a habit that enriches my life every day. This year, I have resolved to change the way I deal with email. Did you know that the average white-collar worker spends from 4.1 to 7.4 (!) hours per day checking and responding to email? Email is nobody’s full-time job, but the hours we spend on it approach full-time work. What’s more, we don’t just check it in the office during the work week: smartphones enable us to check anytime, anywhere, around the clock - and that’s not a good thing.
 
I recently read Dan Pink*’s new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, that has encouraged me (identified as a Lark in the book) to not check email in the early mornings - my most focused and productive time of day. With that in mind, I’ve resolved to try a different strategy with my emails. Instead of checking them constantly (when I get up, when I arrive at work, when I finish a meeting, at night after dinner), I’m going to set aside two one-hour blocks each day to read and respond to emails. Outside of these scheduled times, I don’t plan to be on email. This is all in pursuit of being as present and engaged as I can be in the various roles that I am grateful to have. I hope this email strategy will prove effective...we shall see.
 
I would love to hear from those of you who have embraced personal or professional strategies aimed to promote wellness in your life, such as sleeping more, being more present, limiting time on smartphones, taking a weekly yoga class, learning meditation, or removing email from your phone.
 
Here are a few examples faculty have already shared with me:
 
“Before my feet hit the ground, I list three things I’m grateful for. It’s a game-changer to start every day in gratitude.”
- Martha Metzler, US Counselor and FCDS parent
 
“I don’t have my work email on my phone. It makes me much more present with my family. If there’s a work emergency, colleagues have my number and know they can call or text me.”
- P.J. St. John, Director of Publications & Special Projects, FCDS parent
 
“I am forcing myself to stand up and walk around every 30 minutes so I’m not hunched at my computer all day. It makes me feel better and gives me a chance to connect with colleagues.”
- Beth Mack, Director of Marketing & Communications, FCDS parent
Please post your resolutions in the comments section. I look forward to reading them!
 
* It is also worth noting that I have a running conversation with Dan Pink. He is interested in what FCDS is doing and excited about some of what I’ll be sharing on January 31. See you there!

The Overly Ambitious Day

November 17, 2017
 
 
Does this seem right to you?

No matter how we plan, no matter how we wish, no matter how we try to manipulate time, there are now and will always be only 24 hours in a day.

We (should be) sleeping for eight hours or more*, which really only leaves 16 hours in our day available for LIFE. We work or go to school for about eight hours. That leaves about 8 waking hours for everything else.

So...how much do the things that really matter get? How much time do we put into eating with our family, playing with our kids, or spending time with our spouses?

There’s homework. Rehearsal. Team practices. Meetings. Working late. Running errands. Commuting. Email to answer; lines in which to wait. Most of these things are necessary to a point; none of them are inherently bad (except maybe the lines).

That fact that we only have about 16 waking hours each day that are discretionary (and, as illustrated above--not even that), is compounded by the fact that so many people today wear busyness as a badge of honor. We’re always in a hurry, always on the phone, always available by e-mail or text or social media. Is that really a good thing? Is it good for us? Does it bring us joy? Does it strengthen the things we value the most in our lives?

I think we can take a look at how much time are we really spending on life, on the things that fulfill us outside of work or school.  For  many of us - certainly for me - spending time with my family is at the top of the list. Having a meal together that isn’t eaten in the car is one of my favorite times of day, and getting to catch up with the people I love the most nourishes more than my body. It recharges me and renews my sense of purpose about everything else that I do (and reaffirms why I’m doing it).

I’d like to create more of those moments for our students, for our parents, and for our school.  I’d like for us, as a school, to be very deliberate about how we spend the school day. I want us to ask ourselves: how should we prioritize our time? What does how we allocate our time say about our priorities?

Our school is currently working through processes that  help us think through the best uses of our time and deepen our thinking regarding WHY. This is an important community conversation. We (adults in the lives of children) all have to be comprehensive in that exercise. Some of what we will be discussing will take us out of our comfort zones, because just being comfortable doesn’t mean that what we’re doing is the best thing or the right thing.

Because there will always be 24 hours in a day and we should be asleep for a third or more of the time, we have to be disciplined about what we continue doing and what we choose to stop doing with our time. We have to stop letting words like busy, scheduled, activity, and efficiency carry more cultural importance than wellness, discussion, discernment, and rest. When we say balanced in our community, does that start with a belief that first we have to be healthy? My two cents… it should.

We have to stop living one overly ambitious day after another.

Pivot

Pivot. It’s a word that’s been on my mind a lot lately. As a verb - and defined in the simplest terms - it means to turn while one foot remains firmly planted. Basketball players pivot. Dancers pivot. It’s a graceful and deliberate motion that must be done carefully. If you pivot carelessly, you can get hurt. A small move, but a crucial one.
 
Pivoting is a skill, and it applies as much to schools and people as it does to basketball players and dancers. When we “pivot”, we make changes with one figurative foot firmly planted. We don’t stray from our core beliefs - we use them as a point from which to turn. We use them as roots to keep one foot planted while our mindset changes.  
 
Successful people and organizations tend to be good at pivoting. Firmly rooted in what they know, what they believe, their central truth - they are able to adapt when they face a challenge, or realize that it’s time to change. My first question: how does that apply to our kids?
 
With our focus on providing a balanced education, I believe that the skill of pivoting is something we need to teach our students. To be able to pivot successfully, students must first know who they are. They must be mindful of their strengths and goals, and identify what’s their core truth: what is the fixed point from which I can turn?
 
From this self-awareness, they can pivot. While remaining true to that core identity, while building on their strengths, they can find a new way of doing things that preserves what was good to begin with. Learning to pivot will make our students more adaptable, build that grit we’ve been talking about, and make them more comfortable with change. As we know, change is a constant in life, in school, and in our careers, and helping kids learn to pivot and not to fear change will be invaluable to their growth and development.
 
My second question is this: how does this apply to our school? As I mentioned earlier, the ability to pivot is also crucial to successful organizations, and that includes schools like Forsyth Country Day. FCDS has one figurative foot firmly planted in all that we hold dear, and in all that is so strong about this school - our traditions, our academic excellence, our caring faculty. As we approach a new strategic plan in the coming year, our pivot point will remain the same, but we will carefully and deliberately adapt our mindset, turning slightly in order to better serve our students and to prepare for what’s ahead.

Forsyth Country Day School (FCDS) is a private, college preparatory, independent school for preschool through high school located in Lewisville, NC, just outside of Winston-Salem. Students benefit from a challenging academic curriculum, fine and performing arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.