As we embark on the new 2022-23 school year, I reflect upon the challenges facing school leaders and schools over the past two years while, at the same time, identifying the opportunities moving forward. We experienced a tumultuous two-year stretch weathering a global health pandemic, as well as other historic socio-political events and economic headwinds in America. Working through this unprecedented set of challenges, we look forward to moving beyond, identifying new opportunities, and leveraging many of the strengths making CH-CH such a special community.
In a reflective letter to the Board of Trustees last summer, I wrote, “With every challenge, a new opportunity was born. With every new problem, a solution was designed. With every new exhaustion, exhilaration would endure.” With proof of institutional resilience, I truly believe we have the potential to be an even stronger school community heading beyond the pandemic and into the new academic year. For me, one of the primary ingredients in making the “secret sauce” is COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT.
Over the summer, my school leadership team determined that student engagement, family engagement, faculty/staff engagement, and even Board engagement is first among equals in prioritizing as we move out of a pandemic-driven schooling position. Fortunately, all constituents appear to be presenting a desire to embrace community engagement in its many forms, and there is good reason for this.
Besides the obvious and immediate benefits that come with school community engagement, there are longer lasting benefits that should be acknowledged. For instance, deeply engaging in learning and campus community will foster positive outcomes long after the moment of initial impact.
In 2018, a study and white paper from the Challenge Success program, operating out of the Stanford Graduate School of Education, highlighted several reasons why college engagement is a key determinant to student success in higher education and beyond. I encourage you to read, "A 'Fit' Over Rankings: Why College Engagement Matters More Than Selectivity". While the majority of the white paper explains why school rankings are rather flawed, in the end the research steers to identifying that student engagement in school is much more important than the level of arbitrary selectivity a school heralds.
“In our reading of the research on student outcomes — learning, financial, and otherwise — this theme arises: the students who benefit the most from college are those who are most engaged in their academics and campus communities, taking advantage of the opportunities and resources their particular institution provides. Engagement is the key.”
Applying much of this thinking to the independent day/boarding school experience we live each and every day is not a difficult stretch. In 2014, the Gallup-Purdue Index Report demonstrated a significant and strong connection between particular forms of college engagement and future job satisfaction and well-being. I believe this is fully applicable to the independent, secondary day/boarding school experience, as well. The six school experiences that Gallup identified as most impactful:
1. TAKING A COURSE with a professor who makes learning exciting.
2. WORKING WITH PROFESSORS who care about students personally.
3. FINDING A MENTOR who encourages students to pursue personal goals.
4. WORKING ON A PROJECT across several semesters.
5. PARTICIPATING IN AN INTERNSHIP that applies classroom learning.
6. BEING ACTIVE IN EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES.
Highlighting the first half of this list (if not more), I wish to spotlight the incredible importance of educators as mentors, role models, and trusted adults. It is the relational trust between human beings that truly builds community culture and engagement.
I recently stumbled across a one-year old article written by Madeline Will for EducationWeek, "When Teachers and School Counselors Become Informal Mentors, Students Thrive" (7/29/21). In this piece, the emphasis is on research supporting the notion that teacher-student relationships are critical to student success. The importance of trusted adults, specifically mentors, in an adolescent's life cannot be undervalued. The article is based upon research and a working paper authored by Education professors at Brown University and University of Virginia. It's worth a quick read.
The journey through the CH-CH experience must continue to be transformative through the power of ENGAGEMENT; this year it’s more important than ever. The importance of engagement to student success, emphasizing that all students, parents/guardians, and educators have a role to play at CH-CH, and I look forward to nurturing a positive, vibrant campus community and culture, together.
All of this speaks to who we are and what we value as a learning community. Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall is a special place with a wonderful mission to, "engage a diverse community of learners in a collaborative educational experience, preparing them for college success and a lifetime of meaningful engagement with the broader world." I hope and trust all community members will join me in re-engaging in any and all appropriate ways as we move through this new school year. Our work is meaningful and life-changing... truly.