My remarks at New Parent Night

Welcome to St. Gregory; we are so glad you are joining our school community.    You have come at a very exciting time, both in the history of our school and in an important moment in our national conversation about K-12 education.   This is a time of great change and energy in thinking about what and how our students need to learn in our fast-changing world.

A great example of how our school is changing and aligning itself with contemporary best practices is our new Wings program: 1:1 laptops at St. Gregory, by which every student has a laptop (netbook) and uses it every day.   This is a key step in the development of our educational program where our students exploit the power of digital technology to collaborate, communicate, and create on-line– and develop exactly the critical skills necessary for success in our new global economy.

Our teachers are fully embracing, with good enthusiasm and great attitudes, these developments and this new era in learning.    What is more, they are learning too.  One of the most exciting aspects of this new era of technology integration in learning is the way our teachers are, each and every day, learning in their classrooms and growing in their skills.  Our teachers are attending conferences in Memphis, Phoenix, San Francisco, and elsewhere; visiting schools in Dallas, San Diego, and Vail; are reading and preparing presentations on assigned books this summer; and are meeting two hours every week, Monday and Friday mornings, for collaboration and sharing of techniques and resources for our new educational initiatives.   Our teachers are also learning from our students, asking them about ways they might research, publish, or create with the technology that sometimes some of our students know more about.   This very morning, as an example, I spent an hour in World History working with some ninth graders as we learned new techniques in Prezi, an alternative to powerpoint for presentations.

In doing so, our teachers are not just learning themselves the skills and techniques crucial for learning today, they are serving as wonderful role models of a “growth mindset.”    This is a concept, from Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, that I think is among the very most important lesson from learning psychology in the last decade.   She explains in her book, Mindset, the new psychology of success ,that it is very valuable to recognize that there are two separate mindsets– one fixed, the other growth.

The fixed mindset is one where we decide, often unconsciously or barely consciously, that on any given subject, we have already learned all that we can– that our learning about it, our understanding of it, is pretty much fixed in place.    This can operate in either of two ways– one in which we think we are too stupid to learn anything more, such as thinking that we are just no good at math and can never learn more about it; the other way in which we can think we are very smart about something and then, hence, cannot tolerate having that conviction be tested by trying to learn something more about it.  Both forms can be so problematic for our students, and for ourselves as adults– we can decide not to try to learn something because we feel we cannot, and we can be afraid to ask a question or tackle something challenging because we are afraid we will expose ourselves as not being smart at something we have the mindset we are smart about.

The growth mindset is the opposite– and is so crucial.  In this, we believe that no matter how much we do or don’t already know about something, we accept and delight in the fact that there is always lots more to learn about it, and we delight in doing so, or we give great effort because we know that learning and knowledge is the result far more of perspiration than inspiration.

Teachers, generally, and this is a very sad statement, but I fear teachers generally (and like so very many of us, perhaps the majority of adults) suffer from a fixed mindset.  What these teachers learned about teaching from their own teachers, or in education school or in their first few years of teaching, is all they think there is to know.   They might think that they have already mastered their teaching, or that they are just unable to adapt to these new technologies in teaching– they just can’t do this new stuff.  Or, they think they can’t ask questions or try things that might not work perfectly the first time because to do so would be to expose them as less than masterful teachers, (when in fact it demonstrates they are still learners and growers themselves!)

But what our St. Gregory teachers, and all of us in this learning community, are demonstrating and role modeling daily is an open-minded willingness and even eagerness to learn these new techniques and exploit– with some risk-taking and some mistake-making and a lot of learning along the way– the new technologies and new techniques of our still-new century and new era in learning.

And in doing so, they are facilitating their students learning and growth in ways above and beyond the particular technologies and techniques.  They are promoting our students’ adoption of the growth mindset– as I urge you, as parents, do too.

This is, at St. Gregory, an intellectually vibrant learning community– excited and enthusiastic every day about learning and growth.  We are so glad you are joining this community, and hope you will both contribute to and benefit from it.  I spoke earlier about our laptops as our students’ wings, but just as important is their roots: that they have a strong sense of connectedness, safety and community in their schooling.   This is critical not just for their emotional well being, but for their learning too.

One of our board members, Fletcher McCusker, the CEO of Providence Corporation and a former parent, often says in board meetings: Jonathan, it is great that you are working so hard to strengthen the academic program, but don’t forget– the most important quality of all in a St. Gregory education is the relationships our students form, with each other and with their teachers.  Relationships matter most!

St. Gregory has always had these strong relationships, as I hear about often from our alumni from the eighties.  Small classes, a small school community,  field trips and travel program– all these things support our strong sense of community.  Did you know that our middle school and upper school each have, about, 150 students in them, and that 150 is the ideal number for a community, as Malcolm Gladwell explains in the Tipping Point?  It is called Dunbar’s number, and it is thought to be most successful number in hunter and gatherer tribes and in military fighting bands).

This year, we are taking steps to strengthen further our students’ roots with our new advisory program, and with many new initiatives we have underway to welcome parents into our school community.  We are glad you are here and hope you too as parents will thrive and grow in our community and via our schools’ wings and roots.