Happy New Year and welcome back, everyone!
It is my sincere hope that you have been able to use the last two weeks to refresh yourselves. You deserved it. This has been a year like no other, and your efforts have been exemplary. Onto our normal and annual challenges of shepherding 1,150 children through the school year, we have added the task of maintaining extra levels of hygiene and health. Through all this, we have continued to push on the mission-critical work of curriculum, DEI, financial planning, and zoning work. I am grateful to all of you.
I am also grateful to work in a school where we have the freedom and resources to create. So many of our teaching colleagues across the country have neither the intellectual freedom nor the resources to be given input into how they teach their students. I was reminded of this fact during my interviews with the teachers newest to our community. These privileges are particularly important now as we are at an inflection point in the next few years here at ESD, imagining what we will form our curriculum, our school, will take as we approach our 50th anniversary.
Today we will take time to focus on the next steps of that process of our curriculum review. We began our imagining by consolidating our mission statement last year. Additionally, led by Dr. Boberg and Dr. Cullins, you have completed the first step in that curriculum review process by documenting all that we as adults organize and direct in service to our students. This morning we will engage further by thinking more aspirationally. All of this, of course, must start with our mission: “Igniting lives of purpose through the development of an educated conscience.”
Today we want to ask you this question:
“What does it mean to have a curriculum that ignites a life of purpose?”
We hope you will find this work fun. It provides a chance to dream, to create, to imagine what content, what skills, what dispositions our students need to learn in order to live a life of purpose in the mid-21st century. I offer a few thoughts in this homily as a way to start your conversation later today and in the weeks to come.
I begin my musing on purpose with the scripture just read from Philippians. While a piece of Christian writing, I hope its themes will invoke thought amongst all of you regardless of your faith tradition and where you are in your spiritual journey. Paul touches on three themes in this concise yet powerful passage, which can provide us a starting point.
“Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
What we create in our curriculum must come from a unified spirit we share in the love of our students and the execution of our craft, which helps them grow. My favorite definition of love is “willing the good of another as other.” What we do as educators, the curriculum we create, must come from a place that puts our students first. We will good for them first and foremost. This should be clear.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”
Paul exhorts us here to be humble, but as importantly for our purposes, perhaps, to teach humility. To me, this concept is less clear. We want to teach our students to be confident, to be comfortable with themselves and who they are. And while that is true, it is also vital that they have an intellectual, cultural, and personal humility. Ponder for a minute those in your life you are most drawn to, the people you admire, want to emulate. For me, it is those who strike that balance. They listen, really listen, because they do not have all the answers. But they also have the confidence to challenge themselves, challenge others. They take a stand; they lead. As we imagine the dispositions we want to instill in our charges through the curriculum, how do we instill this proper balance in our graduates? How do we create humble, servant leaders?
“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
In normal times each of us walks into All Saints Chapel every day under the Gospel passage in which Jesus answers the question about which are the greatest commandments. From our Jewish brothers and sisters, we received the call to love God with all our heart and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. I would offer that central to our curricular practice must be the idea that in igniting lives of purpose, our goal is to help our students maximize their skills, their talents in the service of others. How do we help our children be other-centered, make their lives about somebody other than themselves?
Later today, we will share a document with you that has these “purpose” conversation starters and others. Two of the alternatives come from more secular sources - one from Justice Anthony Kennedy about purpose and liberalism (with a small “l”), the other from Kathy Caprino, a writer for Forbes magazine. Justice Kennedy’s quote forces us to ask the questions, “Who should define our purpose? Who should define our students’ purpose? Ms. Caprino’s passage is more analytical, leaving open the question of how we determine our life’s goals.
I expect that your conversations could take many different directions today. I hope what these passages evoke in you is creativity to imagine how, through our curriculum, we can help our students become public problem solvers. What will they need to know? What skills will they need to have? What attitudes and habits of mind will they need to bring to the work? While I expect and am energized by the anticipated diversity of thought, we should be grateful for the grounding that our mission and Episcopal Identity give to this work.
Welcome back, friends. I am excited to be back with you at the vocation we all cherish.