Essay: Education as Life



A Statement of Beliefs: My Philosophy of Education

I believe in community, knowledge, and freedom. I believe in the value of independent schools, in my call to be a light to others, and in the impact community can have on all of us.

I believe "college preparatory" is too simplistic a label for what most college prep schools really do. True, we are
preparing our students for success at college, but – more importantly – we are preparing them for a life of learning and contribution. Learning is not preparation for life or some aspect of life, but, rather, learning is life.

I believe teaching at the secondary level is not about the regurgitation of facts, but rather something more complex. Einstein notes, "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." We excite; we guide. As a teacher -- and all adults in a boarding school are teachers -- we want students to learn to think, to use facts in new situations, to get beyond dates and plot summaries. We see this learning not in standardized test scores and bleak examinations, but rather in the exhibition of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Ideally, students would publicly exhibit what they have learned and defend their work to a group of adults, showing that knowledge is more than just facts and figures.

I believe all adults in the school community are teachers, with or without the title. We are not, however, adults who serve up facts and tidbits, and we are not lecturers of content held on yellowing bits of paper. We are coaches, counselors, and facilitators; we are mentors, advisors, and servants; we are consultants, confidants, and advocates. Our students learn best when they are engaged and actively involved. We strive to build learner-focused education for our students. We embrace group work, presentations, mastery, chaos, and active learning.

I believe a secondary school should both challenge her students and support her students. We provide our students with challenges – mental, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical – in the hopes they will overcome these difficulties and learn from them. Our students grow through embracing life and all she throws at us. And yet while our students are being tested, we support them so that when they fall back or fall down, they don’t stumble too far; we support them so the trials are not insurmountable.

I believe learning happens everywhere in at the secondary level. Perhaps it is clichéd, but we, adults and students alike, learn in the classroom, on the playing fields, on the theatre stage, in the dining hall, in the art studio, in the dormitory room, and in faculty homes. And, student learning happens, often, when the adult least expects it. Sometimes the most important learnings for a student come when the adult does not think of the interaction as a learning moment. Surprise! Every moment, particularly the unscripted, can be a learning moment.

I believe we want our students to see themselves as community members and citizens. We want our students to see themselves as citizens of the school community; of the larger communities of city, state, and country; and of the community of the earth. Our students, like us, have an obligation to themselves, their heirs, and their neighbors -- even those "neighbors" who live in the jungles of Brazil or the mountains of Tibet – to be good citizens, to lead a life of learning and contribution.

I believe that small is good. Small classes, small dormitories, and small student bodies all create a learning environment that doesn’t "cater" to the individual student but ensures that each student is individual. There is no getting lost or hiding; there is ample opportunity and incentive to thrive.

I believe schools are living organisms, organizations which take on a life of their own. Unlike biological organisms, schools are the product of intelligent design. When schools form, or change, or transform by accident and with no driving intention, they become stagnant, dead, or petrified. All key stakeholders -- administrators, faculty, board members, students, parents, alumni – must be intentional in their creation and care of the school. Good schools are first created in the mind’s eye and then in the lives of the stakeholders.

I believe transparency is a good and necessary thing. I believe in transparency in decision making, budgeting, policy creation and implementation, grading rubrics, expectations, and community building. Transparency is one of the foundational blocks of an intentional community.

I believe all of us are learners; I believe all of us are teachers. Some of us just happen to have the title of teacher.


"This I Believe: Education as Life," written by Peter A. Stinson, is an essay with apologies to Edward R. Murrow. In 1951, Murrow began "This I Believe," a radio program of personal essays by Americans of diverse backgrounds and experiences; Murrow sought to "point to the common meeting grounds of beliefs, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization." In 2005, National Public Radio brought back the "This I Believe" essays in the "hope to encourage people to begin the ... difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from their own."

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