The Power Pack

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At a recent alumni event in New York City, I found myself in a flock of former ‘Fleters that spanned my tenure at Waynflete.  After an hour or so of catching up, Geoff got everyone’s attention to thank them for coming and to convey a few updates about the School. One comment caught my attention.  It went something like this: “Waynflete has one of the longest serving faculties of any independent school in the country, and not one of the teachers is stale.”

Although still considered by the fair number of even longer serving faculty as “the new guy” on campus, by most standards, I have had a decent run of a quarter century as the Upper School Director at Waynflete, and I certainly still feel fully engaged in the enterprise.  As I pondered Geoff’s statement, I started to wonder if there is a connection between the faculty’s longevity of service and their capacity to stay fresh on the job.

Harper Willis '04 and Thomas White '05

Harper Willis ’04 and Thomas White ’05 being themselves.

Geoff then asked the alums to say something about how Waynflete had prepared them for their current lives. Although their responses ranged widely – from teaching them how to write to preparing them to speak off-the-cuff – a common theme emerged from their disparate answers.  In one way or the other, they expressed gratitude that the School hadn’t tried to force them into a certain mold of success but instead had helped them to know and to be themselves.

Then I realized, therein lies the connection between long length of service and staying fresh.  You’d think after years teaching the same material, a teacher would get stale.  But at Waynflete things are different.  Instead of telling our students what we think year after year, we routinely ask them questions: “What do you think?”  “What makes you think so?”  “So what?”  And instead of functioning comfortably behind the wall that can separate young people and adults, especially in schools, our faculty systematically breaks down barriers to build relationships so that the adults know and are known to their students.  

The other day, a current student said how lucky she feels to attend a school where every adult comes to work each day with the singular intent of making a positive impact on the lives of their students.  Naturally, that commitment animates the students, but it also keeps the faculty fresh. The more we draw out each individual, the more interesting to us they become.  The more interesting they become, the more motivated we are to go deeper.  The deeper we go, the more they want to know.  And so forth.

As a result, instead of a static information dump, school becomes dynamically interactive, featuring students who feel valued and are practiced at forming, articulating, and defending their own ideas and a faculty that is on its toes and evolving.  In effect, the Waynflete experience is powered by this dynamic loop of perpetually renewing energy between students and faculty.  When new teachers do join the staff, they are quickly trained in the Waynflete Way by the students, who just assume from the preponderance of their prior experiences that all of their teachers care deeply about them and want nothing more than to hear what they have to say.

Even though I had not seen most of them for quite some time, I felt connected to every alum in the room. As they answered Geoff’s question, I had a sense of where each was coming from.  I remembered formative moments in their lives, essays they had written, qualities emphasized in their college recommendations, challenges they had faced, and funny times we had experienced together. I could conjure their parents and siblings.  Being in a room full of alums, I felt myself reconnecting to a portion of the renewable energy pack that has helped to fuel my work at Waynflete for 25 years.  Any faculty or staff member would have felt the same way.

I was reminded that there is something truly remarkable that happens at Waynflete. It begins anew each day with the arrival on campus of our extraordinarily dedicated, compassionate, and talented faculty and staff.  Let’s hope that continues on forever.