On the Monday after the School's Haverford/ EA Day win, faculty and staff members gathered for an in-service day to discuss School-wide initiatives, participate in team-building exercises, and collaborate in divisional meetings. Head of School Tyler Casertano addressed the full gathering of Haverford School employees, sharing observations as a new community member and gratitude for the warm welcome.
What a weekend! Thank you to everyone who helped make last week and this weekend so special for our boys. There are too many of you to name—so many people contributed in ways big and small, and as both the Head of School and the parent of a kindergartener who has now decided that Spirit Week and EA Day are his favorite days of the year, I can’t overstate my gratitude for all that you did to create community and joy over the course of the week.
Thank you also to those who played a role in planning today’s program, especially Katie, Pam, Jay, Mark, Mark, Rhonda, Brian, and the department chairs. We have what we hope is a day that brings some rest, some reflection, some work to plan for the future, and some fun.
Lastly, thank you to everyone for all that you have done to make this such a great fall, and such a special first fall for Annie, Mac, Bailey, and me. In a very short amount of time, we have come to love this community, and I thought I would begin today by sharing some of the experiences that I have loved most.
I have loved doing Lower School drop-off and watching how excited the boys are to come to school each morning. I have especially loved the mornings Ms. Touey joins us, and proceeds to create traffic up and down Railroad Avenue because every single family is overjoyed to spend five minutes talking with her. I have also loved watching how irate Mark Thorburn, the master of drop-off efficiency, gets at the aforementioned Touey-induced traffic jams.
I have loved walking through the Middle School and watching the teachers use that amazing space in new and creative ways to maximize its potential. And I have loved watching the boys take pride in the building. Last month, Second Former Tommy Gowen spoke with a group of parents and alumni about what it feels like to go to school every day in that space; how energizing and uplifting it is; how proud and inspired he and his classmates are to go to school there every day.
I have loved watching our Upper School students stand in front of their peers and speak or perform with a degree of vulnerability and candor that is not innate to high school boys. And I have loved watching the entire student body respond to that vulnerability and candor with standing ovations that celebrate and thank the speaker.
And I have loved watching my son work harder than he has ever worked, grow more than he has ever grown, learn more than he has ever learned, and love school more than he has ever loved school.
These are just a few of the many moments this fall that have reminded me of how special this community is, how grateful I am to you all for the work you do each day to fulfill our mission, and how grateful I am to be among you.
I don’t mean to sugar coat the fall. It has been difficult. And certainly more so for you all than for me. Our students have returned to us with a new set of needs. We have some Lower School students who have not been in school for the majority of their school careers and are therefore still very much learning how to go to school. We have some Middle and Upper School students who have not been in a rigorous classroom environment for over a year and therefore do not have the skills and knowledge that we would expect a student in that grade to have. We have a senior class that, having been denied the opportunity to observe the class ahead of them lead, is still learning how to apply their leadership. Which is all to say, although we are back to a more “normal” learning environment, that environment is much different because of what our students need from us. And that is jarring and exhausting.
You also have a new Head of School. And one who really enjoys walking through the campus and watching you do your great work with your students. Ms. Touey recently described me as a Tesla due to the quiet way that I walk up to her office and am suddenly there, and Pam suggested that I get bells on my shoes to alert people that I am coming. Please know how thankful I am that you all humor me by allowing me to pop around classrooms—if ever I am a distraction, please just say so. But surely having a new Head has created yet another layer of uncertainty and anxiety.
And on top of this, we are coming off of one of the most challenging and exhausting years ever. In August I described that month as “a month of Sundays” for teachers. The logical extension of that metaphor is that September and October are months of Mondays and Tuesdays. And although the metaphorical weekend of summer brought some much-needed rest, the week is off to a successful but tiring start. I can tell you that this is not a Haverford School-specific phenomenon. Every few weeks the local school heads get together for a meeting. While those conversations initially focused on COVID protocols, they have quickly shifted to caring for faculty and staff. Schools in our area and across the country are finding themselves facing these same challenges. I recently attended an NAIS webinar on how to support faculty and staff resilience. The presenters talked about how damage has been done to our relationships, and reminded us that rebuilding those relationships takes time. Reestablishing trust takes time.
So what then is the answer? What is our path forward?
Part of the path forward is looking inward; caring for ourselves—resting, meditating, exercising, practicing gratitude—doing what we need to be at our best at a time when it is really hard to do so. And part of the path forward is looking outward; relying on each other to sustain and nourish one another through the challenges. We have talked at length with the boys about the virtue of the year, “Support,” and creating a culture of support begins with us—with our ability to support each other. And in turn, that starts with engagement, with rebuilding—or in the case of those of us who are new—building the relationships with one another that define the sense of community here. Go on walks together, attend games and performances together, spend time with one another during your free periods. Be together.
I know that looking outward and inward can, at times, be in conflict. After all, how can we take care of ourselves and get the rest we need if we are using what little free time we have during the day to be with each other? There surely will be some moments of conflict, but my belief is that both are necessary to sustain us, and therefore, we need to find ways to incorporate both into our lives.
My hope is that today models this approach. We intentionally truncated the day so that people could have the afternoon off. We also scheduled some activities that will bring people together around a shared goal. Rest and togetherness.
I also am hoping to schedule time every week for us to gather over breakfast, lunch, or an afternoon snack. My hope is that these gatherings will bring us together and allow us to get to know one another better, and will also provide a nice break during the day.
If you find that you aren’t able to take some time every day and week to care for yourself and to be together with your colleagues in a way that builds relationships and provides support, please talk with Pam, Jay, Mark, Murph, Rhonda, Jeff, David, Donta, Andrea, Sarah, Brian, Mark, or me about it.
Because while I know this year has been challenging, our students need us now more than ever. They are struggling; some socially, some emotionally, some academically. All of them have seen their development stunted in some way by the pandemic. Those gaps that we see every day are proof of that, and while those gaps are a challenge, they are also a tremendous opportunity. And our ability to see them as the latter and not just the former will depend on our ability to care for ourselves and to care for each other. If we can, we can build on the amazing work of these first two months and have a spectacular next quarter filled with growth, joy, and community. We will find ourselves not just bridging those developmental gaps, but building back stronger than before; stronger students, stronger relationships, and a stronger community.
I know that you are tired and I know that we are asking a lot of you in a difficult time, but please know that we are asking because we know how much our boys need us. The only way we can fully support them and is to take care of each other and to take care of ourselves. If we can, we will come out of this adversity as a more supportive, more resilient, more empathetic, and more tightly-knit community.
Thank you again for everything you do. I hope you find today substantive, restful, and fun. Enjoy the activities ahead.