Professional development and personal development are usually one and the same.
This morning I was speaking at length with one of our Senior English teachers, Susan MacDonald, who has been on a leave of absence this year. The time away has been fulfilling, both personally and professionally. I was struck by her eagerness to talk about her return next year, about the new balance in her life, and how that balance was not a matter of retreating from work, but rather of finding new satisfaction in different elements of both her work and her life. She has spent time hiking, cooking, reading, deepening personal relationships, and creating one of the new online courses that we are going to start exploring as a way of serving our students’ education better. Dipping our toe into online education is something we have been doing for some time – Michael Jackson, Head of our Science Department, has been teaching an Environmental Science course that is nearly entirely an online course – and such offerings we believe will allow us to offer an increasingly personalized and flexible program to our students. The pressure for such personalization and flexibility has been growing. Susan is dedicated and creative, and she is not exceptional among SMUS staff in that respect, and I know her course will be dynamic and effective.
Such conversations compel me to catch my breath. How was my year, she asked? As with some people, a perfunctory answer doesn’t suffice for Susan. So: it has been a good year. We don’t want our School to be a paradise, with all the artificiality that entails. We don’t seek perfection, after all, but excellence. Excellence acknowledges that our purpose, individually and collectively, is not to pursue freedom from error (and the fear of failure that comes with it), but rather to pursue our promise and potential, and the lessons that come from that pursuit. With that as my context, I answered that it has been a good year because our school is an exciting place. I referred to two areas in which our School is a particularly exciting place. First of all, I find it exciting that our teachers are so professionally engaged in examining and renewing their teaching, investigating the new practices that are emerging as a result of the substantial and solid research into the brain and how we learn. Technology, which many of us years ago dreamed might enhance education, is now maturing into genuine usefulness, dynamic and creative. Secondly, the global perspective that we deliberately cultivate at SMUS is also coming of age, with the themes of global understanding and responsibility permeating not just our academic program but also our extra-curricular, leadership and service programs. I inferred from Susan’s nodding that she understood what I was talking about, and didn’t disagree.
After our conversation it was time for coffee in the staffroom at the Senior School. As you can imagine, recess can be quite the mélée in the staff room, but in the middle of it another of our teachers who has been on leave was encircled by smiling colleagues: Mimi Brown, Head of our Modern Languages Department, has been fulfilling herself in other ways: she was showing off her two brand new twin girls in their stroller. All good, all exciting.