The Episcopal Academy mission statement reads-
“Challenging and nurturing Mind, Body, and Spirit, we inspire boys and girls to lead lives of purpose, faith, and integrity.”
The challenge for a teacher to inspire students is both daunting and exhilarating. This goes well beyond communicating content, ensuring solid academic progress, or providing help in selecting a college. To inspire a student suggests a transformative experience, one where the student- and perhaps the teacher- learn something unique about their inner drive, their motivation to learn and to live, and their passion for something they can contribute to the world.
When teachers first enter the field of education, they are typically motivated to become a teacher by a calling to make a meaningful difference in the lives of young people. Few new teachers are initially focused on the nuts and bolts of day to day classroom teaching- lesson plans, grading, disciplinary issues, teacher meetings- and yet those are the ways in which many teachers spend an inordinate amount of time once they get their own classroom. The reality is that most teachers are beholden to rules and expectations imposed on them from well-meaning administrators focused on academic progress, rigor, and content. It is, of course, imperative that we have some measures of progress, that we can quantify the content covered, and that we can provide a degree of consistency in the educational journey each of our students takes. The question is how much room we need to leave in that program for inspiration to happen.
For a teacher to have an opportunity to inspire a student, several ingredients need to be in place. First and foremost, the teacher needs time and space to know their students. The teacher-coach-counselor model we value so highly at Episcopal lends itself beautifully to this relationship. When a teacher only sees a student during a fixed 40-minute period, inspiration is hard to come by. Schools that isolate their teachers into specific and finite units in the child’s life are missing an incredibly valuable opportunity. Students want so dearly to be known in a school. They want the adults in their school to know what they value, what motivates them, and what scares them. They want these same adults to understand how best to support them, to challenge them, and to listen to them. Knowing a student requires time and access to the student’s life on campus.
Another key ingredient to teacher inspiration is passion. I learned very quickly as a new teacher many years ago that the most compelling teachers are those who are most passionate about what they are teaching. Students are always quick to ferret out the teachers who lack interest in their subject, who would rather be elsewhere, or who lack confidence in their craft. Teachers who enter a classroom energized by what is about to unfold, bursting at the seams to engage with students in what they themselves care about deeply, are significantly more likely to interest the students and to draw them into their passion.
One of the educational programs I am most excited by is our new JTerm program at Episcopal. While I think it has great merit as an interdisciplinary two-week program, which will provide rich opportunities for students to explore new interests, I am particularly looking forward to the passion it will draw out in our faculty. We have one of the most talented faculties around, hands down. When you give these talented teachers an opportunity to teach a course they are passionate to teach, the outcome will be unbelievable. I expect great things not only during this two-week window, but well after JTerm ends, as teachers draw on new explorations and connections made during their course. Passion in teaching is a critical ingredient of inspiration.
The final key ingredient in inspiring students will seem fairly simplistic: teacher interest in improving the lives of their students. Teachers become teachers, on a very basic level, because they care about students and want to help them grow and learn. Independent school communities, like Episcopal, are unique in the how we create a comprehensive support system around every member of the community- students, parents, faculty, and staff. There are no teachers on our campus who do not have a vested interest in the lives of every student on campus. Many of our teachers are working with students at 7 AM and at 7 PM if that is what is needed. Many are talking to parents on a Sunday night, driving an hour to see their student play an away game, or skipping lunch to talk through the student’s social struggles. Our teachers go beyond mere interest- they are invested. It is this investment that makes the difference in the lives of students and in the ability of that teacher to inspire. Students feel that investment very palpably, and it is a key ingredient enabling them to be inspired and to thrive.
I hope to foster a school community that provides as many opportunities as possible for our teachers to continually inspire our students.