During a call last Friday with a group of heads of school, we were asked to give one word or phrase to describe how we were feeling at the close of a momentous week. I am usually not a fan of ice-breaker exercises, particularly after a long and heartbreaking week. However, it felt like the right thing to do with a group of people I admire greatly. Most of our responses were predictable, but one response caught my attention and captured without pretense the overarching feeling of the last nine months: watching and waiting.
Depending on the moment, and I really do mean the moment, I have felt optimistic about what I was seeing and anticipating, and I have felt despair. Last week, in call after call, breaking news after breaking news, announcement after announcement, my emotions ricocheted between opposing forces. The heartwrenching rise of deaths due to COVID-19 and the alarming drop in available ICU beds were buffeted by the thrilling news of vaccines on the way and the possibility of our faculty and staff receiving them much earlier than we thought possible. The flagrant attack on the Capitol, the rioting mob embraced by our President, and the ugly illustration of white privilege were terrifying to witness, and yet the institutional pillars of democracy have prevailed. Watching and waiting.
Complicit in this feeling is a sense of having no agency to affect the outcome—a perpetual feeling of wondering when the next shoe will drop. As educators, our charge is just the opposite as Poly’s vision and mission describe an educational approach that prepares students to define and shape their futures.
“We envision a community of students, inspired by transformative teaching, who will contribute profoundly to the world as intellectual leaders.
We develop the unique intellect, talents, and character of each student in a community dedicated to academic excellence, personal responsibility, and service to others.”
Are we misleading our kids? Is the idealism we embrace futile? I think not. In fact, I believe we must fiercely embrace our vision and mission and make sure we communicate its implications with greater clarity. The worthy challenge is to help our students learn how to rigorously challenge the information they consume without becoming suspicious of the truth so they can act with courage and conviction while they are watching and waiting.