"The 'Mane' Idea" - June 2011
Reflections by Head of School Wanda M. Holland Greene
Posted June 7, 2011
“The ‘Mane’ Idea”:
Are We Having Fun Yet?
The forty-nine members of the extraordinarily talented Class of 2011 sat on the floor of my office yesterday eating pizza and brownies while they reflected upon their Hamlin years. Each June, I invite the girls to provide me with detailed feedback, both orally and in writing, about their educational experience at Hamlin. (Parents are invited to speak with me and members of my leadership team in a separate meeting, minus the pizza and sweet treats.) These open and honest dialogues are engaging, emotionally charged, and quite illuminating, and I learn a great deal about the school’s strengths as well as areas that warrant my close attention. Topics span the gamut: their sense of the level of rigor and engagement in the academic program; peer relationships; leadership opportunities; athletics and the arts; the quality of student-teacher relationships; the high school admissions process. At the end of these important exit interviews, I begin to discern what information presents a “snapshot photograph” of one year, one class, or one moment in time versus what might be a “video” of life at Hamlin playing again and again. As the head of school, it is essential that I listen closely to feedback and search for patterns and trends over time. An exit interview is one data-gathering method among several that I use to invite healthy conversations and to make Hamlin the best school it can be.
During my gathering with students yesterday afternoon, I was doubly struck by the girls’ innocence and sophistication as they explained to me that they had hoped to be given more opportunities in Grade 8 for pure, old-fashioned fun. (In case you were wondering, I am beginning to think that this feedback is a video and not a snapshot photograph.) “We have worked so hard this year,” one student said to me with eyes that were tinged with disappointment, “and I feel like we were not rewarded enough.” A second girl expressed similar sentiments in her written reflection: “I wish that we could have fun for the sake of fun sometimes. I love and understand that we are very academic, but I wish we could do some more carefree things.” As I take the time to process their words and the feelings beneath them, I find myself wondering about the critical balance between work and play and whether or not we have unintentionally loosened our grip on the commitment to both ideals. In theory, I do not believe we have. In practice, however, could we be doing a better job giving students time and space to be both careful in their work and carefree in their play? The data supports that notion. I truly believe that children and adults should have joy and levity throughout the year; waiting until June, July, and August to slow down and reward ourselves with fun seems inadequate.
Certainly, work and play were Sarah Dix Hamlin’s two founding principles, symbolized by the circle and triangle icon. Her primary intention in interweaving the two shapes was to remind us that Hamlin should be a place of serious purpose and unbridled joy. It was wonderful to see the Grade 8 girls smile and cheer when the members of the faculty surprised the Middle School with a “flash mob” dance on the Lair on Friday and when they discovered that their advisors would be taking them bowling as soon as they left my office. While school should not look or feel like a summer camp, I do want to make sure that the girls are happy and thriving academically, and I will continue to lead Hamlin in that direction.
As I prepare for summer, I too am reminding myself of the critical importance of work and play. While I will spend a significant portion of time this summer focusing on strategic planning, orienting new members of my leadership team, preparing for the school’s upcoming re-accreditation, and completing the final phase of our comprehensive program review, I will also take care of myself. My daily exercise routine will continue, I will soak up time to read novels and write poetry, and I will spend much more time with my husband and sons. Yes, we will take our annual pilgrimage to the San Diego Zoo, LegoLand, and Sea World. A highlight of my summer will be a July trip to Cape Town, South Africa, a place where I have always wanted to go. It is a dream come true to be able to travel there for renewal and soul-searching and to develop a plan for global partnerships between schools and teachers. I am ready to give even more attention to my multiple roles as independent woman, wife, mother, sister, and head of school. Author Anna Quindlen’s words are a personal mantra: “you can’t really be first-rate at your work if your work is all you are,” she says. Excellence in leadership requires that I take time to let go and recharge, and I promise to do so.
As we look ahead to the 2011-12 school year, please read this letter from our outstanding Board Chair David Schmaier, and stay tuned for the August electronic mailing which will be chock full of information to launch the new school year. I’ll see everyone when school re-opens on Thursday, September 1st. Until then, please take very good care of yourselves-- and please have some fun!
With Affection and Gratitude,
Wanda M. Holland Greene
Head of School