How Do You Prioritize Your Time?

At a School Meeting this month, Monte Blaustein, who teaches sciences and is the director of our engineering program, known on campus as IDEAS, spoke to students and faculty about how people prioritize their time. So many of us lead busy, overscheduled lives and we know it’s important to take care of certain basic needs, such as nutrition, sleep, school or work, exercise and staying connected with family and friends. However, it’s worth taking a moment to think about Mr. Blaustein’s question: What is important to you? Being more thoughtful about what is important to us can help us to prioritize the people, work, events, activities, commitments and tasks that compete for our time and attention. What follows is an excerpt from his speech.

What is important to you?  What should be important to you? Every year the amount of stuff we try to fit into each day is increasing, but the number of hours available to do these things is not.  The only option is to try and figure out what is important to you, what will make you happy – today and in the future – and what are the things you really care about.  We need to prioritize our lives, to decide what are the things that are most important to us, and then don’t worry as much about the small things. Don’t sweat the small stuff, but you should sweat the big stuff. If you know which is which you will be happier and more successful.

  • Classes – like it or not you need to learn things that you don’t already know, and until we figure out a better way, for now learning occurs in a classroom – real or virtual – and involves practicing what you learned so that it stays in your brain – we call that homework or studying.
  • Games – most of us play a sport, create works of art, act in a play or musical, or take part in one of the myriad of other things that we do for fun.  Yes, some of you may go on to make this your career, but for most people it is something we do just because we enjoy it and like spending time doing it – and just like homework, practice, practice, practice is the way you get better.
  • Eating – we do it because our bodies require nourishment – no option there.  Of course some of us enjoy a good meal, and it creates a great opportunity to relax with friends and chill for a while.
  • Social media is also a part of our lives.  I love this word. Being “social” is a good thing – humans love to be with others, to interact, and yes to connect with each other.  “Media” – this is how social is often done these days, and that is fine. How else would you get to see what your friends who don’t live close to you are doing everyday?  It is a great way to keep in touch with family and those who are not part of your everyday life.

There is one thing I have not talked about, and it is very important: Each of us needs to be aware of how others are feeling.  It is really easy to congratulate someone for getting a goal, a good grade, being selected for some position or role. We know they are happy and we respond without thinking about it. It is equally important to watch out for your friends when they are not having a good day.  They may have received a bad grade, did something that caused the team to lose the game, received bad news from home, had a fight with someone, or maybe they are just feeling sick or lonely. Letting someone know you care about them, that you sympathize with their problem, that you are sorry about what happened, and that you understand – that can be hard sometimes, but it is so very important.  Sometimes it means helping in some small way, such as getting that person a glass of water or picking up what they dropped. Sometimes it means just sitting there quietly while they tell their story, and listening to what they say.

Sometimes it means getting help from another student or an adult, especially if that bad day morphs into a second or third bad day. The most important thing is to make sure the person is not ignored and that you are sincerely trying to be caring. When you see that someone is down, think about them above yourself, and go out of your way to be kind.

I am not going to tell you what should be important for you.  Everyone has their own priorities, their own goals and objectives, and their own passions. Think about what is really important to you, what will make you happy today and tomorrow. Spend your time doing what is important to you, and keep that in mind when you prioritize your time.

Practicing Character through the Intentional Use of Language

The Gunnery celebrated the opening of a new school year – our 169th – at Convocation on Friday, September 7.  This event is a reminder that, as students and educators, we are all part of something historic, a place that has been added on to by each successive student body, and now that’s us. It’s both a responsibility and an opportunity.

I find it helpful at this time of year to remind ourselves of what we say we are trying to do here, to remind ourselves of our mission. You may be vaguely familiar with it but allow me to share it here as a point of orientation:

In 1850 Frederick Gunn established a school based on the belief that strength of character was the goal of education. Today, The Gunnery rests on the four cornerstones of character: scholarship, integrity, respect and responsibility. Character is forged in a cohesive, diverse community informed by a challenging college preparatory curriculum, a broad range of athletic, artistic and social activities and a faculty of scholars and committed educators dedicated to the intellectual and ethical development of every student. A Gunnery graduate is a broadly educated, socially responsible citizen with tested beliefs, strength of character and the courage to act on convictions.

We are here to help our students grow in strength of character – in scholarship, integrity, respect and responsibility. I think you can agree that it’s a good goal, a goal of real substance. Our founder, Mr. Gunn, believed strongly that even as we pursue this mission and help students grow in strength of character, this whole endeavor of school should also be fun. So, allow me to try to provide just a few examples of how the pursuit of character could actually be fun  – and what growing in character looks like.

I want to use Red Sox fans as my example. My Aunt Liz (and most of Mrs. Becker’s family, for that matter) is a Red Sox fan. I saw her the other night and she said, “I’m sorry your Yankees are having a tough season.”

Now, I want to unpack that seemingly innocuous comment and then connect it to how we live together at school and live out the growth of character. First of all, the statement is untrue. The Yankees are not having a tough season. Many other teams in Major League Baseball would be very happy to be having the season the Yankees are having. But, yes, the Red Sox are having an awesome season – a gloat-worthy season. Kudos to them.

But more important than the inaccuracy of the comment is what Aunt Liz meant by it. We all know that she did not actually mean “I’m sorry.” She’s not sorry. So right there, Aunt Liz is using language, knowingly or not, to provoke a response. She’s not trying to make me feel better, even though the words she used might make you think that. She’s trying to squeeze lemon juice in the open wound of being in second place to the hated rival. It is an intentionally unkind comment. This is what Red Sox fans do.

Now, this – what I’ve just done – is an example of me using the power that I have – the power of access to a microphone, of a prominent place from which to speak – to try to inject some fun into the conversation about what character looks like in action, somewhat at the expense of Red Sox fans and my Aunt Liz. Obviously, I’m not particularly concerned with who is your favorite sports team and how you behave as a fan. But here at The Gunnery, we do care, a lot, about whether our students use language intentionally in other contexts and situations.

How we use language – the words we say out loud and what we type, especially with our thumbs – is one of the primary ways that we live out character, especially integrity, respect and responsibility. We live in incredibly charged, divided times. The examples we get on television and social media of how to use language are, for the most part, terrible. Television and social media rarely have the patience or interest in language used well, for positive, productive purposes. And this is where what we try to do here, at Mr. Gunn’s school, flies in the face of what we see outside of this place. What we value here is very obviously not what the world around us values. That creates a tension, but it’s a tension from which we can learn.

What would it look like, and sound like, if we committed to using language not to provoke or divide but positively, to learn from one another, to inquire rather than badger, to build up rather than tear down? This takes practice, courage, and the willingness to learn new habits and buck social norms but I know our students are all capable of it and most of them already do it at least some of the time.

We want our students to advocate for their ideas passionately. We don’t want them to be afraid to say what’s on their minds. But we do want and expect them to say it respectfully. And we expect them to listen to one another respectfully. Can you hear how countercultural this is at this particular moment? Do you think it’s possible? I do. Do you think they can do it? I do.

An example of how this worked out practically, here on campus, is the effort that a few students made two years ago to create the Gray Party – not gray like mushy nothingness lacking color, but gray as in most of the best answers to challenges that our world faces exist not in the black or white extremes of one party or another, but in the middle ground – the difficult-to-navigate middle ground. It takes courage and patience to stay there and work through the pluses and minuses of different answers.

We don’t promise any of our students that they have a right not to be made uncomfortable by something that another student or faculty member may say. I can’t emphasize this enough. But the flip side of that coin is that here you also don’t have a right to say, write, or do things that are intended to be inflammatory or harassing.

This is a very high standard to set and even harder to live out. It requires all of us to allow each other to make mistakes and learn from them, to practice extending grace and forgiveness to one another at times, to consider others before we consider ourselves. We are inviting our students to live differently, not for the sake of it or out of fear of confrontation, but because it’s better, more fulfilling, and will bring out and nurture the best of them. We want this to be a place of real learning and that implies robust disagreement and debate, even having feelings hurt at times, but only if you can say in your heart and your head that you actually meant to be respectful, to care about the other person, and to learn. Those, among other things, are our standards at this school.

I listened to an interview recently with a writer, thinker, theologian, and former pastor who I’ve long admired named Eugene Peterson. He thinks a lot about using language well. He said, “We cannot be too careful about the words we use. We start out using them and they end up using us.” My hope and prayer for all of us this year is that as we practice character and grow in scholarship, integrity, respect and responsibility, that we use language intentionally, with care and even love, even though that’s a very unusual thing to do in 2018. Through doing that, we will make this school, our school, a place that would make Mr. Gunn very proud.

Commencement Address

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What do Emily Dickinson, Beyoncé and the psalmists of the Hebrew scriptures have in common? You’ll find the answer to that and other questions in the Commencement Address I delivered to the great Class of 2018, faculty, family and friends on May 28. You can read the full text on our website.

A Good Life

I recently had the privilege of speaking to accepted students and their parents who came to The Gunnery for Revisit Days. (We had record-breaking attendance both days, despite a spring snow storm!)  When it comes to choosing a school, these campus visits are critically important and can affirm, particularly for students, whether they have found the right fit in the school they have chosen. I’ve modified my talk to fit this space.

To get at the question of how to find that right-fit school, I asked families at our Revisit Days to consider some bigger questions via Yale’s most popular course in history. Not Shakespeare, American history or economics. Psychology 157 – Psychology and the Good Life. How is it possible that one quarter of Yale University’s undergraduates feel the need to take a class on what means to lead a good life? It raises the question: why are we doing all of this in the first place? What is it for?
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With Class…

At our School Meeting this week, Mike Marich, Director of Athletics and Head Coach for Boys Varsity Lacrosse, shared a few words about sportsmanship, respect and the Golden Rule, particularly as it applies to spectators and the teams they support. His message resonated with our students as players and fans, and with our faculty and coaches, who cheer for our teams from the sidelines, but I also think it holds value for any parents who have found themselves in challenging situations while cheering on their children.

At The Gunnery, we ask our players and coaches to honor visiting teams and spectators as their own guests and treat them as such, and likewise, to behave as an honored guest when they visit another school. We ask them to be gracious in victory and in defeat, and to learn especially to take defeat well. We ask them to be as cooperative as they are competitive, and to remember that their actions on and off the field, court or ice reflect on them and our school. These same guidelines apply to spectators but sometimes, we fall short of those goals. Here are Mike’s words on how we can all be the best fans.

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Giving Thanks

At The Gunnery, we traditionally hold an all-day Faculty Meeting at the start of the Winter Term to talk through the progress of each student in the school as an entire faculty. For me, this meeting confirmed that the fall term was indeed a very good one for our school, and for the students and faculty who comprise it, as we heard one story after another of students thriving both in and out of the classroom. Whether it’s their first time away from home and they’re learning to become autonomous, or they’re learning how to solve problems with the help of adult mentors who are not their parents, or they’re overcoming a challenge, such as not succeeding in a class, and working through that, both intellectually and emotionally, our students are learning.

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HYPERthetically…Seeking wisdom in the age of too much information

This week, I am pleased to share with you Melissa Schomers’ remarks on information, knowledge and wisdom, which were presented at The Gunnery on October 3, 2017. Ms. Schomers is a faculty member in the English Department and the Wallace Rowe Chair. Although her thoughts were initially intended for our students and faculty, I believe many adults who have too much “information at their fingertips” will find her words meaningful and relevant.

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