Happy Friday from Principal Chris
February 7-14Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 2/7/2020Happy Friday: Lighthouses
This morning as I drove into school a light stretched through the fog. First white, then red. It was the light of our Nauset Lighthouse. I slowed my truck, noted the chill of the enveloping fog, looked up at the warm glow of the circling light, and felt at home.
Lighthouses are an iconic representation of our culture. As Cape Codders we embody the work of lighthouses. We know how to be there for others, how to offer support during times of need, how to provide guidance when others are feeling lost. We do not let those we love struggle in isolation. We watch. We extend ourselves. We reach through the fog.
Each morning and night as I make my commute to and from school, Nauset Lighthouse reminds me of the power of education and how the opportunity to learn invites each of us to strive for our potential, to persevere, to reach out for help when we are confused, to learn when we want to grow, to teach and be taught as we each follow our own calling. Our extraordinary school is a beacon for all who believe in the future and the power of education to turn dreams into reality.
I hope this weekend you have an opportunity to consider the lighthouses that help you navigate your daily life. Who shines light for you when the fog rolls in? For whom do you shine light?
Happy Friday - January 31Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 1/31/2020
I have been reading David McCullough's biography of John Adams, which has transported me to the time when our nation was being framed. Several questions have been raised: How did the founders live? What enabled them to imagine and then create a new nation? How did they spend their days?
Adams regularly walked distances of seven or more miles: quality time for reflection. He read voraciously: constantly building on his knowledge. He wrote letters daily: revisiting his days and sharing his thinking. Today we race in our cars from one thing to the next. We read snippets with factoids. We fire off texts without composing. Our living has become utilitarian.
Attending to our physical health, feeding our minds, and weaving together our thoughts is being threatened by a fragmented and frantic life style. Hopefully, the education we are providing as teachers and parents is creating an opportunity for our kids to step back and consider how they should live. Imagining a contemplative and examined life driven by ideals like freedom and justice.
I hope this weekend you have the chance to go for a walk, read from a book, and maybe even write a letter to a friend or loved one who is far away. We need more space in our lives for thinking if we hope to advance ourselves in the tradition of our framers. How we live and do our work is a choice.
Happy Friday - January 24Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 1/24/2020Happy Friday, Using Affective I StatementsHappy Friday,
The other day I was bothered by someone’s behavior. I immediately went into judgement mode and looked for someone to hear my complaint. I did not make the effort to let the person know how their behavior had impacted me, so there was no opportunity for that person to tell me their story.
Later, I learned something about the person which helped me to see the behavior and the person in a different light. This shift made me wonder how many times I had misread others and what I could do to change my habit of judging. What would it be like to live in a world where we share openly how the behavior of others impacts us positively and negatively?
The high school joined with the middle school on Tuesday for a full day of professional development to learn about Restorative Practices, which aim to strengthen community by intentionally developing strong relationships. One of the practices we learned about is called “affective statements,” which reveal how you are impacted by the behavior of others. We talked about how this practice might be used to help students relate to each other through empathy.
How deliberate can we be when it comes to our relationships? Using affective I statements like “I feel disrespected when you talk at me with your eyes still fixed on the television” (something I said last night to one of my sons) has challenged me to be honest, to slow down, and to make space for conversations I was not having. Those conversations have replaced frustration, criticism and judgement with curiosity, empathy and understanding.
I hope this weekend you have an opportunity to let someone know how their behavior has positively impacted you, and share with that same person when they impact you negatively. Imagine a world grounded by empathy. Maybe learning to use “affective I statements” will help our kids pave the way for such a dream.
Happy Friday - January 17Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 1/17/2020Happy Friday: Dr. King and the Power of DreamsHappy Friday,
Education provides each of us with the opportunity to lift our heads up and consider what we have to contribute to the greater good. Reading opens our wondering. Writing hones our thinking. Speaking gives voice to our dreams. Listening connects us to the dreams of others.
This weekend our nation remembers the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, who used his education to call others to join him in the pursuit of a dream of equality for all people. I have always taken great strength from his words and have gathered a few quotations for your consideration.
"We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
"Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in."
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
"Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies."
"True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."
I hope this weekend you are able to talk with your kids about Dr. King’s dream, the dreams they have for the future, and the role education might play in helping us all move in the direction of justice.
Happy Friday - January 10Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 1/10/2020Happy Friday: "Not to Do" ListHappy Friday,
Education creates opportunities for us to live lives that matter. Individually, we can discover our vocation. Collectively, we can learn to contribute to the greater good. Education presents us with an immediate and practical question: How do you want to spend your days?
These shortened days of winter call attention to the value of each day, and the importance of being thoughtful about how we use the time we have.
Our school provides our kids with an array of opportunities, which is both wonderful and overwhelming. Their days can be reduced to busyness if they are not mindful with their choices. As parents and educators we can help our kids learn how to choose, how to say no, and how to keep doors open. This conflict between exploring all possibilities and not doing it all leaves them in a paradox.
We can help them navigate by challenging them to engage in what Plato described as the examined life: a life shaped by choices driven by prioritizing. So much emphasis is placed on “doing;” we can forget that discovering yourself is also about realizing what you do not want to do.
All of this leads to the idea of balancing a “To Do “ list with a “Not to Do” list. As our kids grow older and make their way, we have the opportunity to ask them about what they are “not doing” each day in order to create time for the things they need “to do” in order to be true to their vision.
I hope this weekend there is an opportunity for you and your kids to give some thought to what you are “not going to do” so that you can give more of your precious time to the things you value most.
January 3 - 10Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 1/3/2020Happy Friday: What matters most?Happy Friday,
I hope the holidays afforded you the opportunity to slow down and connect with family and friends. The hectic pace of life and the omni-presence of technology can create a distance between us and others. The stressors of modern life can trap us in “To Do Bubbles” where can spend our days frantically spinning in the name of progress, efficiency, and productivity.
Technology can make it difficult for us to be fully present for each other. We have all sat in a room filled with people buried in their phones - the opposite scene of the fire our ancestors huddled around for physical warmth and the emotional support that comes from living in community. Too often we bounce off of each other without meaningful connection.
Research suggests we thrive by more fully realizing our potential when we live connect to others. Going it alone may enable us to move faster, but limited to ourselves, we struggle to persevere when the going gets tough or when we find ourselves stuck. When we know others and are known, we reach out for support and get ourselves unstuck. Knowing another takes effort and time. It means understanding what matters most to them, why those things matter to them, when those things became important to them, the goals they have for those things, and the degree to which their living aligns with what they value most.
Current research on adolescence and purpose development suggests being known and having purpose is essential for the development of our kids. The research calls for us to deepen our understanding of the young people in our lives by engaging them in conversations about their purpose. But rather than asking them directly to articulate their purpose (such an approach usually produces stock answers), we can take a deeper and more personal approach by asking this simple question: What are the three things you value most?
I hope this weekend you have an opportunity to pose this question to your kids.
December 20 - January 3Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 12/20/2019
Happy Holidays Everyone,
I would like to introduce an idea called Winter Cleaning. We are all familiar with the tradition of Spring Cleaning. That time of year when the earth begins to warm, when we open our windows, hang our winter coats for good, and return our gear to the basement til snow falls again. Spring cleaning is a way to reset ourselves, to be present at the intersection of seasons.
During the winter solstice we experience the shortest day of the year. Winter is a season for shining light against the darkness and enjoying warmth against the cold. It is a season of extreme contrasts: darkness frames the light of a window candle and cold warms the weight of a heavy blanket.
As we seek the shelter of our homes with our wood smoke fires and glowing lights, and arm ourselves with blankets and warm drinks, there is an opportunity for Winter Cleaning, which I think of as a time to clean our minds. We can use the quiet of winter nights to focus on the moment, to lean into the quiet and build a foundation for ourselves by sorting through our thoughts. We can open our minds to the possibility of a life lived deliberately.
We can ask ourselves questions. What is the light that we shine uniquely and how do we keep it bright? What light do others shine and how can we support their efforts? What distracts us from being true to our convictions? What can we control? What should we let go of ? How can we practice self-care so we are present for those who need us?
Saturday will mark our Winter Solstice with the setting of the sun at 4:12. Tonight we gather to listen to beautiful music: the light of the young people you see here on stage with their teachers. Both experiences present opportunities to reflect. A life lived in the light that comes from within us is our magic. The smile of a child. The laughter of a loved one. The gleam of a discovering eye. The warmth of a heartfelt hug. The sound of the human voice singing or an instrument brought to life. These are a few of the ways we shine in the darkness and fill the cold with warmth.
My hope is that you each have a moment during the break to do some winter cleaning: to take an inventory of your mind and clear the way for your unique light to shine brightly for all of us.
December 13 - 20Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 12/13/2019
Have you ever watched an idea travel? This past summer I witnessed the birth of a wonderful idea. I was sitting with friends talking about education and the ways culture shapes behavior. Our focus was on the student culture at our school, and the question was about what could be done to develop the best of that culture. We were talking about how kind our kids are to one another and wondering if there was anything we could do the spread the act of what one person coined: “Just being Nice.”
Three days later the idea appeared in the form of a phone call. The voice on the other end asked a question: What if we made stickers with the message “Just be Nice” with the letter “N” designed as our school logo? Genius I thought. The idea became a sticker and began to spread to: office doors, car bumpers, the backs of trucks, and laptop computers. People started asking where they could get a “Just be Nice” sticker.
This week our advisory groups celebrated the holiday season by decorating doors. For thirty-five minutes students and their advisors came together to transform doors into expressions of the season.
The next morning I received an email with pictures of the doors made by our ninth grade advisory groups. There were doors with snowflakes. Doors filled with snowmen. Doors draped with candy canes. Doors with hills and snow and racing sleds. A door presenting Pooh Bear. The Grinch and his dog Max made an appearance. There were skating penguins. One door even displayed an orange octopus.
Sitting at my kitchen table, sipping my morning tea and flipping through the pictures, I noticed something amazing. The summer idea of “Just be Nice” had traveled once again. The idea was represented in some fashion on every single door. Images of kindness and the spirit of the idea of “Just be Nice” were now in every building on campus.
I hope this weekend our idea to“Just be Nice” travels to your home and spends time with you and your family.
December 6 - 13Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 12/6/2019
Happy Friday 12/6/19
As we enter a new school quarter and a new athletic season our students are presented with a variety of opportunities to compete. There are theatre and music competitions, competitions for scholarships, competitions with other schools in everything from chess to swimming, and the ongoing competition we each have within ourselves to be better.
Our kids are immersed in a competitive world. Some have argued that competition is the source of stress. There are those who have made the case for not keeping score or ensuring that everyone should always be recognized as a winner. I have always had a conflicted relationship with competition: the experience of competing can bring out the best and the worst of people. And I have always believed in the transformative power of competition, the value of learning to win with grace, and the potential losing has for making us better.
My son Patrick said something the other day that has helped me to understand how we might use competition as a rising tide for lifting us all to a higher level. A few weeks ago my sons played a hockey game against a team from Groton where we had lived for five years. One of the boys on the other team had been their teammate on our soccer team when the boys were all six years old. Riding home in the truck after the game, Patrick shared a thought: dad, he said, if we had never moved from Groton then those kids would have been my friends, and I would have never known the kids on our team here. I was struck by this observation. I had never considered that everyone I had ever competed against could have been my friend and teammate.
The implications of this observation are considerable when you think about our relationship with competition. When we frame competition with paradox it looks different: opponents become teammates competing in more than the moment, opponents compete together against each other, we make our opponents better by beating them so they in turn become good enough to beat us so we have to become better to beat them. Framed in this way competition joins us in partnership with the other (our opponent) so we can both become better. Consider how the Olympics brings the best athletes from around the world together in competition to extend human performance and break records once thought impossible to achieve. It was once believed a human being could not run the mile in less than four minutes. The current world record is 3:43.
Perhaps it is our response to competition and our relationship to our opponent (which in many cases is ourselves) that makes the difference. When we compete divided from our opponent then our actions can be fueled by fear, contempt, and even hate. When we compete united with our opponent then our actions are fueled by possibility, appreciation, and care. Surely actions driven by positive forces have the capacity to enhance performance more than those driven by negative forces.
If, as Patrick suggests, all of our opponents could have been our friends, then it stands to reason that our greatest opponents (our rivals) could have been our best friends. In this season of thankfulness and giving we have the opportunity as a school community to reframe our competitions so they bring us closer to our opponents with the common aspirational goal of pursuing excellence. I hope this weekend you have an opportunity to engage in some type of competition from which you and your opponent come closer together while each reach new heights.
November 22, 2019Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 11/25/2019
The harvest season is an important time for us. These are the months when we reap the fruits of our labors with an eye on ensuring we are safe and cared for during the winter months. Our skies darken early and cold winds sweep down from the North East. It can be a time of quiet and reflection. Mostly, it is a season for being thankful.
I am thankful for our families, who believe in their children and the promise of education. Talking with parents at school events and around town, I am awed by their commitment to education as a means for realizing vocation. Our kids thrive because of the support they receive each day from their families.
I am thankful for our teachers, who believe every student is capable of growing each day. Sitting in on classes and talking with teachers, I am grateful for their commitment to understanding what each student needs to find success. Each day I watch teachers take time with their students, and I am reminded of what a gift it is to have a teacher who cares by seeing you for who you are becoming.
I am thankful for our students and their capacity to fill us all with the hope that comes from looking towards the future. Watching our students in and out of classes as they support each other and live out our “just be nice” ideal provides a hopeful glimpse of the world they will shape for their generation. I am thankful to be able to spend each day with such a committed group of kind, young people who appreciate their educational opportunities.
I am thankful for our staff who are always ready to help others. I see the time and effort each member of the staff puts into their work: a kind response to a phone call, attention to the details in planning an event, taking the extra time to do things well, reaching out to support whoever is near, laughing together with colleagues. I am reminded each day of how fortunate we are to be surrounded by people who care so deeply about their school.
I am thankful for those who care for our space - our common home away from home. Each day as I walk around the campus I am reminded of the tremendous effort that is required to keep our aged systems working, the details that are tended to each day and night, and the time it takes to keep everything running without notice. Mostly though, I am thankful for the friendly smiles throughout our busy days.
I hope that during the Thanksgiving break from school you have the opportunity to spend time simply being with family. There is a certain art to “doing nothing” by centering yourself in the moment and being able to be fully present with others. Finding that still space that feels like the quiet of falling snow. I encourage you all to make it to the beach for a walk with a loved one. The combined beauty and power of the ocean meeting the colored sky in the later afternoon is always a reminder to me of how fortunate we are to call such a beautiful place our home.