Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter

March 2015

Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter March 2015

Winter Musings about “Best Laid Schemes…” by Head of Upper School Michael Denning

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane (you are not alone)
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley, (often go wrong or awry)
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy.

—From “To A Mouse” by Robert Burns, November 1785

I am a planner. For the students in Classes I and II who are in my AP European History course, I begin every term by offering a syllabus that outlines the reading assignments and assessments for the entire quarter. In light of the discipline required to meet the significant demands of this college-level course, this practice is essential. Moreover, I believe that juniors and seniors must learn to do their own careful planning and budgeting of time, and having a term’s worth of assignments in front of them from the outset helps to facilitate the meeting of this pedagogical goal.

Working with faculty colleagues and fellow administrators to create the master calendar for the school year is much more challenging and time-consuming, but a similarly rewarding process. Nobles is a complex, ambitious ecosystem. Indeed, a lot happens during a school year in and out of our classrooms, and at no time is this more apparent  than during the many meetings we have in the spring and summer months to plan the following year’s calendar(s). As we readied these for publication this past August—adding in this year’s no-homework nights, holidays, breaks, athletics contests, concerts, theatre and dance performances, parent programs, special events, assessment and final-exam schedules and much, much more—I was struck by a realization that the packed nature of the Nobles school year makes it very difficult to reschedule events that are postponed. Yet, in spite of having some feelings of concern about the rigidity of the Nobles calendar,  the sense of control I felt after  publishing the master calendar and my syllabus was also liberating. Ironically, perhaps by giving up some freedom, spontaneity and flexibility to a schedule or plan, I gained some semblance of control where previously I felt none had existed.

In recent years, we have evolved to online versions of the master calendar and stopped publishing a paper copy. And for my students, I write my syllabus in a Google Doc rather than in an attached email document. Along with these practices’ obvious benefits to the environment, they also make it easier for us to make changes when, inevitably, things come up, events are postponed, and we have had to make changes and adjustments. In the past, we have often had to issue more formal corrections. Perhaps in your own life, you remember making a distinction between an event you had “penciled into a calendar”—so that you would be able to make the changes you were anticipating—and an event for which you had “allowed the ink to dry” in the calendar because you deemed it to be unmovable. Today’s technological processes make the rescheduling and editing of events more like the former than the latter. And this year, in particular, I am thankful that this is the case.

Mother Nature’s statements of the past five weeks have significantly disrupted many a calendar, schedule and syllabus. Indeed, for many in this region and some in our community, the storms of the past month have been difficult, costly, unsettling and very upsetting. For all of us, the weather has demanded that we make lots of adjustments. As I write, my colleagues are rebuilding syllabi, rescheduling events and contests, and ardently looking for ways to ameliorate challenges created by the loss of planned opportunities. Our amazing, indefatigable colleagues in Buildings and Grounds have worked tirelessly to clear and reclear all the snow and ice and to make our facilities as comfortable and functional as possible. However, in spite of their heroic efforts, travel to school has been more difficult than anyone can remember, and there have been cancellations, disappointments and, most importantly, extreme hardships. If nothing else, the blizzards of 2015 have brought to light the truth of Robert Burns’ aphorism:

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley, (often go wrong or awry)

In times of difficulty, challenge and uncertainty, our students and children look to us for guidance as to how best to react. Part of the way they gain control and feel safe and secure is by knowing that we are looking out for them and that we are confident we will come through today’s challenges even though we must make adjustments in plans and schedules. At Nobles, I have been so impressed with the good-natured, positive ways in which my colleagues have worked to make the best of the current situation, cheerfully and calmly adjusting, readjusting and then readjusting again. In spite of many missed rehearsals and practices, the mainstage play is ready to go up; the student-directed plays were outstanding; the wind and strings concert was a great success; our teams have thrived; and our community-service groups have worked to improve the lives of many in this area. In our classrooms, our teachers have been innovative, flexible and patient, working to compensate as best they can for lost time. And through all this, our students have had the opportunity to learn a great deal about the necessity of  resilience, perseverance, flexibility and controlling only those things we are able. If John Lennon was right when he suggested that “life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans,” perhaps it is also true that opportunities for good teaching and parenting—for leadership in all forms—arise when we are forced to cope with “best-laid schemes” gone awry. Onwards to spring!

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Dedham, Massachusetts
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