Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter

January 2017

Nobles Parents' Newsletter January 2017

"What Matters Most" by Head of School Bob Henderson

The last topic I covered in my AP European history class for the first semester was medical practices in eighteenth century Western Europe. I find such things very interesting, and I perceive how this topic fits into a wider web of developments and changes. Some of my students generally do as well. For most of them, however, this is just a discrete packet of information. They usually grasp the context and can place the data into a framework, yet it serves the purpose of success in the class rather than of knowledge for its own sake. They will forget it swiftly, except for perhaps some general impression of the historical progress of medical care. I believe the same is true of most of the factual content in the class. Yet I am okay with that.

For me, the point of teaching high school history is not the mastery of information. In the age of the Internet and instantaneous access to information, the need to pound in details seems quaintly obsolete. Instead, my goal as a history teacher is to impart broader understanding of the world and humanity. I want for my students to discuss and probe human foibles and frailty, as well as the magnificence of human achievements, all with the object of better understanding the conditions of their lives in the early twenty-first century. I hope to help them to discern patterns, to set priorities in terms of what factors most influenced events, and to see the echoes of the past in the ways in which they think and comprehend the world today. I want them to be able to think clearly, express themselves coherently both orally and in writing, weigh honestly their own biases, and confidently analyze personalities and eras. Above all, and I say this in the context of the last presidential election, I believe it is imperative that my students are able to use sources and information, to decide upon its relative meaning, merits and veracity, and to construct paradigms in regard to both the past and for action in the future that reflect facts and reality.

For many years now I have struggled to incorporate technology effectively into my pedagogy. I have experimented with several approaches, some with notable success, others less so. The most profound revelation I had, however, over the last couple of years, is the price I was paying in the critical first five minutes of a class period by directing my attention to whether all the technology was working correctly for class. To be fair, my struggle with some of this reflects my general technological ineptitude. Nevertheless, it bothered me a great deal that, rather than connecting with all students individually as they came through the door, reading the signals in terms of mood and state of mind, offering congratulations for games and assembly appearances, and reinforcing my relationship with them, I was investing too much energy into making projectors work and websites connect. I decided to be much more selective about technology and invest more into my relationships. This is because relationships are at the core of all great teaching. Students learn and contextualize far more when they know that I care for and about them, and that I have uniformly high expectations for them; that connection represents the margin between high achievement in the moment and excellence in education that makes a lasting difference for the better.

The point for me, then, of teaching teenagers is never to forget that I am in this to help my students become better people. This is done through a keen balance between personal connection and emphasis on the higher order relevance of my curriculum. Teachers can certainly improve their skills, and they can learn a great deal more about methods and tools that can make them more effective and successful. In the end, however, none of that makes any difference unless I can foster and distill the essential sense of inspiration and connection that students will carry with them through the rest of their lives. They will forget much or most of the specific content of my course, but they will not forget me or what I represent, and they will forever be able to utilize the habits of mind and manner that I have encouraged. This same approach has informed the basic nature of my headship. I try never to forget what really matters most in secondary education.

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