Welcome to May. This month seems to get longer every year, but after writing about the challenges of May in our last HeadLines, I want to focus on what is amazing about this time of year. For me, this time of year is about the awe we find in our schools.
Awe is so important for many things, but it is vital for educators, and more so this year. At a time when everyone’s batteries need to be recharged and daily challenges can tend to abound, now is the time to lean into those moments that inspire awe around our campuses and communities. As it happens, schools are rife with magical moments at this time of year, and I implore you to be more open to their emotional impact this year than ever before.
I know, this is pretty wide open for a lawyer to be writing but hear me out. Research on wellness and happiness notes that experiencing awe brings about any number of benefits: it can improve your mood and raise your satisfaction with your life, it may have long-term health benefits, it can help you think more critically, it may decrease materialism, it can make you feel smaller and more humble, it can make you feel like you have more time, it can make you more generous and cooperative, and it can make you feel more connected to other people and humanity. For those who want to get deeper into the research, you might check out this piece.
Awe is something many of us travel to seek, as nature offers it up so readily. However, scientists have been working on a type of definition, or at least a framework for consideration that underscores that you don’t need to travel far. First, an awesome experience must have vastness, an “experience of something that feels larger than the self or the everyday.” Second, awesome experiences trigger what is referred to as accommodation, which in this context is a “process by which people reevaluate their ideas or beliefs in the light of new experiences or information.” Another piece put it this way: “In other words, when awestruck, people begin to question their world perspective and potentially shift it as a result. The power of nature or the beauty in human accomplishment, these things diminish our egocentric importance and that requires us to revise our understanding of the world and our place in it.”
While I agree with this framework, at least in the current pandemic landscape I think anything that shocks us out of our current stupor and reminds us of the tremendous, bigger picture outside of ourselves likely qualifies.
This brings me around to this time of year in our communities. Take the time to be fully present to experience those awe-inspiring moments on your campuses and lean into the full trajectory of what your institution helps bring about. The incredible growth we see in our students is most readily apparent this time of year even in the little moments if you take a step back and consider the student evolution as formerly shy kindergarteners leap from cars and run into classrooms, unsure first semester high schoolers now tackle AP exams while planning beach weeks and finding summer jobs, and raggedy a cappella groups show how they have mastered the most complex of pieces. Your freshly minted graduates who entered your doors when they were four years old are charging off to be successful on their next adventure.
At the same time, do not overlook the pathways of the incredible adults in your world. I had the immense privilege of attending a retirement celebration two weeks ago. The outpouring of love, affection, and respect for this person’s tremendous life impact was truly awe inspiring. We should embrace those moments to pause and reflect on what a legacy such careers are and understand our own impacts in this wider world, even as our day-to-day journeys feel incremental.
All of these moments come about in no small part because of the incredible work of your schools and the amazing people who nurture those worlds day in and day out. Understanding and seeing the breadth of that impact is remarkable, and I hope that you find it as awe-inspiring as we do at SAIS.
Have a wonderful May with all of the celebrations and milestones it brings!
In this recording, we joined SAIS President Debra Wilson for the new Trustee Education Series focused on best practices in independent school governance, including boundaries, confidentiality, committee structure, and more. The curriculum is designed for heads of school, board chairs, and trustees.