February 16, 2017

By now, most people in the GSB community have heard me say that schools are “messy” places. My follow up line to this observation is “both students and adults are capable of doing foolish things from time to time.” Now, it should be self-evident that this is not intended to be either a general indictment or a widespread admission of guilt. It simply represents one of life’s basic realities and attempts to provide a context for events in the daily life of an academic institution. It is also why we have an Honor System at our school.

The weeks prior to spring break are particularly challenging ones as they are a time in which a great many things – grades, bad weather, the reenrollment process, personnel evaluations, college decisions, etc. – converge and naturally increase the level of stress in our lives. Unfortunately, this convergence can lead to even more missteps than usual.

When I reflect on the collective impact of these factors, I always reach the same conclusion: thank goodness February is the shortest month! Indeed, it is safe to say that many in our community are already counting down the days until the break in March.

I also find myself thinking about our mission and core values and how they guide us as we deal with various situations. Standing in the waiting area of the Nardelli building this morning, my eyes spotted a framed copy of our Honor Statement. Each year at Convocation, we highlight and read it as a school community. Consider for a moment:

GSB Honor Statement
As members of the Gill St. Bernard’s School community, we believe that faith, honor and consideration are the foundation of an open and trusting environment. In affirming this belief, we endeavor to uphold the following ideals:
  • Respect for all individual community members and their beliefs.
  • Integrity, truthfulness and sportsmanship in our academic and extracurricular pursuits.
  • Service to the school and our communities.
In affirming these ideals, we strive to uphold and strengthen bonds of trust and friendship among all individuals who are now, and in the future, members of the community.
 
When this was first adopted more than 15 years ago, I remember that one (of the many) pieces of feedback I received was the notion that “just saying these words does not make a person more honorable.” Of course, I agreed with the individual who made the comment, but suggested that it did give us a framework within which we could talk about such issues. When something went wrong, we could now discuss it, agree upon a course of action and reach a deeper understanding in light of the Honor System. Without such a framework, learning becomes void of any real meaning and opportunity for growth.

Along with preparing students for college, at GSB we endeavor to prepare them for a meaningful life. Recognizing our own fallibility is one particularly important life lesson. Being able to place events in perspective is another. We all recognize that there are consequences for our actions, especially when a mistake of some kind is made. The consequences depend on the individual circumstances in each case. This too is another life lesson.

Taken altogether, these insights can help us navigate much of the “mess” in February and throughout the year. It is a journey we take together and often times the greatest learning takes place when we fall short of a goal or a poor decision is made. Our ability to recognize this is but one more indication of our strong community as we move forward.
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Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a vigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.