Being Mindful of Words

Dear Flint Hill Families,

We all know that words can carry significant meaning. We spend a lot of time using words in our daily lives, at school, and home and at work, from writing personal notes, and reports, to Tweets or Facebook comments. We can spend time pouring over greeting cards trying to find just the right one that says just the right thing. How we communicate in writing is a very important task and a huge responsibility. We took pride recently, when two of our Upper School Sophomores Chase Sizemore and Caroline Gregg entered the 2016 Elie Wiesel Writing Competition — at the suggestion of their English Teacher Tracy Peterson —   and won first and second place respectively in the Senior Essay Division. That is an amazing accomplishment. The competition gave them the opportunity to enhance their studies of the Holocaust and to use their words in the most influential and powerful way. We congratulate them for this achievement.

But we also know that words can be hurtful. Words can humiliate, attack and/or defame others. We are seeing some of that on our national political stage today. We occasionally see it between students. We may have witnessed it when an adult speaks to a child or when adults speak to each other. And when confronted, the offender will often rationalize with comments such as, “I was just trying to make a point” or “I was just joking.” The use of those words may have been an impulsive act of anger or frustration. Sometimes, they don’t even realize the power that those words can have.

The Upper School Advisories, under the leadership of our incredible counselors, have recently been doing an exercise with the concept of “oversharing.” This concept brings the idea that saying too much or passing on too much information could be inappropriate. That exercise led to discussions in advisories about cyber-bullying, which can be a huge concern. News in the educational field today constantly addresses the impact that social media can have with regard to anonymous comments directed toward individuals — comments that are ugly, personal and aggressive to a point that are sickening. Going home used to be an escape, when someone was being bullied. Now, the bully is right there on a website — visible to everyone — but often unnamed and anonymous. Teens have committed suicide over such comments, not able to withstand the hurt feelings that flood them after reading what someone had said about them. Teaching our kids about how to use words appropriately is a huge responsibility on us as parents and educators. Who was it who once said that words have power? Words are power.

Fortunately, we also know that power can be used for good. For example, we can find power in a positive poem or in a quote that moves or motivates us. Words can be powerful, good, strong, and empowering. Still, it is the negative that concerns and worries me right now. They include labels and stereotypes and cover even aspects of diversity and inclusion. These are words that some people say that, rather than proving a point, suddenly generate fear, anxiety and turmoil.

Together, at home and at school, we have a huge responsibility to think carefully about our words. Our children — our students — are listening and watching us very carefully, and learning from us. If we don’t use the right words, the impact can form beliefs and habits that will be harmful to our children and to the harmony we all want to see in life. Words cannot be taken back, and their impact can linger. We need to take time to think about how to use our words effectively, efficiently, and respectfully. At Flint Hill we have our four core values. Honesty is critically important, but it also comes with respect, responsibility and compassion. These are values that we need to remember, practice and teach to our children from the early stages at home and throughout their years at School. And we must always be mindful of the impact words can have.

Please join me in making a commitment to recognizing the importance of words. We are going to encourage our children to read. We are going to encourage our children to write well and speak well. But above all, we are going to help them learn how important it is to use words in the most appropriate way possible.

On another quick note, many thanks to everyone who attended our Lower School Engineering Night last Friday. It was a huge success! And thank you to all of our faculty and staff who helped host the VAIS Technology Conference on Saturday. It was another opportunity to learn and share with fellow educators from throughout the state, and Flint Hill teachers led the majority of the discussions. Tonight, I look forward to seeing many of you at the Arts Jam Synergy Concert. I promise you that it will be one of the most amazing concerts you will ever attend! And on Saturday, Springfest is taking place. Please take a moment to review the schedule of this wonderful day for all the fun and exciting activities.

 

Best wishes to you!

Sincerely,


John M. Thomas
Headmaster