Dear Flint Hill School Families,

I hope everyone had a tremendous Spring Break and a chance to be with family and friends. I am sure many of you also found some quiet moments of solitude to sit, reflect and gather your thoughts. Emily and I found those moments, but they occurred while we were on the run, traveling back and forth across the country. A rapid trip to Silicon Valley, California, where we hosted a baby shower for our youngest son and daughter-in-law, was very special. We then headed back east and drove up into “coal country,” in Pennsylvania, to take part in a surprise 40th birthday party, for one of our nieces. During all these family events, I had a chance to talk with our own children, our grandchildren, and many members of our extended family. In particular, I observed how rushed we all were — from family, from friends and through world events.

Throughout it all, I found myself reflecting on a few key parenting concepts. Clearly, we have to be available to our children today. They want to talk, and they want to be heard. But in some cases, they may not know how to reach us, because the adults in their lives are so busy and overwhelmed. I can’t tell you how many times, sitting at restaurants, I’ve looked across the room and seen kids and parents on their cell phones. Everybody is communicating with somebody, just not at that table. And when people do talk, it can sometimes sound like a wrestling match to get their own ideas and comments in, before the other person even finishes speaking. In psychological “speak,” that is called competitive listening, which isn’t listening at all. I even observed it in our own family. Someone would start to talk and people would immediately interject or get off topic. One of my biggest concerns lately is that we don’t listen very well or don’t seem to know how to listen. I have used the poem, “Listen,” by Dr. Ralph Roughton at various coffees, and it continues to be a good reminder for me on the topic.

If we stop to think about it, authentic listening is hard. And yet, there are lots of things that can cause us to reflect on the importance of this much-needed activity. In fact, here are two quotes that I recently heard, but I don’t know to whom to attribute them:

“A child seldom needs a good talking to as much as a good listening.”

“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as in the word ‘silent.’”

We all need to slow down and listen to each other. We as adults need to listen to each other more. We truly do need to hear what other people are saying. I firmly believe that some of the issues we see in government, politics, and just normal civil discourse have to do with the fact that everyone is waiting to make their point and not listening at all to what other people have to say. It is so obvious to me at times, when I watch interviews on the news, that the TV pundits ask questions without listening to the responses, before going to the next question.

Here at school, we also need to listen to one another as parents, faculty and staff. Through our surveys, coffees, and one-on-one conversations, we have to listen to you and to our students. And we need parents to continue to listen to the teachers and the school leaders when we talk about various issues or share news in newsletters or at conferences. Educating children today is not an easy process. But it is something that we are all committed to doing and doing well, and listening is a critical part of that process.

This push to listen also comes at a point when our school calendar is jam-packed with activities and events, so please mark your calendars and calmly plan ahead. We have the Community of Concern for Grade 10 tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. and for Grade 8 next Wednesday, April 4, at 6:00 p.m. TEDx Youth Day is on Saturday, April 7, followed by Springfest on Saturday, April 21. Our annual Arts Jam Concert is scheduled for April 25, at the GMU Concert Hall at 7:00 p.m. The list goes on and on, but throughout those events, let’s take time to be with others here in our school family, and in the most direct and determined way, please listen to each other and to what is happening.

Best wishes to you!

John M. Thomas