March 6, 2019

Dear Flint Hill School Families,

Can you believe that Spring Break is just a few days away? I must admit, I have felt as if we’ve been riding on an enormous rocket this year, “flying” through seasons, events and various milestones. To be here, at this point of the school year, is almost shocking, and I  think everyone is ready for this break. We all need to step away, get a break, and spend quality time with our families and friends. Whether you plan to travel or stay close to home, let’s all take this precious time to focus in on each other. And as we do that, it is critical to be engaged and to be present.

Last week, I spent several days at the National Association of Independent School (NAIS) annual conference. And part of the excitement of attending, besides the incredible professional development I received, was the opportunity to be with former colleagues and other educators from around the country. Throughout the different events, I found myself doing a lot of people-watching. And as I did, I began to notice the different ways people listen. I learned a long time ago that there are three kinds of listening: passive, competitive and active. And at times, as much as I think I am a good listener, I struggle to make sure that I engage in active listening. It is a skill that we need to teach our children and expect from one another if we are really following our core values.

“Passive” listening is when someone is listening politely but is not truly focused on the other person or what they are trying to say. They may nod occasionally and appear engaged, but if you suddenly ask them a question, their response makes it clear that they weren’t actually listening. “Competitive” listening is also known as “listening to respond.” Your mind is consumed by what you’re going to say next, rather than truly hearing the other person in the conversation. During the conference, I was surprised by all of the passive and competitive listening I observed among the attendees.

“Active” listening is what we all need to practice and get good at. And Spring Break is the perfect time for us to not only engage in this practice with our families but also to model it for our children. Active listening is when we hear what someone has to say, we reflect on what they said and we respond to it. This action of listening may lead to more discussion, and it is all focused around the fact that we truly hear what others have to say.

Active listening is critical if we are going to understand each other, learn and grow together. And with the pace of life here in Northern Virginia and all the activities that take place at Flint Hill, sometimes it may be over a break like this that we can make that part of our focus. We need to develop that habit as an ongoing, viable and committed one so when we are back together later this month, we can actively listen to each other.

I hope whatever it is that you have planned for this upcoming break, that you will enjoy that experience and take full advantage of the opportunity to begin to refill your bucket of energy. You are going to need it as we return to this final charge! The pace of April and May is enormous. It is hard to believe that our next break we will be for Memorial Day and that Closing Ceremonies are just around the corner!

Best wishes to you! I hope you truly enjoy your time away.

Sincerely,

John M. Thomas
Headmaster