October 3, 2018

Dear Flint Hill School Families,

I hope you enjoyed our “guest” writers over the month of September. They are outstanding people and all bringing a wealth of experience and energy to Flint Hill. A quick note to say “thank you” to everyone who was able to join us last Tuesday night at the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors session. It was an impressive turnout. Your presence had an impact, and we are all relieved and pleased that our application was unanimously approved. More on that in the upcoming weeks. And if you happen to run into Anne Peterson, our assistant head for finance and operations, please be sure to give her a special “thank you” for the years of work, leadership and guidance she put into this entire project. She deserves our collective “Husky High-Five” for sure!

One of the great examples we showed the Board of Supervisors was how respectful we were. A large group of parents and students — some from the Lower School — were all quiet and all listening. It is the Flint Hill way. We hear it all the time. I heard it just the other day at a reception I hosted for our new faculty and staff, as we discussed how their first six weeks have gone. Several of them commented on how shocked they were at how our students always say “thank you” at the end of class as they prepare to leave. Some faculty members have come from other schools where they had never heard that before. They may have heard a “goodbye” or lots of silence. At Flint Hill, you will hear a wave of “thank yous” from different students. We heard that compliment from teachers in all three divisions. And we have never asked our Huskies to do that! It is just an organic aspect of our culture.

At another recent meeting with new parents, a parent who has volunteered at the Igloo commented on how surprised she was at how nearly all the students always say “please” and “thank you” as they request items, make their purchases, and head off into their afternoons. Other parents then chimed in that they had heard that as well. They were surprised at the level of manners and poise of all our students. Students looked them in the eye, spoke respectfully, and always said “thank you.”

Mind you, we even have students now who kindly hold the doors open for other students before school starts, hold the gym doors open for people to get into town meetings, and hold the front doors open to help speed up the flow of students back into the building after fire drills. I have overheard that these students hear the same thing that I hear when I hold the doors occasionally at those events … a constant stream of “thank yous” as the students go by. And we see their poise when our older students high-five the Lower Schoolers at games and around campus. The Upper Schoolers respond appropriately to the young Huskies’ hellos and cheers, especially at athletic games. Our Upper School students appropriately respond with respect and pride. They demonstrate and model our core values on a frequent basis.

Bottom line, this sense of civility is a cherished part of our culture that we want to nurture and encourage in every way possible as we go forward. It is a gift to our children to be exposed to this, to learn from it, and to practice doing it. And it is a quiet gift to everyone else to feel it and to experience it during their daily activities. It has reached the point that when I pass students and I say “good morning” or “hello,” I nearly always get a look in the eye, a hello back, and a return good morning, and I am surprised when it doesn’t happen.

We need people with manners and poise in the world today. Of course, we want our students to be highly educated, but we also need them to have learned a sense of visible and almost tangible civility. We want our students to know that it is our responsibility to treat others with respect. Sadly, we know that there is precious little of it in the greater world right now. Some people in public feel no hesitation in berating a clerk at a store or a waiter at a restaurant. I have seen it myself, and you may have as well. Our public elected leaders sometimes feel it is appropriate to yell at each other in meetings, as if the louder they get and the more intimidating they are will make their point. Across the country, we hear reports of college students who go to lectures presented by potentially controversial guest speakers, and instead of listening to what they have to say, they try to make their objections known by shouting down the speakers to the point that the person never has a moment to speak. It stops debate. It stops learning. It suddenly cuts off any chance of hearing where their thought process came from. And it deprives us of an opportunity to share what our beliefs are. Rudeness, name calling, loud displays of emotions, or at times silent indifference seems to be the examples presented all too often to our children. We can’t allow that to happen. We can and will do better.

Flint Hill has a clear focus on our core values. We need to commit to continuing to nurture within our children the ability to say “thank you,” “please,” “you are welcome,”  or whatever it is to show those manners. We need to collectively teach them to look people in the eye and shake their hands. We need to encourage this behavior, both at home and at school. And granted, I know at times it isn’t as easy to get some of those behaviors out at home. Emily and I constantly struggled with this as our boys grew up.  And there were plenty of moments when it was tiring and frustrating with their “monosyllabic grunts” or their clear frustration with us and our constant talk about manners. We would often use that parental quote “What word is missing there?” when we wanted to hear a please or a thank you. Of course, we also would have other people always tell us how polite our kids were and how impressed they were by their manners when they visited friends’ homes. Emily and I would occasionally look at each other in surprise, since we did not see it at home. But, we at least were pleased that the lessons were getting through, obviously, because the kids felt comfortable in engaging with other people using that civility.

Let’s make this one of our ongoing commitments together. A “quiet” core value of Flint Hill. I think we have come a long way in helping to develop the type of people we all want to move into the world today. I thank you for your support in these efforts. Your commitment to partnering with us and for all the great lessons makes it evident that you are teaching your children these same values every day.

Best wishes to you! And as always … thank you for all you do to help us provide an incredible experience for our students.

Sincerely,

John M. Thomas
Headmaster