October 4, 2017

Dear Flint Hill School Families,

The Back-to-School nights for this school year ended last week. Each Division had their annual opportunity to meet with parents to give them a preview and overview of the year’s plans for working with their children. It also allowed parents to begin the process of putting faces to the names they have undoubtedly heard from their children. Each evening was jam-packed with parents, and time and time again, at all three divisions, I heard how impressed parents were by both the people who are mentoring their children and the curriculum that was being shared. Our program is both balanced and intensive. It has a breadth and depth that is rare to see, as I noted in last week’s letter.

But to hear it yourself, even in a few short minutes of class, is pretty remarkable. So how do our teachers do it? Great teachers have a passion for their subject matter, and often, that passion ultimately ignites something in all of us. Des Corcoran was my Junior and Senior year English teacher. He was a young teacher from Ireland and had that amazingly strong Irish brogue. He was tough, demanding and very traditional. And he was also my varsity soccer and track and field coach, so I could never hide from him. But his passion and depth of knowledge of literature, and his commitment to teaching us to love literature were infections.

I still remember key aspects of one of his favorite books, “Giants In The Earth,” by O. E. Rolvaag. It was a book about early Americans on the prairie moving west and the struggles they endured. It was an intense, dry and sometimes difficult book to read, and many of my classmates hated it, but 50 years later, I still remember it. Why? Because Mr. Corcoran’s passion inspired and captivated me. He made literature come alive to me in class.

This type of inspiration, motivation, challenge and support is happening every day here at Flint Hill. But the expectations for teachers have expanded exponentially. Teaching used to be a solitary practice and rested almost entirely on a teacher’s personality. Some teachers, like Mr. Corcoran, relished closing their doors at the start of class before lecturing students with their accumulated knowledge. They would question students and encourage them to engage, but it was much more of the “sage on the stage” approach. And for some students, that works.

Today, faculty must work even harder, in addition to the knowledge they have amassed over a lifetime of studying their fields, to help students develop a skill set necessary for the future. Teachers have become mentors and facilitators, far earlier than Mr. Corcoran ever was to me. Technology has to be integrated into the lessons. We ask our faculty to find ways to get the students to be active participants in their learning, whether they are engaging in projects, working in teams, or finding ways to identify and solve problems. Teachers today are asked to think about how to teach creativity on top of everything else we are doing. The “why” and “how” of teaching becomes far more important than the “what” we teach.

To do all of this takes an enormous amount of time, effort, commitment, training and practice. Our faculty members were all highly skilled and talented professionals before they joined us, and at Flint Hill, they are in a continuous state of learning. As you may remember, the opening line of our Mission Statement states that “A Flint Hill education focuses on the learner.” The term “learner” was chosen very intentionally to represent students and the adults to teach, coach and mentor them each day. The adults in our buildings are in a constant state of learning. Many of them are taking coursework at local colleges and pursuing advanced degrees. They are pushing themselves out of their comfort zones to make sure they have the most relevant and high-level preparation for the courses they teach. Faculty frequently attend conferences and workshops both as participants and presenters, and we provide an enormous amount of on-site professional development here at school. A budget dedicated to professional development enables faculty and staff to attend industry conferences, visit other schools, and network with other teachers and institutions around the world. All of this is a testimony to the fact that we all want to get better at what we do.

Education is changing rapidly and not only concerning the courses we offer. The skill set required for teachers to know their subject matter, to help inspire students, and to engage these incredible and active minds at every grade level are changing rapidly, and the field is becoming increasingly demanding. Through our core values, and with our mission and vision as a guide, our teachers are here to challenge, support and nurture your wonderfully, eager and curious Huskies! And I would be remiss if I did not remind you that you are your child’s first and most influential teachers. Both of our roles, at home and school, will enable your children to grow and develop into successful, confident and resourceful young adults that we all look forward to experiencing.

Best wishes to you! I look forward to sharing some books that may have meaning for all of us in the future.

Sincerely,

John M. Thomas
Headmaster