At the Upper School, we’ve had a fabulous start to the 2022-2023 school year. Per our tradition, our Ninth Graders were welcomed by the Senior Class on their first day of high school. Our Seniors gathered at the front doors of the Upper School and cheered on each Ninth Grader as they entered the building. While having a house party mix blasting at 7:30 in the morning might have been an unexpected soundtrack to the first day of high school, judging by the smiles on the faces of our students, it will serve as an excellent memory as they look back at the start of the school year!

During our opening Upper School Assembly, I shared with the students that the faculty opened our own first meeting this year by asking ourselves two questions.

First, the faculty took some time to identify a personal practice or habit that we engaged in last year that we absolutely wanted to keep this year. I told our students this was a fun question to think about because we got to consider what worked well. As faculty, we identified those things we did that made us better teachers, better colleagues, or better at our jobs.

Next, the faculty took some time to identify a practice or habit that we engaged in last year that we absolutely wanted to let go of. This question was a little less fun because it meant we had to think back on a time when we were less effective than we’d hoped, or when we did something that worked in the short run but caused us more trouble in the long run. I let our students know that getting in your own way is something that adults secretly hope they’ve outgrown, but the truth is that all humans—of all ages—do it all the time.

With this framing, I asked students to consider these two questions for themselves.

As faculty, we hope that asking our students to recall a practice or habit from last year that they want to keep will help make them more successful this year. There are so many practices and habits we see CA students engaging in every day that we are proud of and that we hope they’ll absolutely keep. Our kids are empathetic and curious; they ask for help and offer help generously; they are kind to each other. At their best moments, they recognize that growth is never about competition with their peers but about expanding those skills they’ll need to better understand the world around them.

Now, the question about what practice or habit our students would like to let go of is a personal one. That’s not to say that their friends, teachers, or advisor can’t offer them perspective, but as I reminded our students, the reflection needed to determine the right answer is really an inside job.

A new school year is often framed around the idea of new beginnings or infused with talk of new additions—which makes a lot of sense! And in fact, we hope that our students will spend a lot of time enjoying the newness of the 2022-2023 school year and all the wonderful additions it will bring.

But subtraction is just as important.

Taking inventory of the habits or practices that didn’t work, asking how we get in our own way, or letting go of old ideas that hold us back is just as vital as knowing what went well or celebrating what’s brand new.

For some of our students, that old idea may be that math is not their thing or that they’re not good at writing. Some may think that meeting with teachers doesn’t help, or that their classmates don’t change from one grade to the next, so why should they give each other space to show up differently? But when we use these old ideas as our starting point, we paint ourselves and others into tiny corners.

So, as we begin this new year, we are encouraging our students to adopt an expansive mindset. Our faculty hope to empower our students to set a compass that allows them to leverage the mistakes of the past and maximize their inner wisdom.

And as I reminded our students, as long as we keep our community values front and center, we’ll be just fine. And likely even better than that.