Musings on Gratitude, Failure, & Learning

Entering my tenth year as Head of School at Colorado Academy, I am as excited as ever about the promise of this institution. It has been beyond a privilege to serve the Colorado Academy community. It is a place with people who continually amaze and inspire.

We have teachers who have dedicated their lives to the intellectual, artistic,ethical, and athletic development of young people. We have made deliberate and intentional choices, typically involving some sacrifice, to send our children to a school with such an ambitious mission. We have alumni who are committed to the institution. We have donors who have make significant gifts to the school to improve the environment of the school, as well as make it possible for a robust financial aid program. And, we have students who bring their energy, passion, and enthusiasm for learning to our campus every day.

My role is one of serving these different constituencies, as well as the mission of a school that is more than 100 years old. Like any CEO or executive leader of a complex, human-driven institution, there are innumerable challenges and hard decisions. But, in my role, I try to live by demonstrating gratitude for this place, finding joy in every moment (even the hard ones), and serving the institution with integrity.

For me, gratitude for CA is easy to come by both personally and professionally. For the Davis family, our twins, who began in third grade, are now seniors, and our youngest is now a sophomore. Our family has truly lived the CA journey. Our children have been able to engage in a variety of activities. They have had phenomenal role models in the teachers, coaches, and artists with whom they have worked. They have had success, and they have had failures. But, any disappointment was coupled with learning that has made them more resilient and ready for future challenges.

Nearly every day since our children joined the CA community, I have walked to school with them. On those walks, I hear about the latest news from the student perspective or updates on what they are working on in their classes. As a parent, it has been wonderful to have my children in such an engaging environment. I have been most grateful that the school has helped broaden their understanding of themselves and the world, and to see them truly prepared to take on any challenge.

As an educator, it is hard not to feel gratitude for the professional environment of CA. I work closely with a great team of administrators and school leaders who put students first. The faculty and staff bring a growth mindset to their work. In the last ten years, there has been a cascade of innovative ideas related to educational reform, and CA faculty members have led the charge in embracing new pedagogies and approaches. And all the while, student learning is at the center.

In our Pre-Kindergarten class, you can see how great teachers engage young minds. Or, walk through the halls of the Lower School and feel the positive energy of students and teachers working with one another. There a few things more fun than observing a Middle School class.

They have dynamic minds, and there is little that can hold them back from from sharing their ideas! And one can walk through the Upper School and see high-level thinking and a deep commitment to excellence in their course work. I enjoy sharing the story about a visiting NYU law professor who led a discussion on constitutional rights and anti-terrorism policies in my class for seniors. It was a tour de force, not only from the professor — who asked hard questions, but also from the students, who responded with incredible sophistication and thoughtfulness. It demonstrated to me the power of a CA education.

Our students live full and busy lives studying, playing sports, participating in the arts, starting clubs, and engaging in service learning. And all of that takes place against a backdrop of dozens of years of time-honored traditions that provide students with joy and memories for years to come.

At CA, we believe it is important for adults in this community to remember that it is critical to preserve the happiness and joy of childhood. It is also important for us to remember the resiliency of young people and how some things have to be learned through a bit of tough love and struggle.

In a student population of more than 960 students and 1500 parents, we see remarkable examples of kindness, of students, looking out for one another, or, of a teacher, going above and beyond to make a difference in the life of a student, or of families supporting one another in times of need.

At the same time, we are also dealing with developing humans, who sometimes don’t have full control over their emotions and actions. As educators, sometimes we make mistakes, as well. I think it is important we acknowledge those mistakes and errors as part of the growth process. I heard an appropriate metaphor about this from a parent about how one might address a mistake.

He used the example of accidentally stepping or making a mark in wet cement. If we ignore the mistake, it will harden for eternity. If we can address our error — perhaps in how we handle a situation — we can correct it more quickly and literally wipe the slate clean.

Some of our best learning comes from our failures, and I find great satisfaction and fulfillment in helping a student, family, or faculty member work through a struggle. My door is always open. This year, I will hit the road again and get out into the Denver community to host some get-togethers for working parents. We want to hear from you. We appreciate your support for the mission of CA. We have an exciting year ahead with construction projects and an ongoing capital campaign. Please follow my blog and our website for updates on the joy of CA.