Greenhill School Hosts Third Annual Advancing Core Principles Conference

Director of Marketing Kerry Shea shares her experiences at Greenhill School’s Advancing Core Principles Conference.

Chris Gunnin, Head of Upper School at Trinity Valley School, opened Greenhill School’s third annual Advancing Core Principles conference, by sharing stories about childhood experiences that both shaped him, and taught him about honor in our often chaotic world. To a room full of smooth student faces, and a handful of faculty members, he reminded everyone that our personal values serve as a rudder, guiding us when life “gets in the way.”

But values don’t just happen. They need to be cultivated and nurtured, much like a student would perfect a more-concrete skill, like reading or writing. Gunnin’s talk provided the perfect opening to a conference about maintaining, or even creating, honor in school cultures.

During the three breakout sessions that I attended, I was impressed with the level of student dialog about complex ethical and moral situations. In one session, titled “Honor in Athletics – how can athletics help fulfill a school’s mission?”, students struggled with how to find honor in an activity that encouraged one team to beat another. If you are trying to win, can you still be honorable? If a referee makes a bad call that favors your team, do you do anything about it?

Another session, “Honor Pledges, Codes and Councils”, reviewed how to set up an honor council, and even showed a sample case that an honor council might evaluate. While somewhat more prescriptive in nature, the session also demonstrated that the honor code violations that students review are layered with shades of gray. In an open note quiz, is it ok if a student uses the notes in the margin of his textbook? Should the person sharing lab notes receive a punishment as harsh as the person copying the notes into their own lab book?

In the session, “So What Happens Now? How to Rebuild a Foundation of Trust”, students and faculty members shared surprisingly divergent views on how to handle a student after an honor code infraction. While faculty members shared that they would often put a student “on watch” or “on probation” after an honor code violation, as soon as that student demonstrated remorse and/or a change of ways, the faculty member returned to treating that student like any other. Students were far harder on their peers. If a student found out another had cheated, he or she would be far less likely to forgive that person. The power of this session was the way in which it helped participants understand that everyone makes mistakes and everyone deserves forgiveness and a second change.

By the end of the conference, everyone had a new perspective or viewpoint, possibly even an idea or two, to take back to their home campuses. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing from the kids, but I was most impressed with Dan Kasten and the entire Advancing Core Principles team for creating an environment of reflection and openness, a place for challenging conversations. If we don’t pause to consider our values on occasion, then our personal rudder will cease to work, and the conference reminded us that we all need a guide in an often less than honorable world.

Refilling the Heart during Community Service Day

Head of Upper School Laura Ross reflects on her first Greenhill School Community Service Day.

Whew, what a day! I just returned from doing site visits at nine different agencies at which our students were volunteering as part of the Upper School Community Service Day. I also returned to campus just in time to watch our seniors hugging good-bye their 5th grade buddies from Bush Elementary after hosting them for the day on our campus while the 9th-11th graders were out doing good all over Dallas.

I was struck by something Sally Rosenberg, our Director of Service Learning and Community Service, said to me as we were driving all over town. She said that she plans this day with the goal of our students learning to be “heart smart.” I’ve been thinking about what that means all day. For her, it meant that she wanted to instill a lifelong love of and commitment to service in our students. Upper School Community Service Day is not an isolated incident – it’s the culmination of years of service activities that Greenhill students start in kindergarten when they accompany Mrs. Rosenberg or Mrs. Barnes on trips to deliver Meals on Wheels. I love that part of our curriculum, and I appreciate that goal.

For me, however, I see its value differently. When I observed our students today, I saw them as children – as young people who are still kids in the best sense of the word. I felt like I could see little meters on their hearts filling back up to full. The last few weeks have been stressful ones for the students as they completed their first set of finals for the year. For seniors, it was their last exams of high school, and for ninth graders it was their first. For both of those groups of kids, last week was momentous. I saw a lot of anxious faces and a few tears. I also saw them learning and studying together – cheering each other on as they were walking into rooms and hugging each other as they walked out. It wasn’t all bad (they got to have “dress down days” so that part made them really happy!) but it’s certainly not the easiest time of year. Given that, having Community Service Day right after finals felt right, because I saw them become youthful, silly kids again right before my eyes.

Every place we went the staff members were full of praise for our students and their work. Mrs. Rosenberg told me that every year she tells the agencies to plan twice as much work as they think teenagers will do because she knows how dedicated our kids are. At the end of the day at We Over Me ranch in South Oak Cliff, the farm manager told our students that in one day they had completed two weeks’ worth of work on the farm. I was proud of them, and they were clearly proud of themselves, but I was more excited because we were providing the opportunity for them to learn to be “heart smart” – to remember that the things that fill our spirit aren’t always the things we can quantify.

Learning about Dallas and Business in Spanish Class

Director of Marketing and Communications Kerry Shea writes about her recent visit to the Spanish in the Metroplex Class. She learned a lot, even if she did not understand everything that was said.

My last formal training in the Spanish language occurred in the mid-1990s. While I have received some exposure to the language over the past 20 years, either through vacations to Latin American countries or by living in Southern states, my language skills are rusty. So when an invitation to visit Greenhill’s Spanish in the DFW Metroplex crossed my desk, I hesitated. The teacher, Tina Mendez-Kohler, had invited Mr. Robert Peinado, an international businessman who had done work in both the United States and Mexico, to speak about his work in the Dallas area.

The topic sounded interesting, but I feared I wouldn’t understand much of what he was saying. Eventually, I decided to go to capture a couple of photos for the website and social media. I didn’t plan to stay long. Imagine my surprise when I found myself still sitting in the classroom at the end of the 55-minute class.

Mr. Peinado’s talk was fascinating. He is a real estate developer and the purpose of his talk was to share his experiences with creating a new mixed-use project in the Dallas area. He started by sharing his background and how he developed an idea to help bring more of the communal way of life in Mexico to the United States. He shared how the idea formed more than six years ago, and how the project evolved as he received input from leaders in multiple cities. Now, finally, his development is set to break ground later this summer.

While the project itself was interesting, I found the life lessons Mr. Peinado infused into his talk even more compelling. He talked about the importance of understanding family history – he learned that his own family included thoughtful, hardworking individuals, and that contributed to his own persistence. (He also learned that his Mexican grandfather was wanted by the United States government!) He shared that he feels comfortable in board rooms in New York and in local bars in Mexico, but that his ability to transition between worlds has taken time. He said that the more time you put into something, the better it will be.

He bounced back and forth between Spanish and English, talking rapidly, but always making sure that the students were following. And they were. Exams were scheduled to start the next day, and students had every right to be distracted, but they were all riveted, asking compelling, thoughtful questions. Who is your biggest competitor? What was your favorite part of working on the project?

At the end of class, I was amazed by how much Spanish I remembered and how much I was able to follow. But I was even more amazed at the class itself – at how Greenhill students engaged in such a high level discussion in another language, at how a businessman recognized the importance of sharing his experiences with the future leaders of our country, and how many wonderful opportunities the students and faculty at Greenhill share.