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.