If We Want Them “To Serve and Lead,” What Then Must We Do?

[This piece appears with a different headline and in a slightly edited form on the last page of the latest copy of The Westminster Magazine.]  

Last week I hosted eighteen freshmen in my office for lunch. I have been hosting these lunches as a means of getting to know students and as a means of developing a better understanding of the work ahead of us as a school. This was a bigger group than usual, as Woodrow Barnes brought his entire Bible class at once since scheduling such time during student free periods has proved difficult in their too-crowded daily lives at Westminster.

In each one of the lunches I have had in my office, students have offered remarkable insight into how we need to think about change. I get the better end of the bargain…they get lunch from Chick-fil-A or Honey Baked Ham, and I get a clearer vision of the kind of school our students most deserve—the one that is called for in our Strategic Plan and most poignantly in Learning for Life: A Vision for Westminster.

Time and again in these lunchtime conversations, students have asserted a desire to have learning be meaningful and relevant. They have demanded greater engagement, and they have expressed a desire to deepen their learning, to discover interests and perhaps even a passion, to be exposed to new things, and to see beyond the boundaries of our campus more often. When asked to imagine what the world might look like twenty years into the future, among other things they have spoken eloquently about the impact of technology.  They see its pros and cons, and they are excited and anxious about what it will mean for the world they will inherit.

These conversations have offered me constant reminders of our students’ ability to understand and make meaning from nuance and to see difficult issues from myriad angles.

Learning for Life calls us to rise to a new occasion, and when I cut through all the rhetoric that accompanies this task, I find myself holding tight to a simple idea: there is no group I would rather have “serving and leading in a changing world” than these talented and passionate students eating chicken sandwiches in my office. My simple idea begs a defining and challenging question, however: what then must our school community do to set these young people on their way not only with skills and with knowledge, but also with acute moral compasses and with open hearts?

When we think about the strategic direction of the school in light of our commitment to answer this question, we can see it as a bold assertion of the ideals set forth in the school’s founding now contextualized more for the century we are living in than for the one we have left behind.

4 thoughts on “If We Want Them “To Serve and Lead,” What Then Must We Do?

  1. hollychesser May 15, 2012 / 8:28 am

    The students ask that their learning be “meaningful and relevant” so that they can experience “engagement” and develop “interests and perhaps even a passion.” It’s a simple, authentic request, like asking that the food we eat be nutritious, flavorsome, and varied. Why do so many of us resist their words, insisting instead that they will eventually develop an appetite for a steady diet of the bland and tedious? So often we adults assume that students are simply asking for the quick satisfaction of empty calories. I think they know what will be sustaining.

    • J Ross Peters May 15, 2012 / 11:27 am

      Thank you for this, Holly. It all sounds so rational when you put it this way!

  2. Neil Burton May 16, 2012 / 4:17 pm

    I greatly enjoyed reading this blog post and sensing your desire to hear from your students. As an aspiring school leader, I have placed the concept of small, student-centered conversations over lunch into my “Best Practices” folder for future reference. I have heard many wonderful things about your school and wish you continued success.

    • J Ross Peters May 18, 2012 / 1:09 pm

      Thank you for this, Neil. Good luck to you in your work.

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