This past June, I attended my third Shore Conference, where our Senate President, Stacey Espiritu, introduced the theme for the new year: “Ready, Set, Grow.” I applaud Stacey; the theme is thoughtful, suitable, and motivating. This year brings many changes that will test the flexibility and durability of our community, so it’s a perfect (and necessary) time to get ready and grow. We talked about the theme in great depth at Shore Conference. Unfortunately, Shore Conference work often lacks visible follow-through. Conversations will continue through the beginning of September, but I urge our community to embrace “Ready, Set, Grow” throughout the entire year.
The most straightforward concept the theme encourages is growth. Not only will we grow as individuals, but we can also grow as a community. One barrier limiting our development thus far is our fear to explicitly express how we can strengthen our community. (As I highlight areas for improvement, keep in mind that I do so out of love.) We need to become more thoughtful of others, more open and honest, and more willing to take positive risks. We also need to focus on being as kind and accepting as we say we are. Therefore, we must create an environment that fosters growth, which requires two factors: (1) establishing and understanding our values and norms and (2) creating and maintaining safe spaces.
We have many ways to describe our values and norms at Kent Place, including the Honor Code, the Four Pillars, and our conversation norms. We have new, spot-on, well-written conversation norms this year (Guidelines for Inclusive Conversations), so it is a perfect time to further develop our skills for productive discourse. The norms may seem silly and arbitrary at first glance, but they make a significant impact on our school culture and our ability to have discussions in small groups, clubs, classes, and the Great Room. Thus, we should consider what the conversation norms mean and why we have them, and then we should use them with purpose.
Furthermore, we desperately need to reevaluate which spaces in our school are true safe spaces and for whom they are safe. Ideally, the entire building would be a safe space for everyone, and it is, to an extent. I feel comfortable speaking in the Great Room and in my classes (although others may not feel the same). However, when I think about places at school where I can always be myself, feel safe, and feel supported, not many come to mind, and I find even fewer this year than I did as recently as two years ago. We can change that. I’m not asking for an extravagant sensory room. I’m asking for the spaces we already have, like the lounges, to become inclusive for all.
Additionally, concepts in the “Ready, Set” part of the theme include action, preparedness, presence, and participation. These ideas suggest that all of us, as individuals, should take an active role in our growth. A plant is only going to grow properly if it is nurtured. Likewise, I’m going to grow in a more rewarding way if I allow myself to grow, if I’m willing to listen, ask questions, hold myself accountable, be uncomfortable, set intentions, focus on my process, and take care of myself.
I’m excited to welcome the year of “Ready, Set, Grow.” I don’t expect that it’s going to be easy. Growth requires dissonance, discomfort, transparency, and authenticity, four of my favorite words from Shore Conference. While I’m sure we will all grow as individuals this year, we must show real willingness and an active effort if we want to grow as a community.