For those of you who know me, you know I love listening to podcasts, Tedtalks, NPR…….you get the picture. Yesterday while cleaning my kitchen, I decided to revisit research psychologist Brene’ Brown’s Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability which can be found here: https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability
If you haven’t heard it before, I’m assigning it today! For those of you worried about whether it’s too touchy feely and might make you uncomfortable, it probably won’t, but listen anyway! The premise of her Tedtalk is that the happiest people are those who live lives of Courage, Compassion, and Connection.
When I watch the news and see the despair and desperation in places like Syria, Venezuela, South Sudan and even parts of our own country, I realize that I’m not called to be courageous very often. My problems fall very much in the category of “first world problems.” Brene Brown is talking to those of us who are privileged to have our health or at least health insurance. We are sheltered, well-fed and relatively safe in our daily lives. And there aren’t many places more privileged than a New England boarding school, right?
So what does this have to do with Brown’s message in her Ted talk? (At this point I’d be writing in the margins of my student’s paper, “And the point is………?”) Boarding schools provide an opportunity to live and learn and practice courage, compassion, and connection. It takes courage for parents to send their child across the country, sometimes across the world. They place an inordinate amount of trust in the adults who will teach, coach, live with and learn alongside their children. As someone who worked with international students for most of my career, I can tell you that leaving your country, your family and your culture to come to a boarding school takes tremendous courage. I’ve sat and fought back my own tears with many a homesick student from Korea, China, Japan and other faraway places. And yes, it takes courage for us to accept the tremendous responsibility we have as boarding school educators.
Brene Brown contends that the happiest people live lives of Compassion. As boarding school teachers, it’s not difficult to feel compassion as we watch our charges navigate the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Homesickness. First love. Broken hearts. Season ending injuries. A failed math test….or three. Yet I have found that at their best, boarding schools provide what Brown says we all need to be happy: “a strong sense of love and belonging.”
I have been the recipient of compassion. In February of 2005, I was diagnosed with Stage IIIb Inflammatory Breast Cancer. ( Don’t google it-you’ll be scared.) My colleagues provided meals; childcare; rides; love notes; innumerable acts of kindness that I could never ever repay. The Head of School at the time worked in my husband’s sporting goods store so that Jeff could be with me in the hospital. He and his wife hosted my parents in Mansion House for several weeks. Another friend showed up on my first day of chemo to sit with me and ended up learning how to give me the post-chemo injections.
But it wasn’t just the adults in the community. One of my sophomores shaved his head in solidarity with me. Another would slip me a card after class every Friday. Many, many hands folded 1000 paper cranes for me as a symbol of love and compassion. Would it have…….could it have……..happened elsewhere? Of course. But that I was surrounded by such compassion in this community, this boarding school, is something I will never forget. Compassion changes people.
Finally, Brown stresses the importance of Connection. And here’s where teaching in a boarding school is different than any other job, teaching or otherwise. We live alongside the people we work with; we live with the students we teach. In an increasingly isolating, technology driven world, boarding schools provide opportunities for adults and students to live lives of connection. It’s not uncommon for me to have a student living in my dorm also working in my American Studies class. (Now for many, that’s probably more Mrs. Gold than they’d like!) With many of these students, the connection remains with friends and teachers long after they graduate. A former student recently asked for a lesson plan; I get wedding invitations and baby pictures. (And yes it makes me feel old) And very, very connected.