The head of another independent boarding school once said to me, “I suspect you have very wise parents.” It was such a humbling compliment because I truly do. My parents are wise, kind, well-educated, and fun. In my line of work, I often hear from parents, “Oh, I love my child too much to send them to boarding school!” Some parents even have a strong physical reaction, reaching out to grab their child or pull them closer. Comments like that used to make me sad, because I went to boarding school and my parents loved me very much (Still do!). Now those comments just fuel my creative juices for new blog posts.
Making it possible for me to go to boarding school was the most selfless act of love my parents could have shown me. My parents loved me too much to hold me back from opportunities to grow and learn. They loved me too much to assume that they had all the answers. Too much not to let me go to high school where I might learn something of the world, and not just from a textbook. Too much not to assume that all the keys to a successful life were held within our hometown. They have always said that while it was difficult at times, it wasn’t about them. A decision can be difficult and still be right.
To attend a boarding school, to live and work at one, and have one as part of your life forever is to know the true meaning of the word “community.” The word is a bit overused but with each passing day here at Tabor Academy, I realize that the word is made more relevant by context and specific examples.
One of my favorite aspects of boarding school communities is how aspirational they are. Here at Tabor, students live in multi-age dormitories with other students in their own grade and students from each other grade. Ninth graders see what the full Tabor experience may hold for them when they interact with older students. Older students experience powerful leadership responsibility- the kind which does not necessarily come with a title- in all aspects of their daily lives, from academic pursuits to the daily tasks of dorm maintenance. It is the older students who make sure that the younger students know how to find their way back from the dining hall, use the sign-out system, and separate the recycling. None of this is glamorous leadership and all of it is important.
The most obvious way in which boarding school communities are aspirational is through the relationships students have with coaches and teachers. Often, this is presented to prospective families as valuable because of the ease with which students can get extra help. But it goes so much further. When your coach is your teacher or dorm parent you are held to and strive for a higher standard. You have to study just a little harder when your coach is also your teacher. You clean your room just a little better when your teacher is also your dorm parent. You hustle a little harder during sprints and you make an extra trip carrying balls back to the equipment room after practice when your teacher is also your coach. Students at Tabor Academy are held to a high standard. They work hard to meet the standard in every aspect of their lives. They are proud when they achieve it, along with the approval of an admired adult. Those are the lessons that translate and pay off in a million ways, large and small, forever.
Another unique aspect of a boarding schools which benefits students immeasurably is the community that exists between the adults who work there. Adults working and living together have boundless opportunity to collaborate, support one another (and each other’s families), inspire each other, share ideas, and embark upon projects together. This collaboration could happen in offices or classrooms, but also over dinner in the dining hall or while standing outside watching their own children play together. The Harvard Business Review’s definition of a “learning organization” resonates with the adult community within a boarding school. They note that three factors essential for organizational learning (in context, for our schools to deliver the best value and return on a parent’s investment) are, “[…] a supportive learning environment, concrete learning processes and practices, and leadership behavior that provides reinforcement.” This defined a boarding school faculty long before the HBR’s definition was written. It is so ingrained that it is what we model for our students. This unique culture of educators benefits students in ways both tangible and intangible. Here at Tabor Academy, what has stuck out to me since I have worked here is the “all-in” approach. Boarding school work is not simply a job for any of us- it is a lifestyle.
The value of boarding school education unfolds over time. Many of the most indelible, most impactful lessons of boarding school are realized in the aggregate. I like to think I would be a fine person if I had stayed at home and attended my well-regarded public school or a private day school in the next town over. But the people I met, the things I learned, and the opportunities I had that came because I experienced high school in a global, residential environment directly translated into the qualities that I am most proud to see in myself today.
And my parents? My relationship with them? I’d say we’re doing just fine! Go Seawolves!