Letter from Steve Piltch, November 2015

November 30, 2015

Dear Shipley Families:

I want to begin by saying that I have spent much time over the past few weeks reflecting on the recent tragedies in our world, from Paris to Beirut to Mali. These tragedies have left me impressed by the resilience and fortitude of the survivors and their communities. While I am hoping that such events will be few and far between as we move forward, I am confident that people will continue to band together to deal with any situations that might surface. And I find myself particularly grateful to be part of a community like Shipley.

I cannot tell you how inspired and humbled I am by the way that our community members, parents, students, colleagues, and alumni, are devoted to supporting those around us and one another. Just last week we saw that people in our community found a way to feed more than 2,000 people over the Thanksgiving holiday. And then during our annual Thanksgiving Assembly (which you can view on YouTube), we heard from students, colleagues, and an alumnus on their gratitude for being part of the Shipley community. Maya Overton, our All-School President, expressed this with great passion:

“Here we are nurtured to love, we are cared for, and we are taught to understand each other, beyond the boundaries of the Upper, Middle, and Lower Schools. Just like my new Lower School friends, I am also thankful for family, friendship, food, and ‘everything good.’ But along with that, I’m also thankful for the hard times. Because in the words of Henry Ward Beecher, ‘our best successes come after our greatest disappointments.’”

Maya’s thoughts were nicely complemented By Samantha Slye, one of our first graders, who drew a roaring round of applause when she said:

“I love Shipley so much. Last year I told Dr. Piltch that in 11 years he would have to create a Shipley College for me… When I hear about the wars around the world, I wish they could all be like Shipley – and learn to talk over things.”

Hearing Maya, Samantha, and others – including our other incredibly well-spoken students, Gillian Dumas, Jack Helle, Reid Hollin, Ishea Johnson, and Matthew Schwenk – speak about Shipley and the things they are thankful for reminded me of my recent trip to England, where I spent time with alumni (including my younger son, who is studying there), visited a couple of schools, and enjoyed many tourist sites. While there were many memorable parts of the trip, one of my favorite places to visit was Emirates Stadium, home of the Arsenal Football Team. Arsenal is among the most successful teams in the English Premier League; the stadium speaks of the team’s pride and success. The team motto, “Victory comes from Harmony,” speaks to the need for the talented players to work hard together in order to succeed.  Upon reflection, I became convinced that this is the basis not just for good soccer, but also good education – finding ways to inspire the best in everyone and generate interest, enthusiasm, growth, and success on a regular basis through mutual support and collaboration.

Harmony does not just happen. You have to work at it; the process is time-consuming and intense, and it is a little different for every player and every team. As I thought about Arsenal’s motto, it struck me that for education at Shipley, victory is the success achieved through the development of educational excellence, love of learning, and compassionate participation in the world. Success (and the fulfillment of our mission) results from the Shipley Method – a community-wide commitment to our students to challenge and support all of them, to push them to take risks, and to help them develop the self-reliance, resilience, passion, and empathy to meet the challenges they face in school and beyond. When we do these things, our students develop the confidence to explore new possibilities and the creativity to deal with problems and issues that ultimately lead to deeper understanding of material and longer lasting success. They learn to use disappointment as part of the process for future success, and they are empowered to become their own people, the people they should become, not people who fit a set mold or stereotype.

Interestingly, some of our adult speakers at the All School Assembly spoke to these very things. Thom Schauerman, our talented and committed teacher and coach, noted: “I'm grateful for second chances… the opportunity to learn from your experiences while pushing forward and making things right. I'm thankful to be here in a community that makes me want to be better and do better each day. I'm thankful to be doing what I love in a school that I love, surrounded by people who make me want to be the best version of myself.” It is no wonder that he is so well-liked and respected by students and colleagues.

Charlie Biddle ’05, who was our All School President before heading off to Bates College and who has recently gotten married and returned to work in our Development Office, said of his experience: “I do know that if you don’t know who you are, there are plenty of people to tell you what you should be. Shipley taught me how to do many things, but I am most thankful for the space it gave me to figure out who I am. This place taught me the importance of choosing your own path, and it did the same thing for my brother and my sister, who are completely different from me.”

As I think about Thanksgiving and the holidays to come, I am reminded of Arthur Brooks’ November 21 article in The New York Times entitled, “Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier.”  As the title suggests and research indicates, when we share positive thoughts and feelings with others, it makes us happier and it brings out the best in others. And although it is easy to be grateful for the truly big things our lives, Brooks stresses the importance of appreciating the little things, things you might not even notice. He put it this way: “Finally, be grateful for useless things. It is relatively easy to be thankful for the most important and obvious parts of life — a happy marriage, healthy kids or living in America. But truly happy people find ways to give thanks for the little, insignificant trifles.” Although Brooks wrote the article for Thanksgiving, the essence of his point is applicable all of the time.

With that in mind, I find myself especially grateful for all those who offer support for and commitment to our community and approach. Understanding that we can always do better, I invite all of us to look at ourselves closely and do the things that will prompt our own growth, appreciation, and fulfillment. If as we do so, we remember the importance of our own children/students, our families, and the community-at-large and the power of cooperating and collaborating (and, as Brooks suggests, of sharing niceties about the little things), we will help our children/students and the entire community become better.

And, if we are truly successful, maybe we and the entire world will heed Samantha Slye’s words wishing that all communities could be like Shipley – places where people learn to talk things over rather than commit violence; where people are dedicated to each others’ growth and well-being; where there is forgiveness for past wrongs, gratitude for the present, and hope for the future. Thank you for all you do to help make Shipley that way and to continue to see ways to help us be better. Enjoy the holiday season, and know that my thoughts and wishes are with you.

Steve Piltch

Head of School
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.