Letter from Steve Piltch - October 2017

October 31, 2017

Dear Shipley Families,

Last Saturday was a special day for Shipley. We were lucky enough both to have over 200 people here for our Admissions Open House and to be able to watch our boys’ soccer, girls’ soccer, field hockey, and tennis win their semi-final games in the Friends Schools League playoffs. All of our teams won and are on to the final games later today (boys’ soccer is home at the Farm Fields at 2:15 pm, while girls’ soccer is at Westtown and girls' tennis is at Moorestown Friends) and on Thursday (field hockey is at Moorestown Friends at 2:15 pm). Although it was a very full day, it captured so much of who we are as a school. Many people at the Open House commented about the sense of commitment and community that they could feel. I want to thank those parents, colleagues, and students who helped with and/or spoke at the Open House, especially our students, who stole the show.

When the day was over, I found myself reflecting about the start of the year, and in particular the month of October. As I thought back through the month, I had trouble believing just how many “special” events I had had the privilege to attend. Among them were the community launch of Positive Education, a trip to Lancaster with the fourth grade, an alumni event in New York City, a Middle School anti-bullying program, Shipley Shops, our 10-year accreditation visit by Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools (PAIS), and Ezra Day. Ezra Day is an annual event in Middle School where we remember Ezra Keiser, who passed away due to a brain tumor seven years ago this November. When Ezra died, his fifth-grade classmates picked three words to describe him: selfless, kind, and bright. It is those attributes and his memory that are discussed and celebrated on the day. Perhaps not coincidentally, they are three attributes that are at the heart of our school. Though those of us who knew him miss him immensely, we are grateful for the work that goes on in his name. His spirit lives on in so many people, and our thoughts, love, and prayers continue to be with his parents, brothers, and other members of his family; they epitomize our motto, Courage for the Deed; Grace for the Doing, and are great role models for all of us.

When I thought about each of the events, I was taken by the impact that each one had on those most directly involved. Although I could speak to all the events of October, I want to reflect further on three in particular: the Positive Education launch, the Middle School anti-bullying program, and the PAIS visit. These three events make me think about who we are, where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there.

At the Positive Education launch, we had the privilege of hearing from Professor James Pawelski, Director of Education and Senior Scholar for Penn’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology Program, who spoke to the importance of providing a balance of rigor and support with a real emphasis on celebrating our kids as individuals and helping them find well-being as they strive for excellence. Perhaps the most ingenious part of his presentation revolved around his description of what it takes to be a superhero. He noted that there are two fundamental approaches—one is the green cape approach, where you look to add strengths and build things to make individuals and communities stronger (which, of course, is the fundamental essence of Positive Education), and the red cape approach, where you strive to cut-out or eliminate the ills of the world to make things better. He noted—and it won’t surprise you—that you need both in order to accomplish the growth of individuals and the community.

We also were lucky enough to hear from faculty and students about their perspectives on Positive Education. As always, the students were incredibly impressive, especially our fifth graders, who did a wonderful presentation defining Active Constructive Responding (ACR), which we would like to achieve each time we engage with others. If you are interested, you can learn more about ACR. And, if you weren’t able to attend you can watch the launch (the fifth-grade piece is at the one hour mark in the program).

Positive Education enhances well-being through the development of a variety of skills such as mindfulness, gratitude, optimism, active constructive responding and growth mindset, as well as through the identification of character strengths and SMART goals (SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, timed). As we strive for excellence in everything we do, we will be measuring both the well-being and performance attributes over time to see the difference that it makes for students and colleagues.

In regards to the work in Positive Education, our building of these attributes, of course, represents our green cape approach, and the wonderful anti-bullying program done with Middle School students represents the red cape approach. Although we have a wonderfully caring community, we’d be naive to think that no bullying ever occurs. (In particular, we are most concerned about the growing use and misuse of social media in this regard.)

We were fortunate to have Garrett Snider and his foundation—The Childhood Resilience Foundation—provide us with the opportunity to work with The Diana Award, an anti-bullying program based in England, on the program. The workshop exercises – led by The Diana Award Team and Monica Lewinsky, who is a member of The Childhood Resilience Foundation Board and who has committed herself to the better treatment of children everywhere – were inclusive, impressive, and effective. Our students were open and honest about their experiences and began to develop plans to help themselves and all of us do what is necessary for the entire community to be safe, open, and honest and a place where bullying is not accepted.

We all have a responsibility and an obligation to do what we can and to confront issues that surface so that they don’t become crises. As one of the students said to me, “Dr. Piltch, although it sounds so easy, I know that when I’m interacting and observing things with my friends and others how challenging it can be to fight bullying. I’m glad we talked about this and that everyone is committed to doing it.” It will be fun to see some of the plans that are put into place.

The sense of commitment that that student spoke to was identified and appreciated by the PAIS visiting committee, which was here for our 10-year accreditation. Although the full report won’t come for a number of months, Ken Aldridge—Chair of the Visiting Committee and Head of Wilmington Friends School—shared the following observations with our colleagues and some members of our Board in reporting with what the team observed:

After two and half days of conversations, we saw a genuine authenticity about this School and how adults interact with one another.

I hope you are here because you witness, on a daily basis, what we experienced in a short period of time —a school that is living its mission, an entire school community with a sense of intentionality, a sense of unity, a sense of empathy, and a focus on the whole child.

During lunch we asked your students the following question: If you met a total stranger, who knew nothing about Shipley, what three words would you use to describe the School? Their words speak volumes: welcoming, diverse (courses, classes, activities, student body), flexible program, personalized interactions, supportive (teachers to students AND students to students), growth-oriented (not physical plant, but to student needs; process-minded rather than product-minded).

Although Ken and I had conversations about any number of areas, he and the committee left impressed by the school that we are, optimistic about the school we will be, and committed to helping us asking the questions and doing the things necessary to accomplish our goals.

Along with some wonderful commendations we will hear, there will be some suggestions and recommendations that will be made in areas where we need to strengthen our efforts. One important one that was mentioned to me revolves around the safety and welfare of our kids, particularly around issues of drop-off and pickup. Simply put, we need people to be patient and understanding and to follow the protocol that has been developed. Texting or speaking on your phone, cutting in line, and turning the wrong way in or out of the lots has the potential to cause serious issues. I will speak more to this and other PAIS findings (and the start of the school year overall) at this Friday’s first Heads’ Forum in Beechwood at 8:30 am. Add to calendar.

When I look back at the month with a smile on my face (and some exhaustion), I’m so grateful for the School that we are. Nevertheless, I look forward to living up to the observations made by PAIS and reinforcing our commitment to be, as Ken Aldridge says, “a community that seeks excellence in its academic program, a community that seeks excellence in its community engagement, and a community that seeks excellence in its institutional stewardship, as identified in [our] strategic plan, is unable to rest on its laurels.”

I invite you to join with me as we head towards Thanksgiving and the winter holidays to pay special attention to our own well-being. If we do, it will make it easier to then reach out to the people around us and those we don’t know so that we can make their lives just a little bit better. If we do, our kids, all of us, and those who make up our world will have a better chance of thriving and flourishing. It will be great to do it together. And please enjoy these photos from this morning’s Lower School Halloween Parade. I could not have been more impressed with the creativity of the costumes of our students and colleagues alike. Happy Halloween; try not to eat too much candy!

Warmest regards,

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.