Letter from Steve Piltch - December 2018

December 21, 2018

Dear Shipley Families and Friends,

It is hard to imagine that we’re about to celebrate winter break. And though I don’t generally like wintry weather, I have enjoyed the crispness in the air, especially early in the morning as I have walked our dog. It has given me the time and perspective to reflect on the first part of the school year, and I must admit it has gone far too quickly.

Many times over the years I’ve talked about the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone in order to develop a new knowledge base and an appreciation for the work that others do. This approach to risk-taking and learning is embedded in our school culture as we help our students lean into their discomfort when learning, grasp diverse perspectives, and develop a growth mindset. I myself had such an experience a few weeks ago. When my daughter and son-in-law were married in August, one of the gifts they received was a cooking lesson with a local chef, Clara Park. They chose to do the lesson at our house and invited my wife and me to be part of it.

I must admit that going in I was just a little bit nervous. Although I’m happy to grill and make breakfast, I have had neither the requisite skills nor interest in really learning how to cook. On this particular day, Clara was going to teach us how to make steamed beef buns, chicken empanadas, samosas, and shrimp shumai. Although I love all of the dishes, I never imagined even the possibility of learning to make them.

It became quite clear from the onset that good cooking, not unlike many things in life, is about good process. The ability to follow a recipe, be creative and consistent, and—most importantly—be flexible are essential to cooking well.

When I asked Clara about the keys to becoming a successful cook, she made a number of suggestions (including one that most people know and one that was surprising to me: salt and pepper are the key spices for good seasoning; use slightly more sugar than expected when you make something savory and use slightly more salt than expected to make something sweeter). Two of her other suggestions particularly resonated with me: whenever possible, be prepared – measure out your ingredients in advance and have them ready in a clear, usable manner; and whatever the recipe you’re doing, the more often you do it, the greater your feel for it will be. Trust your feel, be patient, and good things will happen. These suggestions seemed quite relevant beyond the realm of the kitchen!

The experience also reinforced for me something we tell our kids all the time: Their chances of success are much greater when they pursue something they’re passionate about. Too often, our kids (and we) pursue things because we need to or someone else wants us to, not necessarily because it’s our interest. And, in fact, sometimes it takes disappointment or frustration in one of those areas to inspire our need to pursue our individual interests.

Certainly, this was the case for our cooking teacher, Clara, who graduated from Baldwin and the University of Chicago and then went on to Columbia to pursue a Ph.D. in biology. While at Columbia she realized that although she did well in the classroom, she needed to pursue her real passion – cooking. She left Columbia upon finishing a master’s degree and began her career in cooking. Along the way, she worked in countless restaurants and other cooking environments and went to culinary school. Although others in her life may have questioned her choice, she knew it was right for her. And of course, her decision was affirmed to her and others when she was a winner on The Food Network’s “Chopped” in 2014. Since that time, she has consistently looked for further opportunities to grow, be creative, and to develop as a chef.

I was grateful for the opportunity to hear her talk about her cooking and her journey. As she spoke, she emphasized that her background in science, math, and psychology were important factors in becoming a successful chef. She reinforced my belief that broad, integrated learning and love for your work are at the heart of excelling in whatever you do.

Although I’m not feeling as confident as I would like to be to make the dishes on my own, I found the experience to be incredibly worthwhile. Moreover, I thoroughly enjoyed eating each and every one of them, and I look forward to having them again. The process caused me to reflect on how, at School, we can create life-shaping experiences both big and small for our children/students to help them develop their passions and interests so that they will ultimately lead fulfilling lives.

It is my deepest belief that the development of meaningful relationships is at the core of these experiences. Not long before break, we had an event that reinforced the power of such relationships for me, when our Little Acorns (our Pre-K, K, and 1st graders) met with our Mighty Oaks (our seniors) in the Commons to share hot chocolate and make snowflakes. Although the event may have been perfunctory for some, a significant number of our Mighty Oaks talked about how wonderful it was to be with their Little Acorns and how pleased they were to get to know them just a little bit better. Interestingly enough, when I went to Lower School later that week, a couple of our Little Acorns showed me the snowflakes they made and one of them said, “I’m keeping this. I did it with my Mighty Oak. It was great.”

I wondered to myself, and as I thought aloud, isn’t that what school and life are really about? Connections between and among people that push us to appreciate one another are essential in our development. Those memories go a long way to shaping the people we become. With that in mind, I also want to thank all those who had a role in our concerts that brought smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts. They reinforced for us just how talented, committed, and engaged our students are and provided us with some terrific memories.

As we approach winter vacation, I hope you and your family and others around you create memories by being together and learning something new together. I hope those memories take you into the new year and beyond feeling good about each other and help you find a way to make your own life and others even better. My thoughts and appreciation are with you.

Here’s wishing you Happy Holidays and a happy, healthy New Year. I look forward to seeing you in 2019.

With warmest regards and best wishes,

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.