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Checking All the Boxes

Check Box #1:

I asked a new public school teacher recently what her goals were in starting out at her first public school job. She said, for goals: "I want to check all the boxes and not do anything illegal or that might get me into trouble."

Then I asked a new Grauer teacher what his goals were in starting out at The Grauer School, an independent school. He said, "To feel like part of a community and both establish myself and clear expectations for my students."


Banditos: Grauer students working on a community service project during their Expedition in New Mexico, with assistance from Dr. Grauer - September 2018

Could it be that these two people, both called, "teacher," have the same job? (Spoiler alert: no). What makes Grauer teachers so passionate about our shared work? What makes Grauer parents so passionate about our teachers?

What is a teacher? Strategic innovations, technology, demographic trends, digital marketing, shifting gender and identity roles... the ground is switching so fast it's hard to know what our job is. Even if we did know, 50% of millennials leave their job every year anyway! What is a job anymore?

And what are independent schools supposed to be doing?—we know we're very important to families, often almost like a part of those families. But just what is it that is so important? In a way, our school gets hired by parents every time they enroll. What do they think they are hiring us to do? Or are they adopting us as family?

Check Box #2:

Physical and emotional safety have become huge issues for parents in our country. Maybe these are our main jobs. Or do parents mean their child must get into an elite university for it to have been a high quality education. Those two goals can result in two almost completely opposite ways of educating!

Does high quality mean that no student ever falls through cracks, no matter what they do? And, just when we think we have it covered with the above criteria, a parent will throw in job and vocational training or readiness—which to some extent is yet another opposite of the above. And did you know sports teams are a big reason some families pick a school even knowing that their student will never or rarely play on them?

Given all that, how many of you, readers, can even imagine crafting and then implementing a coherent, cohesive purpose such as high quality education?


Grauer Physical Education students stopping at the Grauer bench during a hike in the San Elijo Reserve - October 3, 2018

Check Box #3:

Parents say they want to raise well-rounded students who can overcome obstacles. Jimmy's parents want immediate help for him to deal with dyslexia which impacts his reading (which can mean small classes), while Gina's parents, who both graduated from Dartmouth and were gold medalists on the swim team, want her to have very high rigor and challenge, including advanced literature (which can mean small classes). Are Gina's parents just resume building... or is it long-term legacy continuance they are after... or is it rigorous education for its own sake and value? And would either of these families be okay with more, or less, if the tuition was more, or less?

Like many independent schools, Grauer has more Gina's than Jimmy's. And we have mainly hybrids. There are no real Gina's or Jimmy's.

Michael and Shelby are two parents—both are looking for a new high school. Michael cares mainly about a controlled, distraction-free environment. He wants to meet nice families and have green grass, and he wants a set, required curriculum. Maybe uniforms. Shelby wants a diverse environment so her child can grow up with kids of all kinds—an urban environment would be fine and uniforms would be out. Real world projects and service are more important than standards or curricular requirements to them—it's "the real world," according to the mom called Shelby.

Four sample parents, four distinct jobs expected of the school and its teachers: (1) overcome obstacles, (2) fulfill the child's unique potential, (3) develop values and impact the world, and (4) implement a plan to showcase the child's talents to colleges or jobs. Those are four very different scenarios. From the desk of the head of school, I can say that parents might expect any one of the above four jobs from us. Or all of them. We are not all things to all families, and we are happy about that. We cannot deliver on all these jobs. An honest admissions process helps people dial into what they really want and what job they expect of the school.

Admissions Season kicked off this week at The Grauer School, and our lovable admissions team (Olivia Kleinrath and Tricia Valeski) is ready to meet your friends and families

Our teachers work extremely hard. Do they check all the boxes that public school teachers check? No! And now, the real spoiler: The Grauer School does not use check boxes.

Independent education is a lot of work that takes a lot of courage, flexibility and perseverance, and we never stand still. Great listening and a strong and unified mission that we almost constantly project inspire most teachers and parents to transcend their differences. Great schools become unstuck from a set model—this empowers teachers to help all of our students find what the world really needs of them... and it inspires them in developing the courage to pursue it, whatever it is. This is what we can deliver. Where are the boxes to check those ones off?

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