Welcome Message from Principal Wakeman

  • August 2023

    Happy summer, WEbster!

    Whether you are new to the Webster community or a returning family, I hope the summer finds you refreshed and ready for the coming year. For students, returning to school can inspire an spectrum of emotions. We hope the idea of returning to Webster on Thursday, August 24, is met with excitement, wonder, and anticipation. As a staff, we certainly feel this way and will work hard to help your kids maintain a positive association with school.

    Most letters of this sort tend to be focused on rules, regulations, and procedures for the start of the year. I know there’s a need for these things and I promise to provide them as needed. In the meantime, I’d like to start with a reflection.

    On my way to Indonesia this summer, I spent roughly eighteen hours sitting on flights. The first of which was thirteen hours and gave me the mental freedom to continue to reflect on the state of education. I am a big believer in the importance of making good observations and taking stock of where we are and where we’re headed. Throughout the journey, both the captain and the flight attendants periodically spoke over the intercom to remind us about seat belts, turbulence, safety procedures, and not smoking in the lavatories. As a lover of travel, I’ve been on many flights in my lifetime. For the first time, it struck me that none of these interruptions included a description of my destination. They were devoid of any commentary around Bali’s natural beauty, its culture, the indescribable smell of durian, the geographical significance of the temple in Balinese houses, the overwhelming number of motorbikes in Denpasar, the cultural impact of the people’s tightly-held belief in karma, or how to say “Where is the bathroom?” in Indonesian.

    In the airline business, these things don’t matter a whole lot to those charged with getting you from one place to another. There is the courtesy weather report and accounting of the local time upon arrival, but that’s about all you get. There is little to no description of the world you are about to step into once you leave the aircraft. Fair enough. I get it. As a traveler, it was my job to research these things. In fact, a flight to anywhere in the world is remarkably similar. There are snacks, maybe a meal, a variety of drinks, pillows, blankets, and perhaps some digital entertainment. Whether you’re in route to Philly or the Philippines, sitting in first class or coach, the destination is rather meaningless for those involved in your in-flight experience. They are charged with getting you there safely and as comfortably as possible…period.

    Education is not the same. Thirteen hours on a flight translates into thirteen years on K-12 campuses.  And unlike air travel, when it comes to education, the passenger experience MUST be reflective of the destination. It’s a preparatory experience, not a passive one. The journey itself must adapt and flex to the shifting demands of the world you will step into once you leave the plane. Where and when you plan to arrive should determine everything about how you spend your time during the flight. We are in fact preparing humans for a very specific time and place…not just safe passage.

    With this in mind, educational communities like ours must be acutely aware of the world around us…as that is the destination for our students. As we look around, what do we notice that might influence the manner in which we prepare students during this all-important introductory stage of the flight? Digital innovation is on the rise. We communicate through a vast array of mediums all requiring unique skills and understanding. Eighty percent of U.S. colleges no longer require standardized tests for entry. Generative A.I., in its infant stage, is already impacting human capacity for production and communication. Our ability to sustain life on the planet is being threatened on several fronts. Information is ubiquitous, but its reliability has never been more in question. The world is more connected than ever and remains in constant flux.

    We cannot afford to ignore these things and treat our students’ education the same way we did forty or fifty years ago. Our understanding has changed, we have developed transformative technologies. They will not recognize the airport upon arrival. What skills, knowledge, and mindsets will be needed for them to find joy and thrive in the world they will encounter?

    Let’s start with a question, “What is needed to develop good humans?” I know it’s broad. We could spend days debating the definition of “good.” And are we talking about knowledge and character, or the processes used to get them to think and learn? Yes. We’re talking about all of it. As the world has evolved, so must our content and approach.

    I’d like to pursue the development of humans who know how to slow down, make good observations, ask good questions, utilize resources and solicit collaborators, and then design innovative solutions that benefit humans and are good for the planet.

    I’d like to propose we start by developing a foundation for empathy, a respect for diversity in all its forms. Then add a heavy dose of critical thinking and problem solving. Let’s shape them into good listeners and questioners who are driven by their own curiosity and a desire to have an impact. Let’s help them understand the power of communication and collaboration. We should embed growth mindsets along the way. Let’s foster adaptability and creativity while we’re at it. Allow productive struggle and a bit of discomfort to build grit and resilience. I want them to be interesting, kind, and humble. Let this all come together around a deep sense of wonder about the world around them.

    Let’s mold them to be as wonderfully human as humanly possible. It’s likely to be an irreplaceable asset down the road. 

    Funny enough, these are the same characteristics the world beyond the walls of K-12 is pleading with us to deliver. For too long, we have focused on “just in case” learning, attempting to stuff a laundry list of facts into students’ brains at a time when so much of that information is not relevant, connected, or even interesting to them. Our task, rather, is to establish a foundation for all future learning. We must give them interesting problems to wrestle with, complicated ideas to sort out. We must create a safe place for kids to take risks and experience failure while providing room for imperfection and quirkiness. If we can build a love of learning in children and a safe space to work things out, they will be ready to create a joyful existence as they face the challenges that come their way.

    The world our students will inherit is becoming more connected and complex by the day. Who they are and how they think when they leave Webster will vastly outweigh the importance of what they might have memorized along the way. To this end, our incredible team of educators and support staff here on campus will be focused this year on doing everything we can to develop good humans. We hope that you will take advantage of opportunities to support us in this endeavor.

    Here's to an amazing year of growth for our students and community!

    With gratitude,
    Tedd Wakeman