American Promise

Educators and parents everywhere should take the time to watch and discuss American Promise, a documentary that tracks the lives of two African-American boys, Idris Brewster and Seun Summers, over a twelve-year period including shared years at The Dalton School. The filmmakers are Idris’ parents, Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster.

Both provocative and intimate, the film stirs thinking about many topics, among them: the experience of African-American boys in independent and public schools, parental anxiety, attention and motivation, the college placement process, and dealing with family tragedy.

Most profound, from my perspective, was the illustration of the impact of the key or (to use Robert Brooks’ term) “charismatic” adult in a child’s life. In this case, the role of charismatic adult is filled for Seun by his public school advisor or guidance counselor. Applause for her! We should wish such a presence for every child in every school setting.

Kudos to Connecticut Association of Independent Schools Commission on Professional Development for leading the way in facilitating shared viewing and discussion in their region.

You’ll find American Promise live-streaming on POV on PBS through March 6.


The Health of the Head: Wisdom from Rob Evans

School leaders attending the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) Heads of School Conference last week received a dose of Rob Evans’ acuity, compassion, and humor. In remarks entitled “The Health of the Head,” Rob offered four important strategies for finding and maintaining balance in this demanding role.

1) Make choices. Improving time management for better life balance is “a myth,” says Rob. He asserted that many of us, as school leaders, suffer from “closet omnipotence” fueled by the propensity for guilt of the hyper-conscientious. We fall into the trap of believing that we can fix anything if we just work hard enough. Rather than focusing on working more efficiently, we would do better to make choices more deliberately, spending precious time on one thing rather than another in a more intentional way.


2. Connect with peers. Citing research, Rob reminded us that anxiety has a negative impact on performance and that stress is intensified by isolation. He urged us to seek opportunities to spend time with colleagues outside of school.

3. Focus on our strengths. Applying what we know about successfully supporting the growth of students, Rob recommended that we spend less energy on our weak areas and, instead, maximize – and enjoy – our stronger attributes.

4. Lighten up. Armed with a handful of school-related anecdotes, as usual, Rob sent home the message that we need to laugh and to find a perspective in which we can see the humor in our work.

For more on this topic, see Rob Evans’ blog post for Jossey Bass (5/05/10), “Seven Secrets of the Savvy School Leader.” If you’d like to delve more deeply, head for the book of the same title (Jossey Bass, 2010).