Always Learning

August 30, 2023

Message from the headmaster


As we start our new school year, and celebrate the return of our faculty, staff, students, and families, I want to express my delight that we are in session once again. After a summer of reading and thinking abstractly about students and ways to serve them well in tough times, having those students finally in front of us–dancing to Shakira at HALO, leading their peers in discussions at our Leadership Summit, singing in Chapel with the Hilltones–has been like a booster shot of hope.


I want to share with you some of what is most on my mind and introduce our theme for the 2023-2024 school year, which I can see out my window in bold letters on our Class of ‘64 sign: Always Learning.


Our work to address community and belonging last year yielded an important directive that has driven our theme for this year, which is to focus on doing what we exist to do: teach and learn. At the heart of all we do is our first duty as a school: to help our students to develop as learners, grow as people, and be good citizens as a result.


“Semper Discens,” or “Always Learning,” is our Latin motto, written above the Fuller Hall stage and in our crest and many other places–it is a hearty and unarguable motto for a school, and I’m always glad it’s there when I remember it. I imagine it has served a thematic role in the past, but we’re hoping that this year it will resonate in a new way in the context of focusing on basics, and as we orient ourselves to what learning means for us and our students in this particular moment. 


Always Learning will be the deceptively simple touchstone for our set of priorities for the year. If you consider the attitude you need to be “always learning,” it is the one we hope all of us will assume. It is humble, curious, and open to new ideas and experiences. It is making connections–intellectually, personally, and socially. It is seeing failure as a crucial opportunity. It is avoiding easy assumptions. And perhaps most important for us, it is listening to, respecting, and appreciating those we encounter, carefully soliciting their perspectives and considering their unique situations.


Student connectedness–to each other, to us, and to the work they are doing–and being present physically and mentally are  essential conditions of possibility for learning. New research is confirming what we understand intuitively: feeling a sense of belonging–being seen, heard, and a valued member of the community–is essential for our students to learn up to their potential. It’s essential for our teachers to take joy and satisfaction in teaching. In fact, it is only possible to be whole community members, fully present and ready to teach and learn together, when we are connected to each other with care. So we’re taking steps to promote that connection, including new cell phone practices that mean students are not on their phones in academic buildings or for most of the school day. 


We know that participating beyond the school day is another way that connection happens, and this year we will focus particularly on this kind of engagement. This participation helps so many students become the fullest versions of themselves, open up new possibilities for their futures, and find joy in school. It’s critical that we remove barriers to participation and build our capacity to connect with students around their interests, whatever they are: athletics, outdoor adventure, mountain biking, Dungeons and Dragons, theater, music, culture, art-making, international travel, chess, Model UN, community service, or anything else they can dream and we can enable.


Already several of our faculty members–two of the longest serving–have forwarded to me articles and videos about the possibilities for Artificial Intelligence in education. This is one of the big things we will look to learn and teach about, most likely by partnering with our students about how they may already be using these tools.


It will be an exciting year of learning, one that promises to be joyful and full of discovery. I hope that by the time my end-of-the-year message rolls around, I can report on some of the ways we’ve succeeded in living up to our goal of “Always Learning.” I know for sure that if we can help each and every student in our care feel a sense of belonging and eventually ownership in the community–and so feel empowered to learn and grow–we will be closer to our best.


Dr. Sharon L. Howell



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