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US Director Focuses on Student Engagement

New upper school director Amy Wheeler welcomed students back to school during an US meeting on Friday, September 3. Here are her remarks.

US Director Amy Wheeler

I hope your first day of school was good, whether meeting new people or connecting with old. I am Ms. Wheeler, and I am the new Upper School Director. I began working here in July and already love it. The people I have met are intelligent, interesting, passionate, and kind. As Danny said yesterday, Beaver is warm and welcoming — a nice blend of challenging and compassionate, intense and innovative. Everyone here has made my transition to a new job feel easy. Since none of you really know me at all, let me tell you a little about me.

I worked at Lawrence Academy which is a boarding high school in Massachusetts, for seven years where I taught English, coached field hockey and lacrosse and ran a dorm of 40 ninth and tenth grade boys. After that I went to The Sage School which is another independent school but for pre-k-8th grade students where, during my tenure, I worked in the admissions office, was the next schools placement director, was the assistant head, the acting head, and then the associate head. I am excited to be back working with high school students.

Walking around to classes yesterday, I sat in on Tiffany Marsh’s math class for a short time. She was letting students ask her lots of questions. It was a terrific way for her students to get to know more about her. I can’t do that now, so let me offer a few tidbits for you. I live in Medfield. I have a fifteen year old son, a twelve year old daughter, I also have a 26 year old step daughter and a 28 year old step son. I love reading, hiking, cycling, running, and being with my family. I am one of four children– I have two older brothers and an identical twin sister. I grew up in Ohio and moved to Massachusetts in middle school. I played lacrosse in college and still enjoy playing periodically.

I think that should give you a bit of information to start out. I look forward to getting to know you and finding out more about who you are and what you care about. My office is on the second floor and I hope you will feel comfortable stopping in and saying hello.

Yesterday Danny welcomed us to the school year, and he did a fantastic job! He talked about how he wanted you to challenge yourselves to go out of your comfort zone — whatever that may be for you. I thought that was excellent advice that will serve you well both here at Beaver and outside these doors.

So, getting out of what may be your comfort zone, I want all of you to bear with me for a moment. I want you to close your eyes.

Think of a time when you felt completely engaged in something, an activity of some kind. Nothing was distracting you. In fact you just got lost in whatever this thing was — you were completely present to the experience. Think about yourself in that experience. Visualize it.

Still with your eyes closed I want you to think of what qualities you needed in order to be so fully engaged in this activity?

Now think about your activity and see if any of these words describe either why you were so fully engaged or what kept you fully engaged: interest, excitement, curiosity, confusion, frustration, commitment, fun, challenge, focus, competition.

I am curious if anyone thought of the words boredom or discomfort as you were thinking of what you needed to be fully engaged.

You may open your eyes.

Boredom and discomfort are not words we quickly identify with engagement.

According to Jeanne Nakamura, co-director of the Quality of Life Research Center at Claremont Graduate University. “Engagement involves an absorbing and meaningful relationship between the self and the world. It usually includes periods of flow, but there also may be moments of boredom or even discomfort.”

Flow describes those experiences of deep engagement when our attention is fully centered on the activity at hand.

So go back to the activity you thought of and ask yourself if it involved “an absorbing and meaningful relationship between you and world.” Did it involve moments of discomfort or boredom? Was it a positive experience for you? Did you feel connected to something meaningful?

This year at Beaver we are interested in your engagement — in the classroom, in the play, on the athletic fields, in student government. There will be days when you don’t feel engaged — don’t feel present or involved in a meaningful experience between you and the world. You may even have times when you are bored, distracted, or incredibly uncomfortable. That is OK. No one can be engaged 100% of the time in everything. However, you can decide that you want to have a meaningful relationship between yourself and the world. That you want to connect with ideas or people in meaningful ways. Think about Danny’s message yesterday to move out of your comfort zone and try new things. Think about what you are going to do to be engaged here at Beaver. The events where we are fully engaged, where we have “an absorbing and meaningful relationship with our selves and the world” are potentially transformative experiences. They don’t always come when we expect them. But, by deciding to be open to new experiences, diving in and taking the risk, and by being active in those experiences, you may be amazed how you can move through boredom or discomfort into amazement and discovery. It is up to you to make this year meaningful. Engage yourself in what you do and you and those around you will reap the rewards.

This will be a fantastic school year. Thank you.

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