The Year Behind and the Year Ahead: Revising our Idea of Success


“When will things get back to normal? But, as a physician and researcher,
I fear that the resumption of normality would signal a failure to learn.
We need to think not about resumption but about revision.
– Siddhartha Mukherjee


In the past few weeks, Head-Royce has felt more “normal” than it has at any point this year. With 800 students on campus each day, full classes, and loads of activities, we are all engaged and happy. Each on-campus activity feels vibrant and energetic. 

Restrictions are lifting in our state and across the country, giving us reason to feel hopeful for the fall. All signs point to a return to “normal”: from the removal of signage telling our students to walk one-way down the hallways, to our beloved, annual traditions, like the Middle School drama class production (Annie, Jr. this year) and the Upper School’s two excellent shows, The Government Inspector and COVID Hamlet, both performed on our South Campus. We’re thrilled we can host promotion ceremonies for our 5th, 8th, and 12th graders, too, on our athletics fields. The past month has been chock-full of poignant moments for all of us, from our youngest students––learning a Bhangra routine for the May Dances––to our graduating seniors, cooking a celebratory dinner with their teachers and peers, and dressing up for prom. 

This has been quite the year. In September I truly did not know what the year would hold and how (or if!) we could possibly return to campus. But, with the understanding that students need to be in-person to thrive academically, emotionally, and socially, our School administration and staff resolutely returned to campus in the fall with the goal of teaching students in person. Distance learning, while incredibly effective on many levels, misses one of the central reasons we exist: to be in face-to-face community with one another. This year has shown us all what is possible even in a world of social distancing: authentic learning––even with hybrid classes; in-person connection––podded or at a distance; the flourishing of the arts and athletics––thanks to testing and careful procedures; and the ability to dine, talk, and connect in so many new ways. As we move toward a more familiar school year this fall, I hope we will take the time to stop and consider all that has changed this year. Let’s think about what we hope to resume as well as what we might want to revise.  

As an English teacher and a writer, I’ve touted the benefits of revision for decades. Our first attempts, I believe, are not our best. We get stronger when we take the time to pause, reflect, and reconsider new ideas. Still aren’t sold? Of the necessity for revision, Vladimir Nabokov writes, “My pencils outlast their erasers.” (Mine, too.) Toni Morrison urges us to look at revision as an exciting opportunity: “The revision for me is the exciting part; it’s the part that I can’t wait for,” she writes. “[It’s] the real work...making it better and better and better.”

This year has been one of constant revision––not just with our technology, our campus spaces, and our daily routines. We’ve also taken a long, hard look at our curriculum through a variety of lenses: academic rigor, equity and inclusion, balance and well-being. As we return to “normal” we will continue to reshape our curriculum and culture so that we can become the best version of Head-Royce yet: a School where many kinds of learners can thrive; a School that honors and celebrates its community’s differences; a School that allows time for rest and rejuvenation. 

With revision in mind, our Professional Community will be reading Flourish by psychologist Martin Seligman this summer. Seligman, founder of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, asks in his book: “What is it that enables you to cultivate your talents, to build deep, lasting relationships with others, to feel pleasure, and to contribute meaningfully to the world?” Rather than returning to “business as usual,” we encourage our entire community to think about what they’ve changed during the pandemic that they want to keep

We have so much to be grateful for. Thank you, Head-Royce community for your resilience, support, and kindness. I look forward to seeing you not only on Lincoln Avenue through a mask and car window, but perhaps a face-to-face conversation or––dare I say it––a hug.

Here’s to all that is ahead. Let’s get comfortable with our red pens.