Recently, English teacher Edie LeBas invited me into one of her classes to observe a discussion technique she was using with her senior AP English students. The topic was the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad–not an easy read. After an opening prayer and a few instructions from Mrs. LeBas, the students, who were seated in a circle, began a spirited, almost entirely self-directed discussion of this complicated tale. I was impressed not only by their preparation but by their willingness to share opinions about the meaning of various aspects of the story, their knowledge of the context of the time in which it was written and an understanding of its very rich symbolism. The 45-minute class went by swiftly. The students were actively engaged for the entire period. They offered their own ideas and then reshaped them as they were presented with differing interpretations by other students. There were several “aha” moments as students reached new conclusions or a deeper understanding as the class progressed. Throughout the class, Mrs. LeBas acted as a guide gently keeping the students on track but allowing them to run with their ideas and explore different parts of the story. As the school president and someone who does not get to interact with the students as much as I would like, it served as a vivid reminder of what good teaching is all about–developing a passion for learning and understanding in our students that will stay with them forever. In short, helping our students become life-long learners.
What happened in that classroom last Thursday afternoon affirmed in a very specific way what I have been feeling about the Academy since I began here in July–it is a special place. It is a place where students can thrive under the watchful eyes of a caring and dedicated faculty and staff, where the charism of the Sisters of the Holy Names is alive and well and where every day brings the wonder of something new to be learned. Is there room for improvement? Sure there is, but that is true of any organization, and in that regard the Academy is no different. Change, however, must have a purpose and a clearly articulated vision behind it. If Mrs. LeBas’ AP class is any indication, positive change is happening already. What I witnessed that day was an experienced teacher preparing her students and then letting go, allowing them to use their gifts to explore a complicated story. The students were empowered to take responsibility for their own learning and the results were impressive. For me it was a wondrous thing to behold.
One final note in this my first blog, is one of thanks which seems entirely appropriate at this time of year. From my wife Maureen and me to all of you in the Academy community, thank you for making us feel so welcome. Our transition to Tampa has been made so much easier by the many kindnesses you have shown us since we arrived. We plan to be around for a while and it’s nice to know we are part of such a wonderful community.
On behalf of all of us at the Academy, allow me to wish all of you a happy and safe Thanksgiving.