Leadership by Engagement | May 10, 2013

Leadership by Engagement

As you all know, I am very interested in how we all engage in and with the MBS community. I spoke to the faculty last month about engagement, and I have devoted several Bench Talks to the importance of leadership through engagement.

In April after the SGA speeches, I met with the students who were running for president, and I emphasized to them that they do not need an elected position to lead. Whether or not they were elected to office, they have many opportunities to lead at MBS in a myriad of ways, and today I want to talk further about leadership through engagement.

On a Friday night a few weeks ago I watched Mr. McCormick sing "My Sharona" with complete and utter abandon. I knew then that he was a teacher by day and rock star at night.

Of course he had a great back up band in his cross country runners, Spencer, Nick, and Mitch, but how could you not want to learn to play the guitar and sing after watching Mr. McCormick dance, strut, jump, and yowl into the microphone?

A few acts later I watched Mr. Teasdale, Dr. Mascaro, Sr. Rusnack, and Mr. Finn perform All Along the Watchtower alongside Pooja, Eric Fernandez, Will Taggart, and Danny Tejada. It was an incredible team effort. I don't think any school in New Jersey has as many rock stars on their faculty as we do, and I can't help but think that if we had a teacher‐student band competition with other schools, MBS would win. These teachers do this because they love it. They are passionate and engaged in your education, and obviously they have a passion for a second career on stage.

In many ways, the CMW captures the essence of Morristown‐Beard School. Students do not participate in CMW because it's a resume builder. They don't do it because they think it will get them into college. Students participate in CMW for their sheer love of music and the joy of communal effort.

CMW is all‐inclusive. Girls and boys, teachers and students, high school students and middle school students, and they all come together for the intrinsic pleasure of music and performance. And anyone who wants to, can be in it. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that CMW is organized and run by students. Yes, a few faculty members are available to lend their expertise, but the impetus and momentum behind CMW is generated by the students. I think that we got a sense for that when, leading up to the big event, we heard Mitch announce the performance for the 1,000th time!

CMW is testimony to leadership through engagement, and I would like to thank this year's student leaders: Mitch Green, Will Taggart, Eric Fernandez, and Danielle DiRaddo. It is students like these that help define MBS. We are a joyful place with engaged learners.

But leadership through engagement is not limited to CMW.

The first warm day of the spring, I walked out to middle school recess to see what was happening out there. A number of sixth grade boys were getting ready to play a game where two people stand in the lacrosse goal and other kids pelt them with a soccer ball.

During a break in the action I asked them what the game was, and they said it was a form of handball. "Don't get hurt," I said, "it looks a little dangerous."

The first boy replied, "We haven't had any fatalities yet," and then, with a little dance, and a triumphant pump of his fist, he shouted: ‐‐‐"VOCAB WORD!"

"Not yet," said a second boy, "but I'll just saunter on over here! VOCAB WORD!" And finally, "In order to win, you must persevere!" a third boy chimed in.

Once the leader and the first follower had set the tone for incorporating vocab words into the hand ball game, it ran rampant through the players, and all of them began to dance around the turf, incorporating vocabulary words into sentences as they prepared for the next pelting of the boys in the lacrosse goal.

In how many schools do you know where middle school boys will weave together vocabulary words with a kill‐the‐carrier kind of game? This funny little moment at recess was a stunning display of engagement and leadership at MBS.

As we learned last week from Howard Goldberg, what you learn through engagement is not limited to this campus. Because of his passion to continue to learn about the Holocaust, Howard embarked on a two-week journey, The March of the Living, which, as he told us, was a life-altering experience. The fact that he was able to stand in front of all of us and tell us about his journey, and thereby educate us on so many levels, is testament to his character and his commitment to a cause. Although he is not usually in the limelight, for one moment last week, Howard was an engaged leader and for that, we thank him.

My final example is for all of you, but particularly directed to the seniors for two reasons. First, it is a story about one of you and second, it is an example of engagement that will be critical for your success in college...I will offer more on this topic at graduation!

This winter one of you was denied admission to a specific program within a large University. Although accepted to the college of Arts and Sciences, this student did not make the cut for one of the 25 spots in the Bandier Program. This program, in his mind, is where he wanted to go because of its ability to prepare him for a career in the music industry.

Disappointed, Will Taggart pursued other programs and had some very good options, but he was not satisfied that he had done all that he could to attend the Bandier Program, so he contacted the University's admission office for advice.

The admission office recommended that he send in his portfolio and music resume and that he contact Professor David Rezak, the Director of the Bandier Program.

So Will wrote emails to Professor Rezak, but Professor Rezak did not reply. Undaunted, Will called Professor Rezak and told him that he would like to come visit. Professor Rezak agreed to the visit.

So in early March Will drove four and a half hours to sit in on a class and to meet with this professor. Will filled his day with engagement: questions, conversation, collaboration, and dialogue.

And in doing so, he changed the course of his life. He was admitted to the program.

Before he was even in the program, Will gave the Bandier Program an example of his ability to participate in school life, and I don't mean only in the classroom. In doing so, he created a sense of belonging here at MBS.

All of you have the power to lead through engagement, and I hope you use these examples to inspire you. So, whether you are returning to MBS next year or heading off to college, take full advantage of the community that you will be part of.

Educational institutions provide amazing opportunities but you, and you alone, can choose whether or not to fully engage in what is offered. I hope that you will spend some time this summer figuring out what is important to you and how you will make the most of next year and the years to come.

Thank you.


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