Starting With The Right Questions

Michael Fellin, Headmaster of Crescent School
The December holiday is my favourite time of year. With the school shut down, both physically and digitally, I am gifted with the luxury of time to unwind, rest and relish the company of family and friends in a slightly more relaxed manner.
This year was the first December break in over 20 years that I did not live in a hockey rink. Instead, I traded my skates for skis and accompanied my three kids to the slopes. I’m happy to say they were introduced to the sport far better (and more safely) than I was as a teenager.

The month of January, however, is distinct in that we may attempt to restore or change some of the habits from our last year’s selves. Each new year affords a fresh start, a chance to leave things behind and begin anew with the hope that we will be just a little bit better. For students, January also often begins a new academic period – a crossroads moment when students have just enough feedback on what they need to improve and just enough time to make a change for the better. According to Angela Duckworth at the Character Lab, “The science of fresh starts is intuitive: landmarks like the New Year or a new semester spur us to set goals for improving our performance, no matter what it is we want to improve.”

Yet what type of change is worth our focus? There are the proverbial “low-hanging fruit” such as getting more sleep, starting a new diet or spending more quality time on studies. And yet these can seem fleeting when we revert to old habits and experience the “hangover of disappointment.” Perhaps other things deserve our fresh attention.

I recall learning from my now-distant high school experience that to pursue the right answers in life, one needs to ask the right questions. This habit was ingrained in my developing adolescent brain and has been with me ever since. Recently, while hosting a Crescent alumni reception in London, England, I spoke about our Portrait of the Graduate and newly minted Strategic Academic Plan, which we affectionately call The Crescent Way. I shared how helpful it was to gather our school’s thinking about the knowledge, skills, and character strengths that our boys will require for their future success. I described that after all of this feedback was compiled and tested against the best educational thinking of our time, three questions emerged as essential for our boys to confront during their time at Crescent: Who am I? How do I lead? What is my legacy? After my formal remarks, a very astute alumnus pulled me aside and said, “Mike, it strikes me that these questions aren’t just critical for the boys leading up to graduation, they are for a lifetime.” I replied with excited agreement, “Exactly!”

While I have already started honoring new commitments to myself in 2019, such as to become more physically flexible and spiritually rested, I have also returned to these aforementioned questions as a Crescent parent and educator, with even greater zeal. In doing so, I hope to model to myself and for others that change and growth are not just part of a new year’s ritual but central to the mission of building one’s character. Who are you? How will you lead? And what will be your legacy in 2019?

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