Mike Fellin

The Critical Art of Rethinking

by Michael Fellin, Headmaster of Crescent School
“Intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn, but in a rapidly changing world, there's another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn.”
– Adam Grant

A year ago, as my family and I settled into our March Break vacation, I overheard from a fellow traveller that Ontario was planning to close schools because of the health pandemic. It was at that moment that I realized I needed to rethink everything I knew about school. Ten days later, with the extraordinary effort of my colleagues and the support of our Board of Governors, Crescent School made history. We closed our physical campus and opened a virtual one.
Since then, I have been practising the critical art of rethinking more than at any other time in my life. I have reconsidered what the first and last hours of my day look like. I have revisited what books I read and why. I have reevaluated my own privilege as a white male. I have reclaimed the importance of my family in my life. I have reviewed my long-held beliefs, identity, values, and who I think I am. Finally, I have reimagined what it means to lead an independent school for boys in the throes of a three-fold crisis: health, economic, and societal.

In his recent book, Think Again, famed Wharton professor and organizational psychologist, Adam Grant argues,

“In our daily lives, too many of us favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. We listen to opinions that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard. We see disagreement as a threat to our egos, rather than an opportunity to learn. We surround ourselves with people who agree with our conclusions when we should be gravitating toward those who challenge our thought process. The result is that our beliefs get brittle long before our bones. Intelligence is no cure, and it can even be a curse: there’s evidence that being good at thinking can make us worse at rethinking. The brighter we are, the blinder to our own limitations we can become.”

Despite all the discomfort associated with the global COVID-19 pandemic, corresponding financial uncertainty, and the need for greater racial justice, this past year has allowed Crescent to double-down on our deepest convictions (mission, vision, values). We have done this in part by staking out four strategic priorities in our school strategy, Fulfilling Our Promise 2020-2024. Primary among these is our aspiration to become a fully diverse and inclusive learning community where every boy belongs. You can read about the important work that Crescent is doing to train and educate our students and staff on diversity, inclusion and belonging (DIB) and yet we know that there is much more to be done. I am proud of our Winter/Spring ‘21 DIB Action Plan to further our goal and I am energized by how our community has embraced this work.

More than ever, we must breathe new life into our motto, “In truth, we stand and grow,” by encouraging our boys to learn from a diverse range of experiences, people, thoughts, and expressions. We must continue to teach our boys to examine “how to think” vs. “what to think” as a means of developing their moral, performance, and civic character. Finally, we must focus on our roles as stewards of acceptance and tolerance as a way of modelling what it means for staff, students, parents, and alumni, to be a welcoming community.

In reflecting on this past year, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn and unlearn, and to practice an important skill: the art of critical rethinking. While I have re-thought what our school needs to do and how I must lead accordingly, I have also re-affirmed how our mission, Men of Character from Boys of Promise, invites us to raise boys who are intelligently self-aware, confidently humble, and culturally competent citizens in a world that is desperate for their leadership.

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