Our Mission’s Challenge

By Michael C. Wirtz, Head of School

Hackley challenges students to grow in character, scholarship, and accomplishment, to offer unreserved effort, and to learn from the varying perspectives and backgrounds in our community and the world.

Taped to the base of the computer monitor on my desk are the 29 words that guide Hackley School: its mission statement. I look over these words countless times each day, consulting them as my guiding light in making decisions and in leading the school forward. If forced to distill the mission statement to its essence, I would argue that the final directive—“to learn from the varying perspectives and backgrounds in our community and the world”—lies at the heart of Hackley. Teaching students to see issues through a new lens, gaining insights to different ways of thinking, is evidence of Hackley succeeding at “challenging students to grow in character, scholarship, and accomplishment.” The school’s commitment to a free exchange of ideas as articulated in the mission creates the framework of our learning environment, while also highlighting our greatest challenge.

At Hackley, learning is not constrained by boundaries. Instead, it occurs inside classrooms, art studios, libraries, and practice rooms, as well as on the boarding corridor, playground, practice fields, and dining hall. Our model of education grows out of our strong sense of community, thriving on the many daily points of contact between community members. Key to the strength of our community is our diversity, not only in terms of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, family structure, ability, and socioeconomics, but in terms of the ideas, perspectives, and life experiences each of us brings to the Hilltop. The multiple diversities that each person contributes to the learning environment allow for the introduction of differing ideas. Throughout my first year, many parents, students, and alumni have shared with me their appreciation for the diversity present within the community and the ways in which such differences are embraced, celebrated, and elevated as strengths that contribute to Hackley’s approach to education.

Leveraging the strength of a K-12 environment, Hackley creates structured opportunities for students in each division to learn from the experiences of others. In the Lower School, students recently participated in the Building Bridges program, helping them learn about people with different physical abilities. Assisted by numerous dedicated parent volunteers, Hackley students in kindergarten through grade four learned about different abilities, including dyslexia, blindness, and learning differences.

Throughout the Middle School, students live the mission on a daily basis, from advisory conversations to com-munity meetings. I have been impressed with the myriad ways Middle School students and faculty focus on honoring the diversity of experiences and identities present in the community, united in the effort to learn from one another. In April, Hackley will host the Round Square Regional Conference of the Americas, expanding this aspect of our mission to reach students beyond the boundaries of our campus. In turn, the 100 educators and students from all over the world coming to the Hilltop will enhance the experience of our students as they explore the topic of democracy together.

Although Upper School students and faculty regularly explore different perspectives through coursework, one of the most powerful examples of this work is found in Chapel talks. This year, faculty and students reflected on gender equity in athletics, entertained us with their love of comedy, offered advice on getting the most of the college experience, and shared family histories. In each of these talks, speakers shared their story and insight, enriching the community with a new take on a familiar topic, thereby furthering the mission of the school. It is through programs and opportunities such as these that Hackley leverages the strengths of the many perspectives present within our community.

While Hackley’s mission permeates our approach to education, it also highlights aspirational goals for the school. This aspect of our mission challenges us as we bring in new community members, whether through the admissions process or as we hire faculty and staff. In fact, a learning community worthy of our mission demands that we bring together a diverse community of adults and students. Even in such an environment, the act of learning from differing perspectives is difficult. It first requires the ability to listen closely (and perhaps empathetically) to one another, taking in new information, and then reconciling that information with previous understandings.

This is not to say that we should forgo being critical consumers of information nor avoid employing the strong analytical and critical reasoning skills taught so well here on the Hilltop. Facts, data, and the strength of an argument matter, as do the opinions and ideas of peers and colleagues, who share their lived experiences with us so that we may reconcile them with our own.

At its essence, Hackley’s mission challenges us in both the intellectual and interpersonal realms to leave ourselves open to new possibilities with the option to change our minds. In short, learning from the perspective of others requires a com- munity effort, the type born about in a school that embraces the mottos Enter here to be and find a friend, United, we help one another, Character is higher than intellect, and Go forth and spread beauty and light. The goal of our mission is not diversity itself, but to bring different voices and experiences into the conversation to learn from one another and to build an inclusive community.