“What exactly do you do?”
This was the question that one of our current Senior class members asked me last year one day as we happened to cross paths on the deck. It is such a good question! Depending on where you sit, I may look like the guy who greets the Lower School students as they come to school in the mornings, who gives a few Chapel talks throughout the year, who walks around and talks to students and teachers, who meets with parents and Trustees and people who want to support ESA; but, my favorite answer to that question was given by one of the Kindergarten students this year when Ms. Sandy held up a picture of me in her class and asked the question:
“Who is this?”
One of them answered, “That’s Dr. Baker!”
“And what does he do at ESA?”
“He’s the school mascot!”
What a perfect answer! On a really important level, the headmaster should be the school’s biggest cheerleader (aka mascot), not just for sports but for every aspect of the school. But, as I explained to the students last year in Chapel, one of my most important jobs is to make sure that we are all focused on our mission. To do that, headmasters get to ask lots of questions, like, “how does that program support the mission and what we are trying to accomplish as we move forward?”
The ESA Mission Statement:
Episcopal School of Acadiana is a co-educational, independent day school for students in grades PreK3-12. Its mission is to instill in every student the habits of scholarship and honor. ESA challenges students to develop intellectually, spiritually and physically.
A lot of thought went into writing that mission statement some 10 years ago, and there are some really important word choices that I want to highlight for you.
- Instill – This means “to gradually, but firmly establish an idea or attitude in a person’s mind.” It is important to realize that scholarship and honor are processes that take time.
- Habits of scholarship and honor – This is a direct reference to Aristotle’s writings about excellence in the Ethics: Aristotle wrote, “these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions,” which has been paraphrased as, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” This idea also forms the basis of our motto, the Greek word, Arête, the act of living up to one’s potential, or as we say: “Excellence from Within!”
- Every Student – We aspire to instill these habits in every student, not just the top 10%. This is an important part of our mission. Every child can succeed in taking a serious approach to academic excellence and honor. Not all will find it easy, but the rewards are in the struggle.
- ESA challenges students – We do not politely ask students, or if it’s convenient, could you perhaps consider… We challenge students. In the lower school, that means that students have to learn to stay in the struggle. In the middle and upper school, we talk about the journey to independence and being part of a culture of excellence. It is also important to note that we challenge our students to grow spiritually as well as intellectually and physically. That’s the beauty of being an Episcopal school. By living robustly into our Episcopal identity, not fearful of asking the difficult questions, we can empower our students to grow in their own spiritual journeys according to their own religious traditions.
So, in the end, maybe the work of the headmaster is a little like being a sheepdog—keeping the flock together and moving in the same direction. Arête!