Forging Trusting Bonds with Students
Having spent the past two decades working in boarding schools, I have been fortunate to meet and work with thousands of talented young people. Each year, I would marvel at the intellectual, social, athletic, and artistic contributions these students would make to the school community, and to society at large. And while my role was largely focused on enrolling the next class of students each year, I also spent meaningful time working with these young people in the classroom, in the dorms, in the athletic arena, and at the dinner table – listening to their aspirations, to the pressures surrounding their lives (both perceived and real), and ultimately, to the things that mattered most to them.
I approached my responsibility as an advisor the same way I approach many parts of parenting my own children: being a good listener, helping them understand the short and long term realities of their decisions, giving them license to explore their passions and talents, and encouraging them to never underestimate themselves. And while my journey with students was unique to their own particular circumstances, the common experience we all shared was that I was able to meet them where they were intellectually, socially, emotionally, and otherwise. I relished the opportunity to help prepare these young people for their educational and life paths and to ultimately help them discover all that they were capable of. It was also a privilege to help them navigate and manage the mounting and endless pressures adolescents face – be it academic, social, athletic, or the need to simply be “great” at everything.
During this spring’s commencement weekend, I was able to connect with a graduating advisee, Owen, and his parents. Inevitably, our conversation focused largely on Owen’s journey – from a bright, athletic, and extremely disorganized emerging eighth grade scholar, to a fully formed, high honors, student-athlete who also happened to be a nationally recognized artist. Owen’s journey was not always easy – or linear – so to see him achieve so much success and to be recognized with so many accolades was incredibly rewarding to Owen, his family, and me.
Over the course of our four years with one another, Owen and I developed an indelible bond, forged largely around the common understanding that we trusted one another. I trusted that Owen would always be forthright with me – both in his daily interactions and in sharing his future goals. For Owen, he could trust that I would always listen to him, that I would always advocate for him, and that I would always work to make sure he was on the right path. Ultimately, this trust – and our pact – led Owen to discover new talents, to successfully navigate his high school years, and to ultimately find his sweet spot – the place where he was adequately challenged while simultaneously finding the success he deserved. This trust led to a number of honest conversations – sometimes hard and sometimes not what Owen wanted to hear – but honest, nonetheless. As important, Owen discovered that he was so much more than the highly touted lacrosse player that he first arrived to campus as. He was also a scholar, a leader, and a simply incredible artist! In short, Owen became the man that his parents and I knew he was capable of becoming, but one that he never realized existed. And, despite the impressive collection of awards Owen amassed, I know that he was more proud of his journey than the actual “destination” he had arrived at after four years.
Much like advising, my work as an educational consultant provides me with the same inspiration and energy that I enjoyed for 19 years in schools. Each and every day, I get to do what I love with students from all over the world – to help them to prepare them for their own journeys. Be it a grade school student who is looking to join a junior boarding school, a middle schooler with their sights set on secondary school, or a high schooler who is diving into the college process, the partnership that I share with my students is much like the one I shared with Owen. We set the course together, we build trust, and we take a journey that involves contemplation, reflection, and ultimately, the discovery of self – followed by the right educational match.