What being a FISH means to me?
The FISH Philosophy website asks, “Imagine what would happen if people at your organization felt comfortable to be themselves and throw their whole heart and soul into what they did every day. What kind of difference would that make to your organization?” I feel fortunate to have had that experience in my first job after graduating college. That’s when I joined my first school.
In August of 1991, I moved into East Hall on the Blair Academy campus. The 2nd-floor apartment consisted of three converted dorm rooms, and my soon-to-be neighbors were 50 sophomore and junior boys. Football camp started a couple of days later, and classes a week or so after that. Teaching, coaching, and living in the dorm are what I had signed on to do, but honestly, I had no idea what my responsibilities were. I soon found out that being a boarding school “Triple Threat” entailed much more than teaching Spanish, coaching football and basketball, and monitoring study hall in the dorm from 8:00-10:00 p.m.
Fortunately, I was surrounded by an entire support network, a mixture of master teachers and newer faculty. Every day, I saw the four tenets of the FISH Philosophy in action: Be there, Play, Make Their Day, and Choose Your Attitude. Their modeling helped me become a more effective educator, an empathetic listener, and a willing collaborator.
“Be there: Be emotionally present for people. It’s a powerful message of respect that improves communication and strengthens relationships.”
The way Caroline Conforti-Browse communicated with her softball teams or Lauren Johnson Lambert with the cast of the musicals and plays was part of my education. Their compassion and connection to their students were always apparent. Watching Dan Scheibe and Tyler Lewis make time for their students, listening carefully, and letting students know they had a trusted adult with whom they could confide on campus shaped my interactions with students.
“Play: Tap into your natural way of being creative, enthusiastic, and having fun. Play is the spirit that drives the curious mind, as in “Let’s play with that idea!” You can bring this mindset to everything you do.”
When I arrived at Blair, I arrived with eight new teachers. We joined several younger faculty members, including my future wife, who had started teaching in previous years. Several more followed in the year after. I’d like to think we brought energy, creativity, and fun to our work. I still remember an opening faculty meeting when Chan Hardwick, the Head of School, asked the teachers to take ownership of the school. This request was empowering. Our administration let us explore possibilities for our students and ourselves. We became head coaches, ran dormitories, chaired departments, and created opportunities to support each other and our students. And we had fun. We loved what we taught and coached, but more importantly, we loved teaching and coaching kids.
Make Their Day: Find simple ways to serve or delight people in a meaningful, memorable way. It’s about contributing to someone else’s life—not because you want something, but because that’s the person you want to be.
Dave Low, Dean of Students, did more for students and faculty during my time at Blair than any other person. His warm approach and gentle touch with students and his amazing mentoring of younger faculty created an atmosphere of caring and kindness across campus. I have no idea where Dave found the energy – Dean of Students on any boarding school campus is a time-consuming, and, sometimes, thankless position. However, Dave redefined the role, serving decades of students with boundless enthusiasm.
Choose Your Attitude: Take responsibility for how you respond to what life throws at you. Your choice affects others. Ask yourself: “Is my attitude helping my team or my customers? Is it helping me to be the person I want to be?”
The grind of the boarding school schedule, especially in the dark winter months, can be tough. Coaching with Dan Hazen, long-time Athletic Director, made every practice seem like it was a beautiful spring day. I coached football and basketball with him for years. I do not recall a day when he did not show up with a positive outlook, no matter what was happening in his life. In fact, Dan and his wife, Karen, began hosting Coaches’ dinners on Friday nights before Saturday games. Dan always put others first and felt pride in everyone’s success. And he was always there during times of struggle for both his students and coaches.
I swam with an amazing school of people early in my career. Not surprisingly, many of my colleagues have gone on to lead schools themselves:
Tyler Lewis – Kimball Union Academy
Dan Scheibe – Lawrence Academy
Rachel Stone – The Canterbury School
Lauren Lambert – The Winchendon School
Dave Braemer – Kent Denver School
Others of us continued in the classroom or led Athletic Departments or College Offices. To this day, I feel a bond with my former colleagues. Perhaps, without knowing at the time, we “felt comfortable to be ourselves and throw our whole heart and soul into what we did every day.” At McMillan Education, I am fortunate to work with colleagues who appreciate and are guided by the philosophy of the FISH philosophy.