The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA

News Detail - Magazine

Head's Notebook: Keeping an Open Mind

Rob Gustavson
Head of School Rob Gustavson reflects on this year’s schoolwide theme, Keeping an Open Mind
We have had a wonderful start to the school year. There is great positive energy on campus and a pervasive feeling of gratitude for being able to have all of our students back together in person. After so much time feeling distant from each other, we have a renewed appreciation for how essential interpersonal connections are to the Fay experience. We are already well on our way to rebuilding the strong sense of community that is a hallmark of Fay, and I’m feeling confident and optimistic about the coming months. This fall we opened school fully enrolled in both our day and boarding programs, with students coming from 49 Massachusetts towns, 15 states, and 21 countries. This past summer we welcomed more than 700 campers onto our campus for a range of robust summer programs, and we began construction of our new Center for Creativity & Design, which will open next fall. Taken together, these are powerful signs of Fay’s enduring strength that reflect ongoing confidence in our steadfast commitment to excellence.
I often say that excellence doesn’t just happen. As Jim Collins reported in his influential study of non-profit organizations, Good to Great in the Social Sectors, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.” Fay’s continuing strength is a result of the quality of our people—our students, families, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, and alumni—and their collective commitment to embodying and sustaining Fay’s values. For the adults in our community, this means modeling excellence for our students, not only through the quality of the program we offer, the campus we maintain, and the resources we provide, but also in how we interact with each other. In all of these ways, we strive to maintain institutional integrity and live our mission.
The past eighteen months have tested the integrity of our school community in ways that extend beyond unrelenting anxiety and stress due to the pandemic. Widespread, serious concerns about racism and injustice in the United States, as well as a contentious election and its prolonged aftermath, contributed to a growing sense of polarization and adversarialism in our country—which at times affected us at Fay. Each year we choose a school theme that we hope will serve as a touchpoint for discussions about how each of us can contribute to making Fay the kind of place we all want it to be. Last year’s school theme, Moral Courage, provided the opportunity for faculty and students to process events unfolding around us, to reflect on how we might make a positive difference, and to gain the confidence to speak up and do what we believe is right. In our conversations about moral courage, we also acknowledged that while there are times when it’s necessary to express moral outrage, it’s not constructive to be continuously outraged about everything, all the time.
None of us wants to be viewed as arrogant, intolerant, closed-minded, or self-righteous. But this is exactly what can happen if we become entrenched in our familiar, comfortable assumptions and convictions and don’t spend enough time outside the echo chamber of people who reinforce our opinions. As much as we hope our children will stand up for what they believe, we also want them to have the humility to recognize that they might have something to learn from others who have a different perspective. For these reasons, we decided to build on the concepts of moral courage that we explored last year when we selected Keeping an Open Mind as this year’s school theme.
The default mode of a school community should be intellectual curiosity, characterized by patient listening, thoughtful questioning, and reflection. We should certainly be candid and constructively critical, but we must also be able to disagree respectfully in the context of the shared values of our school. Contrary to what seems to have become the prevailing ethos in much of American culture, at Fay we firmly believe that our disagreements don’t need to become confrontational. As we spend the year considering the value of keeping our minds open, I’m hopeful that our understanding of moral courage will expand to include generosity of spirit, openness to listening and learning from others, and a willingness to broaden our own thinking. And I hope we will rededicate ourselves to nurturing a culture of curiosity and inquiry, grounded in genuine respect and concern for those around us.

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