Michael Saxenian

Community, Connection, and COVID-19

Head of School Mike Saxenian reads to a group of Kindergarten students.

It’s a daily refrain: these are unprecedented times. And though we find ourselves in new territory, at McLean we are well equipped to chart a course. That’s because, in many ways, we’re just continuing to do what we’ve always done, which is to be nimble and get creative about how we teach. Our students, too, are doing what they’ve always done: demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity. For these reasons, and with a lot of hard work on everyone’s part, this first week of distance learning has exceeded our expectations and affirmed that McLean is indeed a community like no other.

One of the things that differentiates McLean is our core values. It’s been incredibly heartening to note all the wonderful ways in which our values continue to guide us in this era of uncertainty and change:

Creativity, Innovation & Intellectual Curiosity

Guided by our Abilities Model®, we are committed to providing opportunities for exploration and expression so that all students, including those with dyslexia, anxiety, ADHD, or organizational challenges may flourish. Throughout our K-12 college preparatory program, technologies used in the classroom provide a familiar bridge to distance learning. The Lower School continues its use of Seesaw as a way of sharing work and kids hit the ground running, posting pictures of their home workspaces and engaging in myriad ways, from recording vlog book reviews to building structures for all to see. In our Upper School, AP Calculus students suggested using a popular gaming app that would allow them to communicate in chat rooms, of sorts, so they could still take partner quizzes; the teacher’s setting enabled him to listen in on those conversations as if roving the room like he ordinarily would. Creativity, innovation, and intellectual curiosity – the desire and motivation to learn – is alive and well in this evolving new normal.

Inclusiveness

This is the fundamental ingredient that helps us all feel whole, academically, socially, and professionally. The new learning paradigm isn’t without its challenges – some students have an easier time with the technology than others, for example – but with patience and practices that promote participation, we can build on this value even in a virtual setting. One Middle School teacher hosted an optional “zoom lunch” for her class and reported that almost everyone joined and expressed so much gratitude at being together that they decided to make it a daily thing.

Flexibility

If ever there were a time that put this value to the test, this is it – and our commitment to adapting our curriculum and teaching methods to the needs of our community could not be stronger. Whether with the strengths and challenges of the individual learner in mind, or a class as a whole, McLean’s expertise in this area continues to serve our students, and our school, very well.

Respect

McLean has always been an exceptionally attentive, compassionate, and conscientious school community. There is a reason respect is a core value, it’s fundamental to who we are and what we are about: respect for different ways of learning; respect for colleagues and peers; respect for alternative points of view. In this current phase and format of education, we’re very appreciative of the kindness shown by others, from parents reaching out to express appreciation to students showing up on time and ready to learn to faculty supporting one another. Every day brings a new reminder that when we have respect for people and a process, it paves the way for great things.

Wellness

The fast-growing COVID-19 pandemic creates tremendous uncertainty about the health and future of our loved ones and our world. It is a privilege to be able to provide a safe and nurturing environment in these unthinkable times in the form of routine and community. As a national leader in mindfulness education, McLean continues to be a resource to our students and their families and it’s our hope that we can tap into these valuable skills to ground us, individually and collectively. In the coming weeks, we look forward to sharing some mindfulness skills that can help ground and regulate us in these difficult days.

A Welcoming Community

To me, this is what it’s all about: students, faculty, administrators, and parents working collaboratively to improve the quality of life and learning at McLean. If there’s a silver lining to all of this, perhaps it’s the fact that our values can hold us even in the most trying, terrible circumstances. This community continues to amaze me by being greater than the sum of its parts.

Everything we do is with our students in mind, and our response to the COVID-19 crisis is no different. We are well equipped for this era of distance education thanks to a combination of expertise, creativity, resources, and heart. So, yes, these are unprecedented times, and things are changing quickly, but one thing will stay just the same: McLean’s commitment to doing what we do best, which is provide the support needed to be successful, even in the most challenging of times.

Michael Saxenian, Head of School

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