At the January 2018 Parents' Association coffee, dozens of parents crowded into the Valeria Knapp Trustees Room for a morning with Head of School Sarah Pelmas.
Building on her fall remarks, Ms. Pelmas opened with further thoughts on the theme of community. She recounted telling students in Assembly the week before that she expects them to say hello to her—and to all Winsor adults that they know—when they cross paths in the hallways. She jokingly described how girls sometimes seem to become fascinated by bulletin boards or even the cracks in the terrazzo floor when she's approaching. She smiled to note that she's threatened them with hugs if they don't say don't hello.
Looking ahead, she strongly recommended that all parents attend the upcoming Parents' Association event with anxiety expert Lynn Lyons on February 22. She explained that the entire faculty and staff had enjoyed an extended session with Ms. Lyons as part of their opening-of-school meetings in August.
She spoke about the natural parental impulses to try to help our children avoid difficult situations and "control the uncontrollable." "We try to help kids feel in control," she said. While well intentioned, that impulse can fuel anxiety. In her books and in her presentations, Ms. Lyons works to help adults "help our kids to manage their discomfort."
"It's a very uncertain world," Ms. Pelmas added. In working on the issue of anxiety as a faculty, "we're bucking a cultural trend," she said. It's a long process. Nevertheless, "we're working on it very strenuously."
She also made the point that what she sees most often day to day is a joyfulness and love of learning. "Classrooms are vibrant places to be," she reported. Girls are empowered. "They're learning to be independent, strong minded women who stand up for what matters...and take on any challenge."
She explained that some alumnae have told her how shocking it can be to go out into "the real world" and realize it isn't like Winsor. To her, "the real world can wait," and she sees Winsor as giving students the strength and resilience to face it. The question is, are they ready? Yes, she assured parents, the girls are abundantly ready for the challenges ahead.
During a morning devoted to communicating with parents, Ms. Pelmas discussed plans in the works for surveying Winsor parents on "how well we're communicating to you about your daughter's progress," she explained. "We need you to be informed, and we need her to grow."
Questions will delve into topics such as report cards and conferences. She readily listed an array of potential questions on the minds of Winsor administrators: what role should students have in conferences? Is the timing right? What is the connection between comments and grades? Beyond the specific questions is a broader question: How do we foster student growth, agency, and independence?
Ms. Pelmas also gave updates on a few of the many things underway. She noted that the search for a Lower School head has drawn a strong pool of candidates, including interim Lower School head Rick Mosher. She is optimistic that a decision will be reached before March break, and parent representatives will be part of the interview process.
She also shared an announcement of the next Global Forum topic—disease—and spoke about the challenges of parking at a committedly urban school.
Before diving into questions, she noted that "always on mind is the times we're in," she said. She reflected that it's difficult for both adults and children to be in "a cultural moment where it's so adversarial."
She explained that it worries her to see people's anxieties leading to anger and "a lot of modeling of anger and blame together."
In the face of constant lashing out, "I want us to assume good will, to check our own impulses." It's not about any one political party. It's on us to start this, she added. As a community, "we have the resources and the capacity to think about how we can bring dignity and respect to the discussion."
It's not an easy task, and "you need a constant long view." At Winsor, we're surrounded by students who "are already decent, kind, respectful people," which is a great place to start from.
She also thoughtfully answered a range of parent questions, including giving a broad look at the complex world of college admission and standardized testing.
Watch for more insights from the head of school and others at Winsor in a new school blog, to be introduced this winter.