Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow

BY ANDREW DAVIS

As a school we are lucky to have two New Years. In late August, our faculty return to campus, ready to think big about the year and years ahead – late August is New Years for educators. Then, in January, as 2018 becomes 2019, we all have a chance to start anew again. At MTS, we seized on the “new year” energy on the morning of Monday, January 7. After sharing stories of Winter Break, we dove into the generative work of defining what we mean by “tradition” and “tomorrow” in our “Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow” tagline.

Tradition, we saw, has two components. The first is related to what we teach and how we teach it. Here, tradition refers to the subject matter, methods, and materials that have proven to be effective, necessary, and engaging through time. These are the enduring elements central to the “I was incredibly well prepared” sentiment widely shared among our alumni. Traditional curriculum focuses on math facts, phonics, and the periodic table of elements, for example. Tradition includes skills such as studying for a content-heavy test, outlining an essay, and effectively using a paper planner. Often, but not always, these elements of “tradition” are more teacher-directed and analog rather than digital. These elements of tradition endure – they often remind me of the most effective and useful elements of my own education. A firm grasp of these elements of “tradition” was also clearly needed for success when I recently visited a number of high schools to which our students matriculate.

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Tradition also refers to elements central to the MTS culture. Through Teddy Bear Day we signal our value of youth and childhood. With our uniform, we ask students to look beyond the brand names to the person and mind wearing the clothes. By asking every fourth and fifth grade student to participate in the Winter Play, we continue the traditional value of stage presence and confidence. And, in countless interactions throughout the year, we value “please” and “thank you.” Our oldest students and our alumni – articulate, confident, and kind – embody the end result of that “traditional” culture.

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Reflecting on “tomorrow” our teachers regularly turned to the words collaboration, choice, and creativity. We see these as the skills that our students will need in high school and college, and to an even greater extent in the work world that awaits them in the years 2030 and beyond. When engaged in the work of “tomorrow” we see authentic performances of understanding – engineers making a solution to a problem, historians doing the work of archeologists. While tradition helps students converge on a set of skills, content, and values, tomorrow encourages students to diverge as they explore, create, and test. In this quest for authenticity and divergence that prepares students for jobs yet to be created, technology more often plays an important role.

Nancy Tracy leading students in activities during Greek Day.

Nancy Tracy leading students in activities during Greek Day.

In describing tradition and tomorrow, it is tempting to view them as a dichotomy – a class can only be one or the other. At MTS, though, tradition and tomorrow often intersect throughout a day or within a single course. Yes, students learn to outline a dense packet of information in history class – tradition. They also learn to work in a group to create an argument for remaining loyal to King George III in a heated group-based debate – tomorrow.

At Mount Tamalpais School, we are both tradition and tomorrow. In living this balance, we are preparing our students for their next academic steps and for their far more undefined future. We are also engaged in the important work of ensuring that our program continues to evolve, striking the right balance between tradition and tomorrow for the years to come. It would be easy to just be tradition or just be tomorrow. A great education combines both, something we will always seek to achieve.

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