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6/12/17 - Put the Phone Down!

I’m not sure that the world needs another “put the phone down” column – in fact, I saw one in this morning’s newspaper, connected to texting while driving – but I’m going to throw one out there anyway.

Last week I noticed an article on my Twitter feed, from an educational site that I follow. The article was entitled “How to Manage Cell Phone Use in Your Classroom.” (Citation: www.theedadvocate.org, Matthew Lynch, March 26, 2017). There is an underlying premise to this piece that might startle many people – i.e., that educators need to understand and to acknowledge that smartphones are now a fact of life in our classrooms, whether we like it or not.

I like it. I have continued, in recent years, to teach the occasional history class at the high school level, and I find that there are enormous advantages to having all of my students logged onto the campus-wide wireless network, with their various devices at the ready. The possibilities are endless – but there do need to be controls. The article that I’ve cited suggests several tips for teachers:

-Establish Expectations

-Engage Your Students with the Technology

-Take the Time to Walk Around the Classroom

-Don’t Be Afraid to Take the Phones Away

-Give Your Students a Tech Break

There is one critical point, I think, regarding this final tip. Quoting the author: “Most students claim to experience anxiety when they’re unable to check their phone for more than 20 minutes. Giving your students three minutes to respond to text messages, look at their notifications, and check social media gives them a chance to get some anxiety out so it’s not distracting them when they should be focusing on learning.” I’m not sure that I’d be willing to do this every day, every class period, as a teacher, but I take the larger point: this generation of young people is attached to their smartphones in ways that my generation does not always quite grasp. And we’re well advised, at least, to acknowledge this.

And all of us – my generation, Gen X, Gen Y, whatever – all of us need to put the doggone phones down some of the time. Even as an old coot, I find that sometimes I just “need” to check my twitter feed or access my text messages, to the detriment of something more important.

So here are a handful of my personal rules for smart phone use (note:I follow most of these, and aspire to follow all of them):


…you are at the dinner table

…you are in the check-out line at the store

…you are in church

…you are eating at a fancy restaurant (fast-food joints are OK, everyone is on their phone there anyway)

…you are at the theatre

…you are involved in a one-on-one, face-to-face conversation with someone

…you are driving a car!!!!

…you are using a public restroom (a pet peeve of mine, can’t really say why)

…you are being addressed by someone in a position of authority

…you are being addressed by anyone!

Hope everyone is having a relaxing summer.


Posted by Mrs. Elizabeth Boswell Avant on Monday June 12 at 02:31PM
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02/16/17 - Mentors

I’ve been struggling with this blog for many weeks. After attending the funeral of an old friend and colleague back in December, I felt the need to write a tribute of some sort, but could not quite find the way to frame it. Finally, I remembered an exchange that I had with his wife after the funeral service, and that memory struck a chord.

The Reverend Charles Douglas (“Pete”) Cooper died on December 7, 2016. During the entire eleven-year period that I served as Headmaster of Trinity Collegiate School in Darlington, South Carolina, Pete served as the Chaplain of that Episcopal School. Pete was a crusty, opinionated and charismatic priest who had worked in several school communities in his career as well as serving several church congregations. While he was Chaplain of my school, he was also the Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Florence, South Carolina.Pete and I worked well together, and liked each other, so of course I felt drawn to travel back to Florence for his funeral. Afterward, while going through the family receiving line, I heard myself say to his wife Blair, “Pete was my mentor”.

I had never framed that thought in my mind before. I would have said, had anyone asked, that I’ve had three important mentors in my professional life:

1. Ben Sauers, History Department Chair at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh: Ben hired me, had faith in me, shaped my philosophy of teaching history (teaching students to think critically is as important as teaching historical facts), and encouraged me to pursue my doctoral degree.

2. Emerson Johnson, Headmaster at Shady Side Academy: Emerson projected calm, confident leadership – he always made me feel that I was working at the best school in the nation, because he carried himself as if that were true. His leadership style was inclusive and deliberative, with a strong nod to tradition.

3. Dan Richardson, Headmaster at Cape Henry Collegiate School in Virginia Beach: Dan was the opposite of Emerson Johnson, and the contrast in styles taught me a lot. Dan was a ball of fire, constantly in motion, constantly changing things, looking to make things better.His leadership style was energetic, decisive, and forward-looking.

Now I realize that I have added Pete Cooper to this list without ever acknowledging it to myself. I’m glad I acknowledged it to his widow. Here’s what I’d like to say about Pete Cooper, by way of eulogy and by way of explaining how he helped shape my own leadership style. Pete was incredibly student-centered. He blustered, and he yelled, and he pontificated, but at heart his every decision, his every feeling, was illuminated by what was best for the young people that he served. I believe that he had a bigger heart for education than he did for ministry – or maybe more accurately, they were the same thing for him. And this: NOBODY ever loved the school that we served more than Pete. I loved it a great deal. Our students and parents loved it a great deal. But Pete was the school’s biggest cheerleader and supporter. He attended every game in every sport.He served on the Board of Trustees for many years. He supported the school financially, and with his prayers, and in his public statements. As much as I may have liked to think of myself as the face of the school during my time as its Headmaster, it was really “Reverend Cooper”, as the students called him, who was the center of gravity for all of us. I miss him.


Posted by Mrs. Elizabeth Boswell Avant on Thursday February 16 at 04:08PM
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10/25/16 - Civil Discourse

With the Presidential election almost upon us, I am looking forward with hope toward the possibility that our national civil discourse can become a bit calmer after all the votes have been counted and an outcome has been determined. In earlier blogs, I have commented on my disappointment at the examples being provided for our children in some of the angry, impolite, and even hostile rhetoric that dominates social media and letters to the editor. My hope for some kind of cooling down may be overly optimistic, but we have to try. Maybe, as we sift through all the “post-game analysis” of the national and local elections, we can also launch a dialogue regarding how we speak to each other.

When this school year started, I shared the following remarks with my faculty in our opening meeting:

“in case you spent the summer on Mars, or in an underground bunker, let me point out that it’s a Presidential election year – the rhetoric is likely to be even hotter than usual, based on what we’ve seen thus far, so I want to ask two things of you in your roles as teachers, coaches, administrators:

a) although I encourage you to exercise all your rights as an American citizen, and to work toward whatever political outcome you desire, as a staff member here you should be neutral; whatever your political views, they are NOT the official views of Stratford Academy, and it is not your job to convince your students to lean toward a particular candidate, political party, or political position

b) that said, it’s great to get our students engaged in talking and thinking about the election and about politics; but let’s do our nation a favor, and teach them the value of polite and respectful political discourse (and insist upon that in your classroom)”

One of my administrators later followed up with some similar thoughts for the teachers in her division:

“Whatever our personal political beliefs, we have to work overtime not to let our personal feelings leak into the classroom. While it's ok to allow a student to know whom you plan to vote for (though I'd suggest that is not appropriate conversation for class), it's NOT ok to make disparaging comments about a candidate or to laugh at the disparaging comments others (in the news, in the school, in the community) have made. And you should guard against allowing hurtful conversations to erupt among the students in your classroom. Civil debate is always ok, but civil debate is difficult, and teenagers are not well trained in the art of dispassionate argument, so you have to be vigilant!”

These thoughts occupy my mind a great deal, even going beyond the question of politics. Can we pass along to the next generation the ability to disagree without demeaning? Can we pass along the ability to engage in difficult conversations without demonizing those who disagree? I am no fan of “political correctness” on either side of the aisle, in the sense that it limits the topics that one is allowed to talk about. It is my hope that our nation, our society, and our children will find ways to find common ground on any topic while still allowing “the other side” to maintain their human dignity.


Posted by Mrs. Elizabeth Boswell Avant on Tuesday October 25, 2016 at 02:01PM
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8/18/16 - Cotswolds Journal, 2016

In the Summer of 2013, my wife Martha and I took a "walking holiday" in northern Scotland, and loved every minute of it (as an earlier blog post will attest). This summer, we decided to try it again, this time in the beautiful Costwolds region of England. Close to Oxford, and to Stratford-upon-Avon, the Costwolds area contains literally dozens of beautiful and historic villages, and we passed through many of them. Our hike took us through some bucolic countryside as well. What follows is my journal of our recent hiking vacation.

Sunday, June 26 / Monday, June 27

Day one was mainly a (long) travel day, stretching out over two days and a time-zone switch. Our overseas flight was largely smooth and uneventful, though three words come to mind: "sardines", "cramped", and "tight". They seem to be making airplane seats smaller and smaller. Arrived in London 10:00 a.m. local time. Crowded going through customs - took about an hour - but pretty hassle-free all the same. Easy time catching a shuttle express train to Paddington Station (thanks, Martha for setting that up in advance!), so no worries catching our train from London to Moreton-in-Marsh, our first Cotswold-Village home. That was a smooth, relaxing, pretty train ride - first time during a long travel day where I truly felt "I'm on vacation!" (Or, "I'm on holiday", to use the vernacular.) Moreton-in-Marsh is a gorgeous village, old-stone construction, row buildings along the High Street, lots of history dating back almost a thousand years. We found our B&B after an easy ten-minute walk from the train station, then spent an hour just crashing, freshening up, and getting ourselves organized. Martha and I were both in good spirits as we headed out around 4:30 p.m. to explore the town. We saw some beautiful old churches, the historic market place, and of course a couple of beautiful and historic old pubs, one frequented by J.R.R. Tolkien, and one which had hosted King Charles I in the 1600s! Great local ale in both public houses, The Bell Inn and The White Hart. And a nice pub supper at the Hart. We also walked through the town, past the duck pond, to scout out the starting point for tomorrow's first real hike! Back at the Treetops Inn as I write this (kudos to our genial hosts, Liz and Brian Dean). A full English breakfast awaits in the morning. Can't wait!!

Tuesday, June 28
Day two of the trip (day one of the hike) contained all the elements that make this kind of vacation such a satisfying adventure: several fascinating little villages, numbers of beautiful old Norman-style churches, lovely countryside, some struggles to find the trail at times, and finally "the elements" themselves - our weather today ran the gamut from perfect to miserable. As promised and as expected, a delicious English breakfast awaited us at 8:00 a.m., and we were packed and out the door well before 9:00. The weather was clear, crisp and cool - Martha and I were comfortable in long sleeves, long pants, and a light jacket. We spent a few minutes strolling through a large open-air market in Moreton before hitting the trail. Didn't buy anything except an extra bottle of water, but it was fun to look at all the stuff on display. Then it was back to last night's pretty little duck pond to get onto the trail.With a spring in our step, and gorgeous weather, we proceeded through a number of fields, stiles, footpaths, and gates. After a while we reached the tiny village of Longborough, where there was a wonderful old church, a war memorial in the little town square, and a pretty little pub that was not yet open that early in the day. So we pressed on - more fields, more hedgerows, more stiles, more "kissing gates" before reaching our next little village, Donnington. As we approached Donnington we became briefly confused by some ambiguous directions and got onto the wrong path. Fortunately, as we tried to find our way back we ran into some similarly lost German hikers. They were going to where we had come from - and vice versa - so we were able to help each other out! We got back on track and soon made it to Broadwell, another tiny one-pub town. This time the pub was open, so we stopped in for a half-pint and a chance to rest our feet. After a short break we were back on the path and headed to Stow-on-the-Wold, perhaps the prettiest, most interesting town on a day which featured several contenders. Getting to Stow necessitated navigating more fields, and more ambiguous directions, but we made it. We spent about an hour there, touring the town and grabbing a nice pub lunch. As we left Stow it started to rain, and over the next hour the weather only got worse - and so did the directions. It took a great deal of pluck, ingenuity, maps, compasses and help from strangers to make it to Lower Slaughter, which we did. The rain briefly stopped, affording us a chance to appreciate the natural beauty of this old Cotswolds town, which featured a little river running through a selection of stone houses dating back 500 years, and the largest and most beautiful church of the day. The rain started back up, so we did as well, and it was a fairly easy stretch to our final destination, Bourton-on-the-Water. Bourton is known as the "Venice of the Cotswolds". A river runs through it, just as in Lower Slaughter, and several lovely stone footbridges cross back and forth among a variety of shops, inns, and tourist attractions. We found our B & B, the Windrush View, and crashed for a couple of hours trying to dry out and catch a little nap. Around 6:30 we headed back into town for a stroll and a nice dinner at the Duke of Wellington Inn, then back home to get some sleep. It's expected to be rainy again tomorrow, so we'll see how we do against the elements!

Wednesday, June 29
I'm not sure that I can fully describe today's adventures without making the day sound totally miserable - which it was not. I'm not sure that I can explain why today was so enjoyable for both of us, when it isn't going to sound that way. I am sure that it has a great deal to do with how much Martha and I enjoy each other’s company. And I am sure that to some degree it was a great day just because this is exactly the vacation we signed up for. First of all, we were very wet, pretty much all day. As we walked out the door of Windrush View, our hostess cheerily shouted out "it's just started to rain". No matter - it was a very very light rain, and we were suitably dressed. We headed out through the town square of Bourton-on-the-Water, again pausing to appreciate how lovely the town is, and watching ducks swim lazily down the river that flows right through the center of town. I suppose that those ducks were both omen and metaphor for the day. Second of all, we again faced a number of situations where ambiguous printed directions, combined with poorly waymarked and/or poorly maintained pathways, made it difficult to follow the trail and easy to get lost. That too contained an early omen - as we exited the town center, our directions said to "walk to the end of the road and then take off down the footpath". But when we got there, we found two footpaths, one to our left and one to our right. We stood there scratching our heads for a couple of minutes, when a nice old gent came by with a dog on a leash. He directed us to take the path on the right, which was the first of many lucky (correct) path choices in response to many such dilemmas. And finally, it felt as though we were walking uphill all day long, even though I'm certain that's not really true. So anyway, we took the path on the right and headed out of town. The next set of directions were the same as much of yesterday and most of today: "walk through the field, with the hedge on your right, then go through the stile at the other end. Then go half-left through the next field, with the hedge on your left, then go through the gate at the other end." And so on. And so on. Sometimes the hedge was on the opposite side of us from what we'd been told. Sometimes the stile was a gate - or the gate was a stile. Easy to lose track of which field we were in, even with Martha consulting a map and me poring over the directions. But there was lots of fun stuff to navigate: cow pies (millions of them, and a one point a giant steaming mountain of them); cows (who mostly wouldn't move and just stared us down as we picked our way through them); sheep (who took off running as we neared them, yelling and bleating at us the whole time); and grass, wild wheat or other growth, often up nearly to our knees and soaking wet, as we soon became. Martha and I began to amuse ourselves by taking "Path? What path??" photos showing us plowing through the undergrowth (overgrowth?) or looking for trail markers cleverly hidden behind three years of uncut shrubbery. As I said, I can't explain why all that was so much fun, but it was. Good company plus a tremendous sense of accomplishment - that's the best I can do. After a long, long time of this, we came into the sweet little village of Farmington, where we were greeted by an octagonal covered sitting area on the town square - a perfect opportunity to wring out our clothes and change our socks. Ate a granola bar, drank some water and took off again for Northleach with a renewed spring in our step. It was still raining, but it didn't seem to matter. Most of the rest of the hike was along sidewalks and roadways and now it seemed to be mostly downhill! We got to Northleach shortly after 1:00 (about four hours after taking off) and we were welcomed by the host of a great wine bar that Martha had scouted out in advance. Dried off some more, had a sandwich and a drink (Martha chose a French wine, I chose an English beer). Then we toured the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, a beautiful Norman (and post-Norman) church that was steeped in the rich regional history of the wool trade, as was the whole town, which is easily among the most beautiful of the towns we've visited. We called our cab to take us back to Bourton (no lodging having been available, or suitable, in Northleach) and while we waited made a great decision to tour the "Museum of Music and Machines", which contained old player pianos, music boxes both large and small, and 19th century proto-juke boxes and phonographs. Fascinating.After the cab ride back, we made a quick change of clothes, then headed into town to watch Wimbledon back at the Duke of Wellington, tour the unique "Model Village" ( a 1/9 replica of the town!), and finally a fantastic dinner at The Croft restaurant, the classiest place we've been in thus far. It was a great day - and tomorrow, it might not rain!

Thursday, June 30
It didn't rain - not very much, anyway, not enough to complain about. And the day contained a number of highlights and one major snafu that we managed to overcome with grit and good humor. Our cheerful cabbie, Sean, drove us back to Northleach and dropped us right at the trail head for today's hike. It didn't look very promising - another big field with long wet grass to traipse across, and again some slightly ambiguous trail directions. And then, magically, things became very easy, and stayed that way for quite a long time - pathways became wider and better maintained, directions became more accurate, and only some muddy terrain slowed us down. We marched into the town of Hampnett in pretty short order. We took off our muddy shoes and visited the little church, then pushed on down the road. We continued to thank our lucky stars that the route was clearly defined and obstacles were few. Our next village soon appeared - Turkdean, which felt like a little Hobbitt village - we kept calling it "the Shire". We decided to skip the church there and to push on, knowing that many miles lay ahead, and perhaps some obstacles. That turned out to be a good decision, though little did we know that the big obstacle of the day would be of our own making. We walked along through more fields, past more streams, alongside more fences, through more mud, and through one pretty little wooded area, the "Raspberry Brake". But not before we reached one more lovely little Cotswold village, Nutgrove. There we did go inside the town's lovely Norman church. At that point we were pretty cheerful - some of our hike had been (and would continue to be) along paved roadways and hard-pan paths, in addition to the inevitable treks through fields. We felt very optimistic that we would easily hit our goal of making it to the town of Naunton between 1:00 and 1:30. There we planned to have a nice lunch at a place we had read about, the Black Horse Inn. And then it happened - we somehow managed to lose track of how many farm gates we had gone through. At a critical point, when choosing a straight-ahead path up a hill would have led us to the Black Horse ahead of schedule, we turned to the right. When we finally realized we were on the wrong trail, we backtracked and chose a different wrong trail. And then another. And then a third. I still don't know how both of us kept our equanimity - not only were we going to probably miss lunch entirely, we were actually hopelessly lost. So we put aside the directions, got out the compass, and just headed in the compass direction where we thought Naunton lay. We were right - and were helped by again running into hikers coming from the other direction at a crucial time. We were so happy to be "not lost" that we didn't worry about lunch, but happily we got to the Black Horse at 2:25 pm, and the cheerful barman (Tom) told us that lunch ended in five minutes, but that we should just take our time and order. Yay! A pint of beer and a ploughman's lunch never tasted so good. We stayed until 3:00 then left for the last little stretch to Guiting Power. And our luck continued to be back on the good side, with this last bit being fairly easy, even though we had added two or three miles to the day's hike and expended more energy than planned. But Guiting Power turned out to be absolutely lovely. We met our hosts at the Guiting Guest House, easily our most beautiful inn thus far. After some time to re-charge and freshen up, we checked out the two pubs in town, the Farmer's Arms and the Hollow Bottom. The Farmer's Arms is a traditional old style British pub, and we loved it. We ate supper there. The Hollow Bottom caters to a younger set. Jo, our host at the inn, derisively called it a "gastro pub" - but we still had a nice pint there before heading home to bed. Still not sure exactly how we plan to spend our extra day tomorrow. Glad to have two nights in this excellent inn, but not much else to do in Guiting Power. We have some ideas!

Friday, July 1
We "called an audible" today, and it turned out brilliantly. The plan we had worked out was to hire a cab to take us to Sudeley Castle, which we really wanted to visit - we were scheduled to walk right past it on Saturday's thirteen mile hike, but we worried that with any delays at all, we'd never have time to stop at Sudeley. And delays have become common. But a hitch in the plan occurred when we could not reach the cab company. So we put our boots back on and hiked to Sudeley Castle. It was supposed to be six miles, turned out to be a bit more, but it was a pretty easy hike. A couple of wet and muddy trails through a couple of wooded areas, but mostly more of the wide, well-marked trails we we walking yesterday. We left Guiting about 10:15, and arrived at Sudeley around 12:30. We spent about ninety minutes in that beautiful historic castle, wandered the grounds, and saw the tomb of Catherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII. We were told that she is the only English Queen entombed on a private estate, which is what Sudeley is. Great stuff. While there, I was able to reach the taxi company, and we set up to get a ride back to Guiting Power. So - some time to wander around the neighboring village of Winchcombe, where we toured a beautiful cathedral (St. Paul), window shopped a bit, and got a couple of pints (I liked the Lion Inn). Back to our inn by 5:00, and another pub supper at the Farmer's Arms. Tomorrow, our taxi will take us back to where we left off in Winchcombe, and we'll resume the hike from there!

Saturday, July 2
Martha usually attaches a title to each day's journal entry, and I feel certain that she will call today's edition "Almost Too Perfect". Those three words were used in our hiking guide to refer to today's destination, the village of Stanton (correctly, as it turns out - see below), but we could really apply that description to the entire day. In many ways this was the most pleasant and trouble-free hiking day yet. We started by cab for the second time, and suppressed any guilt we might have felt by having the cabbie drop us at the exact point in Winchcombe where we had stopped yesterday. We're congratulating ourselves for walking on our "rest day" yesterday, because somehow the 13-mile hike originally scheduled for today broke down to six miles yesterday, nine miles today (and without getting lost either day!). The walk today was all on the "Cotswold Way" - our eight-day journey takes us down several different designated trails - Martha and I have decided that the Cotswold Way is the best of them. It is better maintained, has better way-marks, and since it's more heavily traveled the path is more worn-down and easier to traverse. Added advantage today: some very pretty countryside and some interesting historical sites. After an easy two hour hike through beautiful farms and forests, we came upon a national monument, the ruins of Hailes Abbey. We spent an hour doing the audio tour and learned a lot about these Benedictine monks and about the English Civil War that turned them out and led to the destruction of their abbey. What remains is striking, and the English government has done a good job of preservation and display. We saw two other old and historic churches along the way today, and also an impressive Jacobean gate in the town of Stanway. Further bonus: we passed a Saturday afternoon wedding, also in Stanway, and spoke to some of the groomsmen as we passed by. Reminded us of a scene from "Four Weddings and a Funeral", complete with black dog. I think that we have ended up passing by a wedding every time we've visited Europe. Anyway, we rolled into Stanton, our destination, by 2:00 - easy and enjoyable hike. We visited the local church, watched some cricket, had a ploughman's lunch and a pint at the Mount Inn, then crashed for a while in our private cottage (the "outbuilding") before returning to the Mount Inn a few hours later for a great dinner. Walked back through the town again before going to bed, just marveling at its beauty, the uniformity of that beauty, the perfectly maintained gardens, the Cotswold stone exteriors, and the rose bushes everywhere. We've determined to get up early tomorrow and take coffee/tea in the garden before breakfast. An almost-too-perfect day!

Sunday, July 3
Stanton to Chipping Campden will no doubt go down in our journals as the best hike of the trip, even though there's one more to go, and even though we have had some great ones! The weather was dead-solid perfect, from the first step to the last. Again today, the route along the Cotswold Way was clearly marked, well-worn, and well-maintained. The scenery was the best we've had - great views looking down over the Gloustershire countryside, lovely villages, and a couple of special attractions. We enjoyed each other's company even more than usual today, and really the only downside was that there were a couple of brutal climbs - but that's how you get those great views! After a great breakfast in our prettiest breakfast room yet, at The Old Post House in Stanton, we set off. Our host, Jo, had said that our hike would start with a bit of a climb, but would be one of our most beautiful walks. On both points she was using understatement. We seemed to be walking straight uphill for the first hour, and some of it was muddy terrain. Yet when we did reach the top of the "scarp", the views were beyond spectacular. After ninety minutes of truly breathtaking walking ("breathtaking" in the much more positive sense than when we were climbing uphill), we finally began our easy descent into the bustling village of Broadway. There was a church on the outskirts of town that we had wanted to visit, but we arrived during the Sunday morning service. Happily, our luck was better about a hundred yards up the road where a charming public house (the Crown and Trumpet) had just opened its doors. We secured a pretty outdoor table, grabbed a couple of pints, then took our boots off and massaged our feet while watching the churchgoers exit. Many of them joined us. After a bit, we strolled all the way through this busy tourist town, doing some people-watching and window-shopping as we got ready to rejoin the trail. Leaving Broadway, we faced our second climb of the day in good spirits. It was a bit daunting, and longer than we bargained for, but what a reward! At the top was the Broadway Tower, a 52-foot "folly" that commanded incredible views. We got a sandwich, another pint, and an ice cream at the shop at the top. Then back onto the Cotswold Way for a gorgeous, largely easy, and beautiful walk down into Chipping Campden, where we are scheduled for a rest day and two nights at the Wold's End B&B. The walk down the High Street of this incredible old village brought an indelible smile to our faces. Lots of history here to be explored, lots of "mellow stone" frontages, and lots of possibilities for a fun couple of days. We found our attractive B&B, took our usual "cool down" spell in the room, then struck out in search of dinner. The restaurant we had read about, the Eight Bells, was hosting a private party, so we tried several others, finding no available tables - a busy Sunday night. Finally, at the far end of the High Street, tucked behind the Volunteer Inn, we found the Maharajah Restaurant, an Indian place that turned out to be excellent! Great atmosphere, helpful wait staff, and excellent food. We returned to the Wold's End stuffed and happy, and ready to have some fun tomorrow on our rest day.

Monday, July 4
We celebrated Independence Day with our first and only true "rest day" of the hike, and it was great! Of course, even on an off day we ended up walking almost nine miles all told, but it was spread all through the day, and in tennis shoes, not hiking boots. We had a great breakfast at Wold's End, and then walked into town with an open agenda. First we spent about ninety minutes touring lovely Chipping Campden. We went inside the historic cathedral, one of the top three "wool churches" in the kingdom. There we saw a 14th century priest's vestment that's been preserved, and a number of other artifacts. We also visited, on the advice of our landlady, a working silversmith shop that has been in the same family in town for five generations - fascinating. Finally we decided to hop on a bus and visit Stratford-upon-Avon, because you just have to do it. It's become way touristy, but the history is thick. We walked through the theatre that is home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, had a pint and a pub lunch at the Garrick Inn, Stratford's oldest inn, then spent an enjoyable hour or so wandering around town before hopping the bus back to Chipping Campden. There, we had a gin and tonic at a warm and cozy wine bar, Huxley's, went home to crash and change clothes, then went back out for dinner. Best restaurant of the trip, no doubt: the Eight Bells Inn. Traditional yet classy, packed with people but not noisy, overworked staff who nonetheless remained cheerful, and outstanding food. Great rest day! Tomorrow: the final day of the hike.

Tuesday, July 5
Sad but happy - in some ways I'm wishing the hike weren't over, but we kept saying to each other today, "the last hiking day should be a good one", and it really was. All our trepidation about spending the final day back on the "Monarch's Way", which on the first day had been far inferior to the "Cotswold Way", were unfounded. Things were smooth and easy (and beautiful) today. Another perfect weather day dawned as we walked out of Chipping Campden (now my favorite of the villages), and we found our exit to the town right in the center of the High Street, through a stone gate that passed right through the back of the Noel Arms Inn. We had two intervening villages on our way today, and they were spaced pretty effectively in terms of breaking up the hike. After a little time of walking through some very pretty Gloucestershire countryside, with well defined and well maintained paths, we reached Broad Campden. In an echo of our first day hike, this village, like Longborough, was a tiny, lovely, one-pub town that we reached before opening time. I snapped a photo of the "Baker's Arms", and we pushed on. Our reward was Blockley, which we reached after about ninety minutes more of very pleasant hiking. This wins the award for "best surprise" among the two dozen or so villages we've passed through. We entered town past a "lawn bowls" club with a pretty clubhouse and an absolutely perfectly rolled green. Past that, a larger-than-expected church (for a village this size), and that was where we encountered a very unexpected surprise: a film crew crawling over the grounds. It turns out that they were filming an episode of the "Father Brown Mysteries" - the Blockley Church is the site for much of the "location" shooting for this series. Because it's an Anglican Church, and "Father Brown" is Roman Catholic, a crew was making some changes: adding statuary, a confessional, and the Stations of the Cross. We could see that they were filming in the house next to the church, and Martha caught a glimpse of Father Brown himself (Mr. Weasley from the Harry Potter films) as he dashed in. We walked through the village, which was a typical Cotswolds village but in some ways more charming than most, before finding our way to the Great Western Inn for an excellent pint and a pub lunch. Fortified, we headed out of town on the final leg (uphill, on a full stomach - ugh). Just before we reached the outskirts of Moreton-in-Marsh, we passed by the Batsford Arboretum, and decided to spend a little time walking the grounds. We really didn't need any additional walking at that point, but the arboretum was fantastic, and well worth the effort. Finally, we did the last half mile or so back "home", and rewarded ourselves with a victory-lap gin and tonic at the Bell Inn. Another reward awaited - when we checked in at the Treetops Inn, we found that the landlady had upgraded our room in order to accommodate two single hikers who wanted rooms next door to each other. We got a "superior" room, which was essentially a suite: huge, with a private outdoor patio. Hooray! We enjoyed the heck out of it - both before and after our walk back into town for the final hiking dinner at the Swan Inn. Great stuff! Tomorrow: London!

Posted by Mrs. Elizabeth Boswell Avant on Friday August 19, 2016 at 09:42AM
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Time Passages - 4/15/16

At this time of the school year, I always find myself watching time speed up. Another class is about to graduate and move on, new students and new teachers are being accepted or hired, and a school year will come to an end, only to have the entire process begin again in August. That beginning will be exactly like all the school-year beginnings before, and also entirely different from any school year we’ve ever experienced. So I find myself thinking about “Time Passages.”

From the Al Stewart song of the same title:“Years go falling in the fading light, time passages, buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight.” Stewart’s song, which has a haunting beauty, is largely a lament on wasted opportunities, and offers little advice to those of us who want to try to slow things down, those of us who want to make good choices about the time remaining to us. “Well I’m not the kind to live in the past, the years run too short and the days too fast, the things that you lean on, are the things that don’t last, well it’s just now and then that my line gets cast into these time passages.” Not very encouraging, I’m afraid, especially when Stewart adds, later in the same verse, “There’s something back there that you left behind.” No kidding!

My fellow Tar Heel, James Taylor, perhaps offers a more encouraging reflection on this issue in his song “The Secret O’Life”. The opening line of the song is perhaps simplistic, but it always makes me smile: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time, any fool can do it, there ain’t nothin' to it, nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill, but since we’re on our way down, we might as well enjoy the ride.” I suppose that in truth that this is not really the secret of life – there are lots of secrets to life, and some of them are very hard. But Sweet Baby James has something here, something at least more helpful that Al Stewart’s notion that “there’s something back there that you left behind.”

For four decades, I’ve been saying goodbye every May and June to a group of young people that I’ve come to know and love: the graduates. Some of them will stay in touch, others will drift away, some I know that I will never see or speak to again. This can be unspeakably sad, and it can be a horribly stark way to mark the passage of time in a career in education. People cry at graduations for just this reason.

But we also cry tears of joy for those young people about to embark on what can be the most exciting journey of their lives. And it’s possible for us to mark that passage, as James Taylor says, by simply “enjoying the ride”, both on behalf of our graduates, and also on our own behalf. “It’s okay to feel afraid, but don’t let that stand in your way…”

So, here we go into what I often refer to as the “event season” of a school year: Grandparents’ Day, Awards Assemblies, Prom, Field Day, class picnics. Does this mean only that we’ve all just gotten a year older? Or is there more? Parting words from James Taylor:“Now the thing about time is that time isn’t really real, it’s just your point of view, how does it feel for you? Einstein said he could never understand it all, planets spinning through space, the smile upon your face, welcome to the human race.”

I’m going to keep the smile on my face and enjoy these time passages. It’s just a lovely ride.


Posted by Mrs. Elizabeth Boswell Avant on Friday April 15, 2016 at 02:40PM
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Happy Birthday - 02/16/16

Somehow, this is the birthday season for my family and friends. Last month, my mother turned 90, and I was lucky enough to be able to travel to North Carolina to spend some time with her to mark the occasion. It was a special time, and I felt blessed and lucky to be there. Mom is in good health and was in great spirits. I hope to also get bonus points for mentioning it again, since Mom is a regular reader of my blog.

Two weeks later, it was my wife’s birthday, and I remembered! This has not always been so. There have been a couple of times when I remembered only on the morning of the birthday and managed to find a nice card and gift by the time I got home – and there was one colossally bad experience when I literally forgot her birthday entirely. In recent years, I have managed to cover myself in glory by thinking about my wife’s birthday, at least, a day in advance. Yes, I know, that should have been obvious from the start.

At the end of this month my son, Charlie will mark a special occasion: his seventh birthday. Charlie will actually turn twenty-eight years old, but of course, he is a “Leap Year Baby” whose birthday falls on February 29th. We’ve always figured out ways to celebrate his birthday even in non-leap years, but the actual leap years are special – at least after we had a chance to get used to the idea.I still have a vivid memory of my wife crying on the way to the hospital 28 years ago, upset by the idea that he was going to be born on February 29. As it turns out, it’s a pretty cool thing, and a sure-fire conversation starter for my son.

Coming up soon are my youngest brother’s birthday, my sister’s birthday, and my father’s 90th birthday, all of which occur in the month of March, so I’m looking for ways to recognize those upcoming milestones. Dad’s birthday will mark the end of his annual two-month period of constantly joking about having “married an older woman.” I don’t know if Mom gets tired of that joke, but she certainly hasn’t gotten tired of Dad, so I guess not. Their marriage is a role model and an inspiration to me, as I have noted in this blog before. And Dad, too, is in excellent health, so we’re all doubly blessed.

Yesterday, I experienced something a bit different in birthday recognitions: it was the 65th birthday of an old friend and colleague. He and I worked together back in the 1980’s when both of us were young history teachers. Both of us are now school heads, and he’ll be retiring at the end of this year. As a surprise for him, his wife wrote to a whole host of friends, relatives, and former colleagues, asking all of them (us) to participate in this surprise, which I was only too happy to do. Bob (he shares my first name as well as some of my professional history) has always been proud of his Scottish heritage, so his wife’s idea was to have all of his friends email him a photo of themselves toasting Bob with a glass of scotch. I thought that was a fantastic idea, so we posed our whole family each raising a glass in Bob’s honor. I hope he got a hundred of those photos from people across the country.

And to any of my readers who have a birthday coming up soon: have a great one!


Posted by Mrs. Elizabeth Boswell Avant on Thursday February 18, 2016 at 09:57AM
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Pain Management - 11/30/15

I’ve spent much of my time the past few weeks at the bedside of my adult son, who suffered a terrible motorcycle accident on November 9, an accident that required major surgery, and that will entail a long period of rehabilitation and physical therapy. During much of this time, I kept hearing the term “pain management”. The nurses wrote those words on the white board in my son’s room after his surgery, as one of three major goals for him (pain management was number one).

The main thing I learned, indeed the main point that the nurses were trying to make, was that pain management was an important personal goal, and the responsibility of the patient, not the nurses (and not the parents!) My son was taking some powerful narcotics, all with addictive potential, so they did not want him asking for too much, nor did they ever want him to “let the pain get on top of him” so much that it became intolerable. I remember being scolded one time by a nurse, quite properly, for demanding “more morphine”, when my son himself had not yet asked for it. “You won’t have morphine at home”, she told me, “and he is slowly weaning himself off the drug; let him manage this.”Good advice.

Here comes the analogy: I think that sometimes, in the age of social media, we try (and fail) to help our friends with “pain management” when we post sympathetic public statements of support to those who are hurting. I have two friends who recently divorced after a long marriage. The husband posted a note indicating that his wife had left him, and shared how much he was hurting. Friends were quick to offer support, and to denounce his wife for her cruel and thoughtless behavior. I declined to do this, because she is my friend too (and maybe also because I had not yet heard her side of the story). In the old days, before social media, we offered our support to our friends privately and quietly, maybe over a cup of coffee. In that setting, we could empathize with the pain our friends were feeling, and even allow them to indulge in a little bit of the “blame game” without doing any public damage to the other party.I chose that approach.

We see similar things happening on the job and at school. Recently, a local business was victimized by a backlash on Facebook after an employee claimed that he had been fired because his work as a volunteer fireman made him unavailable for weekend work. His friends, and others who had read the post, quickly jumped into this man’s corner, trying to help his “pain management” by noting how un-American his employer was, and threatening a boycott. Only later did the full story emerge:the man had not been fired. The man’s job required him to work weekends, and so the employer had offered him another position in the organization, which he refused. So the rhetoric died down, but not until after the damage had been done by well-meaning friends.

In schools today, we see much the same thing, and I hear this from many of my headmaster colleagues. A parent will share their pain, or their child’s pain, by posting a story about something hurtful that happened at school: their child has been “bullied” and “the school did nothing”, or their child was “singled out for punishment” when “many children did the exact same thing and weren’t punished at all”, or their child was denied a part in the school play or a position on a sports team because “a child of a rich and influential family got the spot instead. ”This may not be the best approach to pain management, because often it only provides one side of the story. Inevitably, the result is a stream of invective directed at the school:“How dare they do this?”; “That’s outrageous!”; “I thought the school was better than this!”; “I’m never giving them another dime!”But the school is constrained by privacy considerations from providing the complete truth: maybe other children were indeed punished; maybe the child has not told his parents the complete truth about his own involvement; maybe the child of the “influential parent” happens to be a better actor or a more skilled athlete. There are, as we know, two sides to every story – and often more. By looking to identify a public villain in these stories, whether that villain is a school, an employer, or an ex-spouse, we may be doing a disservice to an innocent party, as well as not really helping our friend who is hurting. Maybe we are like the parent who demands “more morphine” for his child, when a better “pain management” approach would be to stand quietly on the sidelines while the patient manages his own pain.


Posted by Mrs. Elizabeth Boswell Avant on Monday November 30, 2015 at 02:27PM
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High School Reunion - 10/9/15

This blog post is a “shout out” to my old friend and classmate Roy Helm.I returned to Greensboro, North Carolina last weekend for my 45th high school reunion, and Roy was a member of the organizing committee for that reunion.More than that, he was the reason I attended – I had decided at one point that it was going to be too busy a weekend for me to get away (the Stratford vs. FPD football game!) but then a note arrived in the mail.It was a short personal note from Roy:“Bob – I hope you can make it for the reunion.It would be good to see you again.”That was all it took.I immediately booked a flight.I planned to fly up to NC the morning after Stratford’s home football contest, which meant that I would miss my old high school’s Homecoming game, but that choice turned out to be a good one when heavy rains in North Carolina washed out that game.Interestingly, I would have been rooting for the “Eagles” either way – Ben L. Smith High School in Greensboro shares the same mascot, the Eagle, with Stratford Academy.It also turned out to be a good choice because the Stratford game was a great, heroic victory over our long-time rivals.

Attending the reunion reminded me of the importance of maintaining relationships with old friends.I guess my experience last weekend was pretty typical:I spent about half the time “speed dating” with a bunch of people with whom I was not close in high school, but with whom it was fun to catch up and to trade stories.And the other half of the evening it was just like old times, hanging out with a couple of my best friends.In this case, hanging out with Roy and with my great friend Edwin Sanders.Roy had come to the reunion from Charlotte, NC; Edwin had travelled from Tennessee.The three of us had fun sharing a number of great memories – we were part of the first-ever Advanced Placement class at our high school (AP Modern European History, a class of seven people), and we were members of our school’s Quiz Bowl team, which made a run at the championship before falling to the mighty Demons of R. J. Reynolds High School from Winston-Salem.The three of us have managed to stay in touch with the woman who was both our history teacher and one of our Quiz Bowl coaches, and we were sad that she was unable to attend the reunion due to a conflict.Over the course of the evening I talked with other good friends from the class, but it felt good to have the “gang of three” back together again.

We have Homecoming weekend coming up next weekend here at Stratford, and I’m sure it will be much the same for members of the various reunion classes who will assemble in Macon.We’ll have a great football game for them to attend and other opportunities for them to reminisce, including a tour of the campus for them to see all the changes we’ve made, and of course reunion get-togethers at various locations around town for each of the reunion classes.If their reunions are anything like mine was, most of the memories and the stories will be about the football games, the fun, the camaraderie, and all the crazy things they did.Somehow the time spent in the classroom doesn’t come up as much – we know it was an important part of our experience, we’re glad to see our old teachers again, but that’s not always where the best and longest-lasting memories come from.It’s our interactions with good people and our life-long friendships that stand out for us.


Posted by Mrs. Elizabeth Boswell Avant on Friday October 9, 2015 at 02:31PM
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“How I Spent My Summer Vacation” 08/12/15

Those words – “how I spent my summer vacation” – come with a bit of a shudder for me. It seemed to me as a child and later as an adolescent that every school year began with some teacher requiring me to write an essay with this title. There were, of course, two big problems with this: I usually don’t relish having to write an essay on a topic not of my own choosing; and this assignment always came just exactly at the point when I was most resenting school for having intruded upon my summer vacation. I think that this particular assignment has now become such a cliché that many teachers avoid it, but maybe some still use it since it is an experience fresh in the memory and personal enough that details are accessible.

At any rate, I’m happy to write such an essay now! No one is making me do it, and I had a great summer vacation, with a couple of large highlights. So here goes.

A “bucket list” item for me had been to visit Italy. No more – Martha Veto and I had a great ten-day trip in June, joining a group led by Stratford teacher Andy Lawson and former teacher Jackie Poole. Andy and Jackie put together a great itinerary, and there were a total of 34 of us who took off from Atlanta on June 12. The first and only major kink in the works happened right off the bat. Upon landing in Frankfurt, Germany, we learned that our connecting flight to Rome had been cancelled due to problems at the Rome airport.We were forced to wait for nine hours until we could board another flight. Let me just say that Frankfurt is probably a wonderful city to visit, but nine hours in their airport will always be an unpleasant memory for me. Finally we arrived in Rome, well behind schedule but finding that our spirits had revived somewhat.

I’ll skip the details of the long bus ride and highway-food supper on the way to Sorrento, because all was forgotten upon our arrival in this gorgeous town in southern Italy. We spent several days there, enjoying great views of Mt. Vesuvius and beautiful seaside overlooks. We ate at fantastic restaurants, had a beautiful hotel, and essentially got acclimated to Italy. I had learned a little basic Italian vocabulary before leaving Macon (my wife had done much better at this), and we had some fun trying out our Italian.We also got to know our 32 travel-mates pretty well by the end of the visit to Sorrento, which also included a very cool visit to Pompeii. I had no idea how large an area has been excavated – Pompeii was fascinating.

After a few days, we hated to leave, but we knew that great adventures lay ahead.We took one of the most beautiful bus rides I’ve ever been involved with, as we snaked along the wonderful Amalfi Coast of Italy. We had a long stop in Positano, famous for its hand-made ceramics, and most of us in the group went shopping. We shipped dishes, bowls, plates, clocks, tables, etc. back to America. Following that, we went up the coast to Ravello, an amazingly beautiful town that is less well-known but no less compelling. Ravello has a famous music festival that draws visitors each summer, but this was not going on while we were there, so Ravello was actually much less “touristy” during our visit than had been Positano. We learned that Greta Garbo and Gore Vidal had both lived in Ravello, and Andy Lawson pointed out Vidal’s house to me during our walk through the town.

On the route between Ravello and our next extended stay in Sicily, we stopped overnight in a smallish town called Cava, where we stayed at a Holiday Inn along the highway. Not the most romantic night of our stay in Italy, by far – but in the end it gave way to a number of amusing stories, as our party went out in the evening in small groups of 6-10, looking for a good place to eat dinner, with most of us failing miserably.

The next day featured one of the most interesting travel experiences of my life:a train ride across the sea, from Italy to Sicily!After a short bus ride from Cava to Salerno, we got on a train, and after the initial craziness of loading everyone’s luggage onto one train car, we had a very scenic train ride to the coast, at which point our train carriage was decoupled and pushed onto a ferry boat. This provided a fantastic look at the glorious coastal views that we had been seeing from land, as we were able to get off the train and walk up on the deck and enjoy the hour-long boat ride to Sicily.

Once in Taormina, Sicily, we found that we were in town during a big film festival, and that the actor Richard Gere was the honored guest. Several of us were able to catch a glimpse of the actor walking around town. And it is an incredibly charming and beautiful town.Our hotel had gorgeous views of the sea and of Mt. Etna. One day we took an excursion up to the top of Mt. Etna, to the site of its most recent eruption.It looked like a moonscape – all dark and bare, no vegetation nor signs of life.And it was cold and windy. We were glad to get back down to the warmth of Taormina.

After several busy and event-filled days in Sicily (including a trip to the Opera!), we ended our trip in Rome, where we packed as much sightseeing into two days as we could. The Vatican, several beautiful and historic churches, the Coliseum, the Forum, and the “Spanish Steps” – we crammed in as much as we could, and ended with a great group dinner at a terrific restaurant off the Piazza Navona before flying back to Georgia. One bucket list item marked off!

The other “big deal” from my summer vacation was perhaps another bucket list item, though one I probably would not have identified – I appeared on stage in a community theatre production. This was a happy accident.Sylvia Haynie, who was directing the musical “Into the Woods” at Macon Little Theatre, approached me with a proposition:would I agree to play the role of “Cinderella’s Father”? The local actor who had been cast in the role could not do it, and rehearsals were underway. I had no theatre experience, no particular acting skill, and I’m a poor dancer. But Sylvia felt that I had two things going for me:1) the actress playing “Cinderella” was my daughter, Rachel Chabot, so the role was a natural; and 2) I can sing and read music, which helped a bit.

I did it, and I had a great time. I am a fan of community theatre, and tend to be in the seats for every production at Theatre Macon and at Macon Little Theatre.But for all of that experience in the seats, I don’t think I ever truly appreciated all the effort that goes in to staging a good show. There are some very talented actors in the Macon theatre community, and it was fun to be on stage beside them. But man, do they work hard! I had very few lines; I still don’t know how those who had lots and lots of lines managed to learn them all. The choreographer, the set designer, the director, and many others logged long hours so that our audience could enjoy what turned out to be a terrific show. People have asked me, “Do you have the ‘bug’ now to keep on acting? ”The answer is “no”, probably not. On the other hand, I couldn’t have enjoyed it more, and it’s great to be able to say I’ve done it once in my life. Along with the Italy trip, it made for a fantastic summer vacation!


Posted by Mrs. Elizabeth Boswell Avant on Tuesday August 18, 2015 at 04:29PM
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Online Civility - 05/04/15

I suppose that this blog is a logical follow-up to my earlier blog titled “No Place for Hate”, in which I issued a challenge to our community to work hard to live up to the award we had received from the Anti-Defamation League of Atlanta for the work we had done to cultivate a community of respect. The banner we earned, designating Stratford as a “No Place for Hate” school, now hangs proudly in our cafeteria. And we have done some additional sensitivity training exercises with our staff, also in concert with the ADL of Atlanta, to help us to keep that challenge front and center.

I suppose that my earlier blog post could be described as somewhat preachy, since it prescribed or suggested certain appropriate behaviors for students, teachers and parents in a “No Place for Hate Community”. I am happy to report that we now have some evidence that our students are seriously undertaking the difficult work of putting these philosophies into practice, and that they do not always need the Head of School or some other adult to preach at them in order to do the right thing.

An opportunity arose last week for our students to rise to the occasion. That opportunity initially presented itself as a challenge, as opportunities often do. A couple of students had posted comments on social media regarding the unrest taking place in Baltimore, Maryland. Initially, the comments ranged from thoughtful to passionate regarding various aspects of the issue. Many of our students are very engaged in reading and studying about politics and current events, and there was some eagerness to engage in discussion regarding the problems in Baltimore.

However, social media forums such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are not always the most appropriate or elegant place in which to engage in a serious dialogue about nuanced and complicated social and political issues. Before long, some of the comments from students moved from “thoughtful and passionate” to angry and personal, and feelings were hurt. Some were made to feel belittled or disparaged as civility began to degrade.

At this point, a group of student leaders took center stage in a positive way, led by a core group belonging to Stratford’s chapter of ADL. A Twitter post went up from our ADL group: “IF SOMEONE PUBLISHED A BOOK FULL OF ALL THE COMMENTS YOU’VE LEFT ON SOCIAL MEDIA, WOULD YOU BE PROUD?” At the same time, individuals were reminding each other to tone down the rhetoric. Some of the more hateful posts were taken down from social media. Some apologies were offered.

Not everything was “fixed,” but I think that part of the lesson learned is that all hurts cannot be easily mended. In fact, the next day, our ADL students tacked on some messages to the cafeteria bulletin board, right next to our “No Place for Hate” banner. Below are just a few of those messages, which are still up for all to see:

- “Social media CAN be a platform for healthy discussion”

- “Great minds discuss ideas/Average minds discuss events/Small minds discuss people”

- “Our social media posts don’t go away – they are still out there in different forms”

- “Stratford is a community – we respect everyone in it”

These are tough lessons, and I’m proud that our students are working to learn them. One only needs to read some of the online forums in which adults participate in response to newspaper editorials or news stories to know that this work is difficult. Some of the most hateful, spiteful, vitriolic statements imaginable find their way into the public domain among adults in the social media age. The dividing line between healthy political dialogue and “hate speech” can be hard to maintain in a society that values freedom of speech as much as we do, but it is well worth the effort.

At Stratford, we will continue to expect civility and respect in our interactions with each other. It’s good to know that even when we slip, we can pick ourselves back up and try to get back on the right path.


Posted by Mrs. Elizabeth Boswell Avant on Monday May 4, 2015 at 03:10PM
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No Place For Hate

As a result of the work that Stratford students and faculty have been doing for the past two years with consultants from the Anti-Defamation League in Atlanta, Stratford Academy has earned the designation as a "No Place for Hate" school.I'm very proud of this accomplishment.However, merely having this designation, and hanging a banner to that effect, does not guarantee a thing.What it really means is not that we have succeeded in creating a perfect climate, but rather that we have committed ourselves to a path.The path that we have committed ourselves to has to do with the task of creating and maintaining a "Community of Respect". Here's an analogy that everyone in the Stratford Academy community should understand: the Stratford Honor Code.Each year students at Stratford re-commit themselves to our Honor Code, but this does not mean that there are never violations – it merely means that we have committed ourselves to the task of acting with honesty and integrity in our dealings at school.And this is a daily task, not a once-a-year task.

In the same way, our recent celebration for having earned the ADL "No Place for Hate" designation means that we are beginning another daily task – the task of treating each individual in our community in the same way that we ourselves would wish to be treated. I would like us to think about the word "respect" in all our dealings with each other:students, faculty, other staff, and parents.And I would like to set some specific goals, or challenges for all of us in each of those groups.Let's first hold ourselves to these standards, hold ourselves to these tasks and challenges.Only then will we be able to also hold each other to the same high standards of mutual respect.

Goals for students:

-Avoid, refrain from, desist from, stop posting hurtful comments about others on social media; in our current electronic age, this has become the easiest way to demonstrate disrespect.If we could contribute to the internet becoming "No Place for Hate", by avoiding mean-spirited comments on Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat and Instagram and all the places we visit online, our community would benefit in gigantic ways.

-Avoid making "killer comments" in class; sometimes it is so easy to make a joke about something another student has said in a classroom.And other people laugh, so it seems like fun. But often one person has been hurt – and that person's hurt has been magnified.You have hurt him/her with your comment, and everyone else, by joining in with a quick laugh, has sent a hurtful message as well. Let's leave killer comments outside of healthy classroom discussion and interaction.

-Treat your teachers with respect (and your parents, too!) Avoid "talking back" or making argumentative comments such as "why do we have to do that?" or "that's not fair!" or "I need you to do this for me right now!"Respect begets respect – and sometimes disrespect can provoke a disrespectful response from a teacher or parent who is trying hard to treat you with respect. Don't treat your teachers and parents as if they have to earn your respect – grant them respect freely, and it will be returned to you with dividends.

-Treat your fellow students as if all of you are on a cooperative journey together, and not as if you are in a race or competition with them. Such a competitive attitude may cause you to act as if your fellow students need to fail in order for you to succeed.The goal should be for all of you to succeed together. I challenge you to remember how we behave at Stratford when a member of our community has suffered a loss, such as a death in the family, or a fire, or an illness, or a financial setback. Let's set a high bar for ourselves, and try to treat each other in that same way. Let's treat each other every day just exactly as well as we would treat each other if we knew the other person were having a tough day, or a tough week.

Goals for teachers:

-Hold the sarcasm! Sometimes sarcasm can be funny, and can lighten up the mood in a classroom without hurting anyone's feelings.But not as often as you think! More often than we may realize, our sarcastic comments represent a stinging blow to someone, and we may not even notice.

-Make an effort, every day, to watch out for the quiet ones, the shy ones, the lonely ones, among your students.These students may need an extra dose of respect, or what we used to call "TLC".

-Avoid, refrain from, desist from, stop making negative comments about students (either as individuals or as a group) when talking casually in the faculty room or at the lunch table.Your students may never actually hear these negative comments, but they can creep into your behaviors and attitudes in class, and the behaviors and attitudes of other teaching professionals. Let's remember to act as professionals 100% of the time. Pet peeve of mine:try to minimize referring to your students as "kids". It can come across as demeaning.Try instead "students" or "young people" or even "children" (when working with the younger ones).

-Trust that your students' parents, like you, have their children's' best interests at heart, and are doing their best to raise their children in an age when that task has become increasingly complicated. Even if you may disagree or perhaps disapprove of the choices the parents appear to be making, recognize that there are things going on at home that you do not know about, and that you may not have the full context. And in any event, our job is to deal with the students we have in front of us, however we find them. For the most part, our parents here do an outstanding job, just as we do.A little mutual respect will go a long way.When you have questions or concerns, communicate them freely.(Note to teachers:scroll down, and you will see that I am setting a parallel goal for parents in their dealings with you!)

Goals for parents:

-At home, require your students to speak respectfully when talking about their teachers, and model similar behavior yourself. Most students like to come home at the end of the day and "vent" a bit about some of the frustrations of the day.Such venting is healthy, but it can still be done using respectful language.

-See the item above.The "venting" that you hear at night from your child is not necessarily a "call to action" on your part. Sometimes the only response needed to validate your child's bad day, or bad experience, is a pat on the head, an Oreo cookie, or a bowl of ice cream.It can be very respectful to your child's teacher, and fellow students, to acknowledge some hurt without trying to identify a villain in the story.

- Trust that your children's' teachers, like you, have their students' best interests at heart, and are doing their best to educate their students in an age when that task has become increasingly complicated. Even if you may disagree or perhaps disapprove of the choices the teacher appears to be making, recognize that there are things going on in the classroom that you do not know about, and that you may not have the full context. For the most part, the teachers here at Stratford do an outstanding job, just as you do at home. A little mutual respect will go a long way.When you have questions or concerns, communicate them freely – start by communicating directly with the teacher himself/herself before going to the teacher's supervisors.

I could add more goals for teachers, parents and students (and most of the above goals apply to administrators as well!) But let's start with these, and make a strong effort to turn goals into action, and to make "No Place for Hate" both recognition and a reality. Stratford Academy has always seemed to me to be a community of respect – let's make that reality even stronger.


Posted by Mrs. Elizabeth Boswell Avant on Monday December 1, 2014 at 10:39AM
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Summer Reading

I’m very late getting around to my annual Summer Reading Blog, but maybe “better late than never” in this case. At Stratford, we encourage our students to be avid readers, and of course we actually require some Summer Reading, so I always like to demonstrate that reading for pleasure can and should be a lifelong habit.

During the summer of 2014, I did not dip as deeply into the pool of detective fiction as I usually do, but all the same I enjoyed some interesting fiction, some good biography, some good history, and also some reading in the field of education.I’ve jumped into the deep swimming pool that is the work of David Foster Wallace, the late novelist whose work is fascinating, but sometimes difficult.And I joined our ninth graders by reading one of the novels on their summer reading list. My summer reading accompanied me on some fun trips this summer to the mountains, to St. Simon’s, and to St. Augustine, Florida.

Here are the books that I’ve enjoyed this summer:

- The Pale King; Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace:

I’m cheating just a bit here, because I have only just taken up Infinite Jest within the last few weeks, after reading The Pale King back in June.But I am certainly finding that what my friends have told me about Wallace is true:he is a true original, and his writing is funny, deep, troubling at times, but ultimately gratifying.He loves to jump around in his narrative, switching back and forth without warning from different narrators and different settings, and he loves to provide long footnotes which wander off into innumerable tangents.The Pale King takes place in a regional IRS facility in the Midwest, and lampoons much of the American tax system and the tedium of everyday office life.Infinite Jest, which I’m really just delving into, is widely regarded as Wallace’s masterpiece – the foreword advises that reading it will be “a month well spent”, so maybe I’ll add some notes then!

- We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson:

I have to thank Upper School English teacher Michelle Fleming for throwing this book my way.It’s been around since 1962, but somehow I had never tripped over it, even though one of the main characters, “Merricat” Blackwood, has been voted as one of the top 100 characters in American fiction.The novel seems to fit into several categories or genres:coming of age story, Gothic fiction, and a dark comedy of manners.It’s a story of discrimination, in some of the same ways as To Kill a Mockingbird, but in this case the reader’s sympathies aren’t always entirely with the victims of that discrimination.I enjoyed this one.

- Canada – Richard Ford:

Richard Ford has long been a favorite author of mine, all the way back to his novel The Sportswriter, which I read nearly twenty years ago.Ford writes “guy books”, mainly, but his newest novel, Canada, takes on the story of a young man, not an adult.Dell Parsons is a 15-year old boy whose life comes apart when his parents are arrested for bank robbery and he is uprooted from his home in Montana to live with a family friend in Canada.The plot takes various twists and turns, but throughout the story the reader is mesmerized by the power of Ford’s writing, and the characters he draws.This one I read very quickly; it was extremely hard to put down.

- The Patriarch – David Nasaw:

I went out and got this book after watching a series on PBS about the Kennedy family last spring.It is a formidable biography, running nearly 800 pages of well-documented narrative, and it chronicles the life and times of Joseph P. Kennedy, father of JFK and the family’s “patriarch” of the book’s title.Nasaw had access to a lot of private information which the Kennedy family had not previously released, and yet he is not shy about showing both the positive and negative sides of this remarkable man.I was particularly struck by how isolationist the senior Kennedy remained throughout his life and career, going even beyond British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in wanting to “bargain” with Adolph Hitler long after it was clear to almost everyone that this was a foolhardy strategy.Kennedy’s relationship with his family was his bedrock value, despite his lack of fidelity to his wife.

-Fierce Conversations; Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time – Susan Scott:

Like many members of our staff at Stratford, I read Fierce Conversations over this summer as a prelude to our putting in place a new model for staff evaluations, a model which involves more face to face encounters.As a rule, I tend to dislike “self-help” books, but Scott does a nice job of laying out a framework by which face to face conversations can be positive for both individuals involved, without those conversations being soft.


Posted by Mrs. Elizabeth Boswell Avant on Wednesday October 1, 2014 at 05:30PM
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