We Are Westridge
A community blog featuring Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor, the Westridge Leadership Team, our esteemed faculty members and occasional special guests
Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor Speaks on the Importance of Wellness and Balance at Convocation 2017
At our Convocation ceremony on Wednesday, August 30, Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor introduced our theme for the year "Wellness and Balance." Following this transcript of her opening remarks is a list of resources to help us integrate wellness and balance into our lives. We invite you to join the conversation as we head into a new school year with renewed energy and excitement!
"Our Search for Wellness and Balance"
by Elizabeth J. McGregor
Monday, August 21, 2017 was a magical day. It was the day when the moon passed in front of the sun, the birds and crickets stopped chirping, the stars shone brightly in the morning sky, and people from Oregon to South Carolina stopped to wonder, to smile, and to feel a deep sense of connection with one another and the world around them.
For almost two seemingly endless minutes, people paused and surrendered to a sense of delight – forgetting the troubles in the world around them, slipping away from stress and anxiety, reflecting on the beauty of the universe. Some of you in this audience were there – and it took your breath away.
How do we create moments like these? How do we press “pause,” savor the moment, and breathe so that we are not frenzied, dismissive, and uncaring, and are open to new experiences?
When I was young, between the ages of about 6 and 16, I frequently lost myself in books and in nature; I literally took the time, as my grandmother would say, to smell the roses. And Sundays were a day of rest: church in the mornings to listen to spiritual words of wisdom and to gaze in wonder at the sunlight filtering through stained glass windows, and then an afternoon at home – no friends, no TV, just family and my imagination.
Since then, time has fled past, as I was told it would. But it has done more than just fly.
Last year, as I listened to university presidents talk about how many freshmen are suffering from depression, and as your teachers here at Westridge listened to each others’ concerns, and most importantly to those that you, our students, expressed (often along with your parents), I realized even more profoundly that we have created a world where we are whirled up into endless assignments and commitments with no time to reflect and little time to connect with those who matter to us.
As a result, we have to find ways to slow ourselves down and determine what is really important. We have to think carefully about how we bring wellness and balance into our lives. If we are successful, we will be more open to learning, achieve deeper levels of understanding, tap into intrinsic motivation, and engage with one another and the world around us in more purposeful and meaningful ways.
So – everyone – let’s start by taking a deep breath. Make sure that your phones are switched off and put away. Resist the temptation to look at your screens for the next half hour. Turn to the person next to you, lean in – just like many of you did last year – say a sincere hello, and wish each a “nice day.” Breathe again – and sit silently for one minute. Think about the exciting intellectual and academic adventures that await you this year. Reflect on what you’re thankful for. And also think about how you are going to take care of yourself.
I always say that at the beginning of the school year, we take a deep breath and disappear – until June! I’m exhausted just at the thought of it! But what if we could capture moments throughout the year where we give ourselves permission to just be. What would this look like? Where would we start?
I’m going to ask you to use your imaginations and embark on a journey of wellness and balance, together, with me, right now! Are you ready?
First of all, we’ll play – as I know many of you do. We’ll get lost in something we completely enjoy; where the hours pass without us realizing. We could climb trees, play tennis, walk the dog, paint a picture, write a poem, sing loudly, invent or build something. Even work that is totally absorbing can count as play.
We will disengage from technology. It will be banned from mealtimes while we sit with family and friends, look each other in the eye, and practice the art of conversation. We’ll resist the temptation to fire off or read emails and texts or check posts after a certain time in the evening. If we’re feeling down, we won’t get caught up in a despondent downward spiral and start comparing ourselves to unrealistic images and the expectations of others. If something happens about which we are concerned or upset, we’ll take time to think it through and ask what we can do rather than call or text someone to solve the problem for us.
We’ll pull away from our addiction to smartphones – and realize that we do not have to check them every 15 minutes (which researchers have determined is the amount of time it takes the average teenager to experience acute separation anxiety!).
We’ll surrender ourselves to stretches of time without having anything planned. We’ll let our imaginations run wild; even realize it’s okay to be bored. We’ll live in a realm where FOMO – fear of missing out – will not pervade every waking hour.
We’ll practice mindfulness and yoga – just like many of you already do at Westridge. We’ll participate in other forms of exercise, too, eat nutritious meals, and realize how healthy bodies create healthy minds.
We’ll make a point of helping others, stepping out of our own lives to participate in caring and responsible acts of kindness within our school community and beyond. We’ll engage in community service.
We will consciously seek ways to bring more balance into our lives instead of displaying our busyness as a badge of honor. We will NOT write copious to-do lists that we never get through. We won’t feel “less than” because we haven’t achieved as much as our impossible standards demand of us. We won’t decline invitations to be with friends, or skip meals, or forgo exercise. We’ll relax at weekends and enjoy our vacation days.
And we will catch up on our sleep. We’re a sleep-deprived nation! The average sleep requirement for teenagers is nine hours, but many across the country (and here at Westridge!) are reporting that they average five to six hours a night. Oh yes, we’ll also remove technology from our bedrooms at night, as this typically leads to one additional lost hour of sleep. Even this one lost hour per night accumulates dramatically and impacts our performance, our health, and our safety.
Students – your teachers and advisors have been thinking long and hard about wellness and balance, about social and emotional learning, and the ways in which they can support you. They are also continuing to ask questions that they posed last year. For example, how much homework should they give you? How many classes should you take? What are the best ways for them to assess what you’ve learned?
And, parents, you’ll hear more about wellness and balance throughout the year not only from your daughters, but also from their teachers and division directors, and during parent education sessions and Westridge Parent Association meetings. We hope that you make it a priority to join us on September 27 for our first Parent Association meeting where wellness and balance will be the topic of conversation, and on November 1, when noted clinical and educational psychologist Lisa Damour will talk about guiding your daughters through their pre-teen and teenage years.
Ashley (our ASB President) – I’m going to ask you to the podium once more, with the bag that’s under your chair.
Any guesses as to what’s inside?
It’s a sloth! According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, sloths have become America’s new “It” creature. Not because they’ve found fame in recent animated movies, but because they’re “the perfect therapy for a world that’s more frantic than ever! […] They don’t succeed by doing more, but by doing less!” Apparently, people are lining up at zoos for hours just to see sloths do absolutely nothing!
What if we could be in touch with our inner sloth – not in terms of laziness, but in terms of slowing down time? What would you do to find more hours in the day, to bring wellness and balance into your lives?
Today, I’m going to leave you with a couple of challenges.
Fourth grade, I want you to think of a name for our sloth. Mrs. Pettersson (our fourth-grade teacher) – I’m going to leave the sloth in your care and ask you to return it to me by the end of the week – or even by the end of today!
And all of you – each Lower School homeroom, each Middle and Upper School advisory, each school office, department or division, parents on our Parent Association Executive Board, and each family unit – I want you to discuss the things that YOU can do to lead lives characterized by wellness and balance.
Compile a list of the top five or more things that you can do and be responsible for (NOT what OTHERS can do!). When you have compiled your lists, send them to me. Your lists will be posted in the hallway of the main academic building (and distributed in other ways), and I’ll invite you to do a “gallery walk” to see what we’ve decided to do to take care of ourselves.
Now breathe – reflect and count to ten – and resolve to find ways to attain wellness and balance in the days and weeks to come. Do you promise? Thumbs up? Good!
- Abeles, Vicki. Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation. Simon and Schuster, New York, 2015.
- A book from the director of the 2009 documentary Race to Nowhere that focuses on how we can “reclaim health and learning.”
- Caine, Susan. Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts. Dial, New York, 2016.
- The author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, has published “A Guide for Kids and Teens.”
- Damour, Lisa. Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood. Ballantine, New York, 2016.
- The Director of the Laurel School Center for Research on Girls provides sage advice about “understanding and supporting girls through their development.”
- Jennings, Patricia A. Mindfulness for Teachers. W. W. Norton and Company, New York, 2015.
- “Teaching is one of the most rewarding professions, but also one of the most demanding. This book offers simple, ready-to-use, and evidence-proven mindfulness techniques to help educators manage the stresses of the classroom, cultivate an exceptional learning environment, and revitalize both their teaching and their students’ knowledge acquisition.”
- Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. Pear Press, Seattle, 2008.
- Molecular biologist John Medina shares experiences and “brain rules” that can have a powerful positive influence on our daily lives. They include rules about exercise (“boosts brain power”), sleep (“sleep well, think well”), and stress (“stressed brains don’t learn the same way”).
- Bennett, Jessica. On Campus, Failure is on the Syllabus. New York Times, June 24, 2017.
- Discover how a number of “university campuses are aiming to help high achievers cope with basic setbacks." https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/24/fashion/fear-of-failure.html
- Hong, Nicole. What Did Sloths Do to Become America’s New “It” Creature? Not Much. The Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, August 19-20, 2017.
- “What’s the perfect source of therapy for a world that’s more frantic than ever? An animal that appears to do absolutely nothing.” https://www.wsj.com/articles/zoos-are-clambering-to-give-the-people-what-they-want-more-sloths-1503070126
- Kaufman, Scott Barry. The Differences Between Happiness and Meaning in Life. Scientific America, January 30, 2016.
- Fascinating research that’s worth reading to understand that the pursuit of meaning can be more relevant than the pursuit of happiness. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/the-differences-between-happiness-and-meaning-in-life/
- Making Caring Common. Turing the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions. Harvard Graduate School of Education, January 2016.
- Read how “Leading Colleges and Universities Join Together to Reshape the College Admissions Process and Promote Concern for Others and the Common Good.” http://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/files/gse-mcc/files/20160120_mcc_ttt_execsummary_interactive.pdf
- Twenge, Jean M. Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? The Atlantic, September 2017.
- The author suggests that the teen generation is “shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media” leading to loneliness and depression. www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/
Choose groups to clone to: