At Trail’s End

By Alex Northrup, Director of the Innovation Lab; Department Chair, History

“Trail Blazers” — Foxcroft’s theme for the 2018-2019 school year — provides a useful metaphor for understanding the collective endeavors of our community. Faculty and students are indeed together on a journey, full of peaks and valleys (maybe with a little “trail magic” along the way), until on a beautiful Friday in May, we reach the end of the path.

To extend this metaphor, our role as faculty is to serve as guides, helping students navigate a path that can be hard, even treacherous at times. The terrain that we are crossing together is not only the academic disciplines we teach, but also the social and emotional skills necessary to emerge at the end of the trail as a healthy adult who will contribute to the world around them. As former Foxcroft Academic Dean Ann Leibrick noted, “Everything we do is curriculum;” this journey continues in the classroom, in the dorms, on the athletic fields.

One of my own guides as a teacher is John Dewey, an educational philosopher and reformer who worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He wrote that the role of the teacher is to induce a “vital and personal experiencing” for their students. What he meant was teachers need to connect their subject matter in a direct and individual way to the experience of each of their students. To rephrase this in the language of our metaphor, each student should feel that they are blazing their own unique trail through a wilderness that, though traveled by generations previously, is new and urgent for her.

What Dewey was trying to convey was that handing your students a map and asking them to memorize it is not teaching; though this may be common practice in schools across the country, it is not truly educational. Authentic learning happens only when students find their way — blaze their trail — and create their own, personal maps of the peaks, the valleys, and the summits.

Institutionally, we can find Dewey’s influence in two of Foxcroft’s promises: “Unique learning experiences in and out of the classroom,” and “An uncommonly beautiful setting in which to learn, grow, and thrive.” As a school, our role is to create the environment for growth to take place, to help guide our students as they come to see themselves as trailblazers. As a teacher, bridging that gap between child and curriculum — finding ways to create Dewey’s ‘personal experiencing’ for the many different students that come through our doors — is a joyful challenge — one that makes my own journey vital and never-ending. Though we have reached the end of the path for the class of 2019, new territories are always on the horizon for future Foxcroft trailblazers — and for their guides.

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