Head of School's Corner

Dear Members of our Keystone Community,

It feels good to reach the end of this part of our school year having had our students on campus every day, without any need to fall back on remote teaching and learning.  Schools in some other countries have not been so fortunate.  We know, however, that matters could change any time, and that we all need to continue to follow our health and safety protocols.  That was one aspect of my letter to you sent on Monday this week, in which I gave guidelines for holiday travel

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

My letter last week was, in part, about dancing to different songs.  The previous week, I took a slightly different angle on difference.  I stated that difference can be a great educator.  Living with diversity, celebrating difference, and embracing otherness are powerful engines for expanding our awareness, growing our compassion, and enriching our lives.    

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

In the most recent letter from the Primary School leadership team to parents of children in that division, sent last Friday, December 3, my attention was caught by this absorbing paragraph:

Our Foundation students have been reading Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees, a book about a clumsy giraffe who wants to dance but cannot...

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

I want to share with you this week something that I wrote 25 years ago!  It was sent to me recently by the archivist at the Maru a Pula School in Botswana where I was Head during the 1990s.  In March 1996 I was invited to Washington, D.C., to talk about Maru a Pula School to the delegates at the annual conference of the US National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

I ended my letter last week with reference to the graduates who have already completed their learning at Keystone, and are now at colleges and universities in different parts of the world, including China.  Writing ‘completed their learning at Keystone’ in the previous sentence was deliberate: these graduates have not completed their learning from and for Keystone.  One of our mantras as a school is that we learn from and for the world. 

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

The Keystone Girls Lead club has been active all week in promoting World Kindness Week.  World Kindness Day is tomorrow, November 13, as it has been since its inception in 1997.  What started then as World Kindness Day has grown to World Kindness Week.  During this week, which began on Monday and ends this Sunday, all of us, everywhere, are encouraged to show acts of kindness to others, to support charities, to offer compliments, and to help in small, everyday ways to create societies characterized by generosity and graciousness.

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

I wrote last week about success and failure, and about how these two can be aligned progressively on a spectrum, with failing sometimes being a precursor to succeeding, on condition that we lift ourselves up and try, try again after falling.  I tried to locate my thesis within a context of contemporary educational thinking that is fashionable.  Some fashions are transitory, and some last a long time.  In my opinion, current thinking about the value of failure tends to be superficial – it needs to be more thorough and rounded if it is to be long-lasting.

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

I made reference near the end of my letter last week to the insightful utterance by Barbara Johnson, reproduced in large and colorful letters on a wall in our academic building: Attitude is the mind’s paintbrush, it can color any situation.  This week I want to relate this understanding of ‘attitude’ to comments that I often hear about the virtue of failure.  I would like you to think with me about failing, and failure.

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

I have been fortunate in my life so far to have met some remarkable people.  A few of these have been very well known around the world, perhaps the most famous being my compatriot, Nelson Mandela.  Others have been people hardly known outside a small village or locale, but hardly less remarkable for that.  In my graduation address in May to the Class of 2021, I mentioned a trekking guide that I met in the mountains of Lesotho when I was 20 years old.  This man, Khotso, seemed to me to be in many ways the ideal teacher.  I remember vividly and still cherish the four or five days that I spent in his company.

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

There are quite a few committees and taskforces in our school that meet regularly to imagine and plan new and better ways of continuing to improve the learning that we are all engaged in.  One of these that I have mentioned recently is the Environment and Sustainability Committee.  Last year, I chaired the Community Culture Committee, which has for this year been folded into the larger Student, Residential, and Community Life Committee.

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

On Saturday September 4 I read an article on the BBC website with this title: How aircraft conquered Antarctica.  I was incredulous.  How absurd to think of any explorer, using any machine, ‘conquering’ any part of the planet, let alone one as remote, rugged, and challenging as the Antarctic.  What arrogance, what hubris.

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

A tradition at the start of the school year is that all our Keystone colleagues come together for a short meeting, and after that we share a festive supper.  The meeting is serious, but the meal is joyous.  Our full employee roll now numbers just under 500.  We are a large group.  We met in the PAC at the end of the last Friday afternoon in August, just before the boarding student leaders started coming back.  I addressed the gathering, and I was accompanied by Jia Lili, Dean of Curriculum and Associate Head of School, and Qianli Liu, Assistant Head of School, Business.  At the end of the meeting, I asked my colleagues to read along with me the letter below, which was posted in both our languages on the large screen on stage.  Please read it to and for yourselves now:

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

It really does feel wonderful to have everyone back on campus, at last, and busily engaged in what we all do best: learning.  I should say ‘almost everyone’.  We still have a few ‘stuck’ outside China: one or two administrators, a half a dozen teachers, and about the same number of students.  All of them wish desperately to be here.  I do hope that these colleagues and students will be with us soon.

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

I simply have to begin this letter, one that marks the end of another school year, with a brief commentary on what happened here on our campus last Saturday morning.  Initiated by the PTA Committee, and assisted by many Keystone parents, colleagues, and students, we had a large number of you on campus for a truly inspiring community morning.  It was great good fun, for young and older, and included the expert, entertaining, and forever young Dad’s Band.  As I said at the end of the morning, we raised a lot of money for a very worthwhile service project in Sishui County, Shandong.  This will deepen our curriculum and the learning opportunities offered our students, at the same time as doing good and assisting others in need.  As important, we also raised a lot of Keystone family spirit.  The two went together, a warming confluence.  What a fine way to come to the end of the year.

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

Did you know that our secondary division has its own student broadcasting station?  Every morning during the first break, for just a few minutes, students bring us up to date with school and other news, opinions, interesting facts, and the like. The students do a very fine job. I was recently recorded by some of our student broadcasters giving my responses to the eight questions below that they asked me. These ‘answers’ will be part of a program next week on Wednesday. I want to share those questions with you here, and give you my slightly edited and perhaps more considered responses in writing, essentially the same as in the broadcast, but modified just a little.

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

This week I wish to tell you a little about Rosalind Wiseman and the work that she does through the organization that she founded, Cultures of Dignity.  Rosalind was one of the keynote speakers at the recent ACAMIS Conference hosted by Keystone, with our theme of Values Added.   She works with schools and school groups across the United States, and also now elsewhere. I knew a little about Rosalind and her work as she has offered her consultation services for a few years, and in a hugely beneficial manner, to The Lawrenceville School near Princeton, where the Head, Steve Murray, is an old friend.  She delivered an inspiring address to the whole ACAMIS group at our conference in April, and led two smaller workshops, all virtually.  I hope that you will, young and older, take Rosalind’s message of dignity for all to heart, and act on it. 

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

On Monday April 19, about a month ago, our seniors took part in a most important culminating experience.  This was their demonstration, in public, of what our second keystone has meant to them during their lives in our school.  As you know, the keystones of our school are three: bilingual immersion in Chinese and English, building character and community throughout our residential setting, and promoting Chinese culture and identity in a world context.  And, in our mission, we claim that our students “will know how to apply their emotional intelligence, character, and zest for learning to help develop and improve the communities in which they live.”

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

Last week I wrote in general about what is for me a hugely exciting long-term community project linking up with various people and agencies in Sishui County, Shandong.  In the coming months, we’ll be aiming to rent a house close to the Shengshuiyu Primary School and refurbish it to accommodate Keystone students, teachers and, I hope, some parents.  I say ‘some parents’ as the PTA Committee is keen to arrange for a few parents to visit the area soon to gain a deeper understanding of what we are setting out to do.  We plan to take various groups there in the first semester of the coming school year, and maybe one or two before that.

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Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

Many of you have heard about a long-term link, based on mutual sharing and service, that Keystone has been developing with some schools and organizations in Sishui County, Shandong Province.  I have spoken about this and referred to it on a number of occasions.  I know of a small number of far-sighted schools in some other places which have similar long-term projects within their own countries with communities that have quite different, and less privileged, life situations.  I am delighted that we are doing something similar here.  Groups of Keystone teachers and students have visited Sishui County six times already, and a high-level delegation from this part of Shandong has been to Keystone.  Our PTA Committee is excited about the project and has been for some time.  They will be assisting in helping to move our ambitious program forward. 

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Malcolm McKenzie

Malcolm McKenzie is the Founding Head of School of Keystone Academy. He grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and studied at the Universities of Cape Town, Oxford, and Lancaster.