Balancing Tradition and Innovation
by Scott Wilson ’75, President and Headmaster
Fourteen years ago, as a then young and naïve first-year headmaster, I arrived at Valwood School full of enthusiasm and ideas. I was ready to be part of making a good school better, and I had several ideas for which I saw potential for immediate implementation.
When I excitedly presented these “opportunities” to my school’s faculty, a wonderful group of educators, my presentation received a universally measured and unenthusiastic response. I shouldn’t have been surprised… change in schools is a paradoxically ponderous process. The truth, in short, is this: While educators have brilliant capacity for preparing students for a dynamic and rapidly changing world, we have a tougher time ourselves when it comes to change, and the reasons for such are understandable after closer study.
Baylor School stands as an institution of extraordinary quality shaped by a unique combination of tradition and innovation and a commitment to each student’s personal and educational growth.- Scott Wilson ’75, President and Headmaster
My colleagues at Baylor have heard me refer to the research of Dr. Geil Browning and Dr. Wendell Williams. One of the lessons learned from their findings is that most teachers, because of the very nature of their work, have a strong preference for structure. It is not hard to imagine that teachers would prefer structure when the majority of their lives is spent in the frenetic world of children, adolescents, and young adults! Other characteristics of “structural” thinkers include the following preferences. They are practical thinkers. They like guidelines. They are cautious of new ideas. They prefer predictability. They learn by doing. (Geil Browning and Wendell Williams; “Interpreting Your Emergenetics Results;” The Browning Group; 1991, 2003).
As we go about our work at Baylor, we respect our faculty’s need for structure. Yet we know that we cannot institutionalize structure to the degree that it inhibits growth and improvement as has seemingly happened nationwide in our schools. So where does Baylor, a now 118-year-old school, stand on the spectrum of tradition/innovation? Baylor School stands as an institution of extraordinary quality shaped by a unique combination of tradition and innovation and a commitment to each student’s personal and educational growth. In fact, I think it is fair to say that Baylor has a tradition of innovation! Think about seminal junctures in Baylor history (some of which are chronicled in this magazine)… Baylor truly has a history of bold initiative.
I so admire our faculty’s willingness to step out of their comfort zone to consider change for the benefit of our school and students; in fact, most of our current initiatives (again, chronicled herein) have come directly from the faculty! I truly believe that we enjoy the freedom to stretch ourselves and to initiate new programming for the sake of our students because the foundation of what we do remains grounded in our traditional values: honor, respect, academic inquiry, the education of the whole child, our sense of family, and a commitment to excellence in all that we do.
I have visited hundreds of schools in my career, both public and private, and I know the sense of a special place. I am blessed to know that feeling every day at Baylor. This does not presume that we are perfect; we have much work to do. Our challenge as a very successful school is to push ourselves through and beyond our institutional comfort zone to ensure that we are always seeking to respond to one question: What is the best for our students? The answers may run contrary to the mandates of state authorities, they may point to a need to change some approaches in our work, and they may even have the effect of creating programs that look very different from those around us. Regardless, this is the only authentic path that Baylor can take if we are to be the school we must be for our students. Dr. Pat Bassett, President of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), uses the following phrase often: We are preparing our students for their futures, not their parents’ pasts.
In the best Baylor tradition, our journey will take vision and courage, and it is not without its risks, but such is the path of great institutions.
by Scott Wilson ’75