It Felt Love
Did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
It felt the encouragement of light
We all remain
From “The Gift” (Hafiz)
Dear ASD High School student,
Welcome to or welcome back to ASD! I hope your summer provided opportunities for rest, renewal, reading and other learning experiences. As the new ASD Superintendent, I wanted to start my tenure at the school by sharing the poem above. Why? Poet Robert Frost said it well, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” (emphasis added)
For the Richards family—Camille (grade 10) and Zach (grade 8), and my wife Tina—moving to Dubai and starting anew at ASD generates a myriad of emotions: excitement, nervousness, happiness, and sadness to leave friends in Saudi Arabia, among other feelings. Most of all, however, I am filled with awe and anticipation at the honor of serving the 1850+ students of the American School of Dubai. You, the students, are the roses at ASD, and it is up to we, the teachers, to provide the light so you can achieve your dreams and thrive in this world.
The Richards family is excited to join ASD due to the importance the organization places on the community itself. There are many high-quality schools in the world, but there exist fewer schools that go beyond a transactional relationship with its students and families. At ASD, you are part of a vibrant community that strives to be a conduit for your health, happiness and achievement (yes, all three outcomes are possible). ASD has a reputation of being a place that treats its members fairly and with kindness, with care and with empathy. This is exactly where we want to be!
I am writing to you because it may take some time before we can get to know each other, especially since the superintendent does not belong to any particular division or classroom. This is a chance to tell you a few things as the school year starts.
What does a superintendent do? Good question. First and foremost, I protect and keep the Mission of the school, to make sure we are living it: We challenge and inspire each student to achieve their dreams and to become a passionate learner prepared to adapt and contribute in a rapidly changing world. I lead the administration in the day-to-day operations of the school. I also partner with the ASD Board of Trustees—who focus on policy, thought partnership, and ensuring the financial viability of the school.
We take seriously the responsibility to realize ASD’s Mission with each and every one of you. As a result, I share the following commitments to you, which I fully expect you to hold me accountable to:
To listen. As an introvert, this comes naturally to me. I very much want to hear your unique perspective on the school, on your learning, or on life. Speak up. It will help us make better decisions.
To be fair. We will use ASD’s Core Values as the basis of an ethical framework for decisions on issues of programs, curriculum, handbook expectations, and policies. You will always get an explanation of why a decision was made, and the rationale for it.
To be available. My daily calendar is set up in a way that I’ll be out and about campus during and after the school day. If you don’t see me, make an appointment in the main office.
To uphold ASD’s Core Values. I will strive to do right by the students and the school, and to set a good model for behavior, even in situations where it may be challenging to do so.
I would be remiss if I didn’t communicate some expectations I have for you:
Own your learning. After all, this is your high school experience, not mine. Self-motivation is believed by many as the key to success in our rapidly changing world. Much attention in the media has been given to self-driving cars or sky taxis, but journalist Thomas Friedman advocates for the self-driving you. There is wisdom here.
It is natural to think about the future during your time at ASD, to think of the school experience as planning and preparation for what comes next. It would be a missed opportunity, however, to focus your attention on how your actions today might influence rewards in the future. Instead, and I paraphrase from Stanford Professor Tina Seelig, use your school experience to experiment and explore in the present. In doing so, your natural curiosity and creativity will take over, and the singular focus on producing results will diminish (ironically, you will nevertheless produce results through these behaviors). We, the teachers at ASD, will do our part to create the space and intellectual climate to foster this mindset.
Uphold ASD’s Core Values: compassion, excellence, integrity, respect, responsibility. It takes all of us to model these values, and it takes courage to stand up for what is right, even if it brings discomfort or unpopularity. A community can only be a community if we live and breathe the core values. Otherwise, the values are simply words on a website or a poster.
Go beyond you. ASD strives to personalize the learning experience for all its students, but you also have so much to offer your classmates and community. Share your unique perspective on the world, and help others be the best they can be. The ASD experience is an opportunity to be engaged in a relationship with your community and its members. Relationships are two-way streets, where you can take, but you must also give back.
Finally, work hard, and devote equal effort to rest and recovery. The most accomplished people today and in the past work very deliberately on their rest, and they define this recovery as an active process (not just sitting on the couch for hours Netflixing). Walk, read, practice a skill, laugh, cry, exercise, hang out with friends and family, write notes, etc. Give your brain a chance to consolidate all it has learned in the course of the day. And what do scientists say is most important for you to be at your peak performance? Sleep. (I know. This can be a battle.)
You have a highly-capable Principal in Dr. Leever to work with on the day-to-day goings-on at the high school. I am also available to support your learning and development. Please do not hesitate to introduce yourself in the hallways or after school on campus (and you can always make an appointment with Ms Gonsalves or drop me a note). I don’t carry an email address, but you can find me on WhatsApp and LinkedIn (just ask me for a business card). I also write occasionally on my blog: www.drpaulrichards.com. Check it out.
I look forward to meeting you in the coming days and weeks. Here’s to a wonderful start to the school year and remember…
Once a Falcon, Always a Falcon!
Dr. Paul Richards