I appreciate the strategy and purpose behind organizational mission statements, especially as they relate to schools. As such, I am intrigued by Berwick Academy’s long-standing mission, which has headlined some 227 years of school history.
Much has been written about the importance of an organization’s mission focus, and while I will not pretend to be an expert on the topic, I have been purposefully engaged in varied school missions for the past 30+ years, whether in Bangor, Boston, Wellesley, or South Berwick. Though there are certainly common practices to be considered when writing a mission statement, including, I suppose, the Goldilocks test of crafting a statement that is not too long, not too short, but just right, the main goal of a mission statement is to honestly reflect (or direct) core institutional goals and objectives.
Berwick’s community members have interfaced with the Academy’s mission statement on many levels. As a parent this may have consisted of completing an admissions office mission-related questionnaire; as a faculty or staff member this may have involved participating in a task force which aligned mission and programming; and as a student, this may certainly have involved directly engaging in a curriculum that addresses the timeless ideals of virtue and useful knowledge. Regardless of role and form of engagement, the most critical aspect of a mission statement is that it positively shapes and directs one’s efforts within an organization. In varied and unique ways, Berwick’s school personnel, families, and students are all integral members of this purposeful group endeavor.
You may be aware that we have recently condensed Berwick’s mission statement from a four-sentence paragraph to a one-sentence exclamation through varied group work, originating at the Board and Admin levels and ultimately incorporating faculty and parent meetings.
Berwick Academy, founded in 1791, is dedicated to promoting virtue and useful knowledge among the rising generations.
I have been interested in the evolution of Berwick’s mission statement since my arrival in 2003. It is an honor to work at the oldest school in Maine, and it is reassuring to know that the School does not rest or rely on its past; rather it continues to expand in varied ways that remain true to the mission statement. While the spirit of all that was contained in the mission’s previous four sentences continues (e.g. three divisions and one school), the revised and more succinct statement suggests that our ultimate Berwick focus rests on virtue and useful knowledge.
Appropriately, a mission is a steady guiding light, especially during an administrative transitional year. Thus, as we honor Greg Schneider’s tenure and anticipate Jim Hamilton’s leadership, I appreciate the mission statement’s role in serving as an integral component of institutional guidance. Central to maintaining our mission’s foundational core is ensuring its alignment within and between three divisions. Cross-divisional meetings in varied forms and functions serve to coordinate Berwick’s efforts in both the social-emotional (virtue) and curricular (useful knowledge) realms.
In the Lower School, we have a motto which takes Berwick’s mission and boils it down to student-appropriate language for our pre-kindergarten through fourth grade students: Be safe, be kind, be honest and be ready to learn. This language is embedded in the community compact which each student and family signs at the start of the year and that ultimately supports the social-emotional (virtue) component at the core of all that we do and then leads us into the programming component (useful knowledge).
From homeroom classes to special subject explorations to unique extra activities, there are many ways in which the Lower School lives out the ideals contained within Berwick’s mission statement. Perhaps our most essential approach to bringing virtue and useful knowledge to life involves students working together on projects. Group-oriented projects give students the opportunity to share ideas and knowledge, while collaborating in a supportive environment.
Two of our teachers recently attended a workshop on the Project Approach at a Duke School conference in North Carolina. Following the professional development experience, they brought back impressive strategies and approaches to support our evolving focus on classroom and division-wide project work. Their efforts have led to robust faculty meeting discussions on the topic during current springtime collaborations and will lead to further essential June discussions during our faculty-meeting week. In fact, we are in the preliminary stages of designing an all-division project on the topic of Berwick Academy; stay tuned for further updates on this engaging and relevant project topic, which will be rolled out at the pre-kindergarten through fourth grade levels in September and October!
As the 2018-2019 school year will soon unfold, there is much to be accomplished in the Lower School. Arguably the most important school year planning in any given academic cycle occurs from June to August as we prepare for new school-year endeavors. In the process, the mission statement will ultimately guide our efforts. As such, I look forward to a successful end of the current school year, while anticipating next year’s promise!