Chasing a vision that goes above, further and beyond B Y M I C H A E L U L K U - S T E I N E R , DA’ S N E X T H E A D O F S C H O O L
TOP: Michael, Beril, Kenan and Lucy Ulku-Steiner enjoyed a family vacation at Wrightsville Beach last summer. LEFT: Ulku-Steiner talks with students at The American School in Switzerland.
uring my finalist interviews in November, I was asked a version of the following question in every room I entered: “How have you changed since you left Durham Academy for Europe in 2008?” Sometimes I was tempted to answer with grandiosity: “We have lived among the deepest cultural roots of the West and soaked up every inspiring drop of a multicultural community in which international understanding reigns.” At other points, I was more practical: “I now wear hair gel and leather pants.” The truth is, I wear neither hair gel nor leather pants. We did, however, have the good fortune to live and work in an extraordinary school and community. Ultimately, we cannot distill five years of international living into a few extracted lessons. Still, there is no doubt that Lucy, Kenan, Beril and I will return from our Swiss-Italian “walkabout” changed, deepened and grateful. Most fundamentally, I am older. In 2008, I had younger children and no gray hairs. After a family move across the Atlantic, five intense years of parenting, the settling into a new country and culture, the learning of a new language and a flurry of travels in Europe and Africa, I hope I am a little wiser, a little more judicious, a little more compassionate. I am certain that I am older. Professionally, I will return to DA with a deeper sense of school culturebuilding, finance, strategic planning, contract negotiation, board dynamics, the mentoring of administrators and (perhaps most critically) pre-, lower and middle schools. I’ve had the good fortune to recruit teachers from all over the world. I’ve had the great fun of learning from students and families from 60 nations. I have learned how much trouble you can get yourself into by opening your mouth, and how much trouble you can solve by opening
your ears. I’ve met some extraordinary learners and teachers. And I’ve had the chance to reflect from a distance on the experience my children and I were lucky to enjoy between 1992 and 2008 at DA. Watching Kenan and Lucy transition into an Italian-speaking Swiss public school, then an English-speaking international school and (soon) DA, has left me with a heightened sense of the fragility and consequence of a welcoming school. Beril and I have spent five years as the immigrant parents who often feel just short of fully informed and fully integrated — the ones whose children translate for them and are embarrassed by them. We are more keenly aware of the ways in which DA can open itself with warmth and transparency to newcomers. Many features of TASIS will continue to inspire me in Durham. Two are worth mentioning here. In my “Five Questions” interview [for DA’s December News & Notes] I described the TASIS habit (from pre-kindergarteners to post-graduates) of making eye contact, shaking hands and greeting people by name. This expectation grows from the ideas of TASIS founder Mrs. Fleming. From the TASIS Paideia that she left to guide the TASIS schools: We teach good manners by modeling them. We strive for courteous behavior at all times, even under stress. “Manners maketh man,” wrote William Wykeham, founder of New College, Oxford. We agree. Courtesy keeps us happy, purposeful and poised, able to show the respect for one another we ought to feel, and quick to treat one another with cordial dignity. Courtesy is the necessary ground for our communal and scholarly lives. The second idea relates to joyful creativity and the importance of play for learning. Among the strongest academic departments at TASIS are those in the visual arts. “The most effective education is that a child should play amongst lovely things,” wrote Plato (the first European school founder?). TASIS recognizes that “playing among beautiful things” is no mere diversion. It is an essential ingredient of a school designed to produce creative problem-solvers for the planet, community-minded entrepreneurs, leaders who take with them into the world a bone-deep sense of the true, the good and the beautiful. In great schools, students play among beautiful things in all departments. Among the forces that drew me to TASIS — and indeed among the reasons I look forward to rejoining the DA team — is the powerful sense these two schools aim higher than most. Both schools have set their sights above the mere delivery of curricular content, further than the simple development of skills, beyond a target list of college admittances. Without apology, we aim to equip students for joyful, productive, virtuous lives. Of course we miss all the time. We are sometimes sloppy and often tired. We take shortcuts and occasionally forget our noble destinations. We fall short. But this inspiring ideal — of creating a community that fundamentally changes the trajectories of young human lives — is shared by both TASIS and DA. And I look forward to chasing this vision with you for years to come. DURHAM ACADEMY RECORD | WINTER 2013 | WWW.DA.ORG
Published on Feb 11, 2013
The Record is Durham Academy’s biannual magazine. It was first published in 1974. In its current form, The Record features articles written...