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THE ROOTS OF MARSHALL
BY BRIANNA VANDER HEYDEN
How is an independent school different?
What makes Marshall unique?
Why should I send my child there?
These are questions our Admissions Office hears daily. The answer to all of these inquiries can be found when looking at the roots of a Marshall education.
When education has a foundation deeper than a standardized test, a root system as you will, comprised of core values supporting a centric mission and a climate that allows for growth, learning will thrive. Students and educators will learn to bend with the wind, stand firm against storms, and continue to seek new ways to grow and develop.
As an independent school, Marshall is able to focus on a mission-centric curriculum. Our school’s mission sets the foundation for learning; it is our guiding compass for making decisions within the school community. And as an ever-innovating educational institution, it is essential to strategically reflect on, and consciously review, our mission statement to ensure it continues to guide us forward.
“Our former mission statement had been around since 2008, and at that time, it defined who we aspired to be as a community. The focus was on ‘educating students to become global citizens’ at a time when we were building our international program and ensuring elements of global education throughout our curriculum. While the former statement is still true to who we are, Marshall was ready for a new mission to define who we would aspire to be in the next decade or longer considering the environment we live in today,” shared Heather Fishel, Marshall’s Upper School Principal, who served on the mission statement committee.
Over the course of the past year, faculty, staff, and trustees worked together to craft the new mission statement. Three variations were presented to the wider Marshall community for feedback. Through many discussions, deliberations, and careful consideration for future learning, Marshall had its new guiding light:
Inspiring lifelong learners to embrace challenge and create positive change.
If you look closely at this single sentence, you see it can be broken down into three succinct parts, the first of which is Inspiring Lifelong Learners. At Marshall, we strive to educate students to be curious, inquisitive, and full of wonder. We don’t teach to a test, but use agency and student choice to inspire discovery and a thirst for knowledge. This takes many different shapes in the classroom, but collectively teachers find engaging ways for students to connect with each lesson.
Embrace Challenge is the second component of our new mission statement. We understand that challenges can ignite growth in all of us if we choose to face them. Whether it is an academic challenge inside the classroom, or trying to get a new personal record in a sport, it is important that we embrace challenges. We are striving to provide our students with the tools they need to overcome obstacles and challenges with positive perseverance.
Last, but certainly not least, is the call to Create Positive Change. It was important that we keep this in the present tense instead of looking only toward the future. As a Hilltopper Community, there is much we can do in the here and now to effect positive change. Our Hilltoppers don’t need to wait until after graduation to start creating positive rumblings in the world. Our actions today have an impact on those around us. Instilling confidence in students to make positive choices and understand the ripple effects of their actions is central to our mission at Marshall.
The mission statement, while a stand-alone phrase, was carefully crafted to embrace our core values:
Respect, Compassion, Integrity, Intellectual Curiosity, Self-Discipline, and Strong Academic Habits.
Together, Marshall’s mission statement and core values make up the Hilltopper root system and foundation for education.
So what now? Marshall’s mission and core values are more than words we add to a webpage. They are lived daily inside classrooms, on the court, and embedded in board meetings. They are prominent in all aspects of what we do on the hilltop. “The mission statement will be read at the beginning of each meeting and be visible for all board members to center the board and ensure all strategic decisions are in alignment with the mission statement,” shared Marshall trustee Laura Mullen ’97.
“Keeping the mission, core values, and statement of community in front of students reminds us all of who we are and aspire to be, why we are here, and how we treat one another. These three things together provide direction for us to understand what it means to be good people and make a difference in our world,” shared Heather.
How will teachers make this happen?
Our Marshall educators live out the mission statement in their classrooms daily. They encourage inquisitive thinking, student agency, and supported risk-taking. They embrace challenges with students to collaborate and find solutions together. They encourage classes to ask difficult questions and have the perseverance to keep going when one solution doesn’t work.
Mr. KJ (Scott Kylander-Johnson ’90) shared that in his classroom, he uses analogies to help his students connect with the mission statement. When students are facing an academic challenge, or are having a difficult time working collaboratively, they pause as a class and review the mission statement together. “I share with the students that this is similar to playing a sport or learning a new instrument. We need to practice. It is okay to make mistakes, know the mission statement is our target, but sometimes we may miss our target.” Together, Mr. KJ works with his class on ways they can make better choices, or do things differently to ensure they are embracing challenges and creating positive change.
Middle School math teacher, Sarah Perry-Spears ’92, also integrated these principles into her classroom. “In math land, we’re working with students to try to increase their intellectual curiosity. It’s not about doing the math, it’s about thinking about the math—asking ‘Why?,’ exploring how many ways we can solve a problem, being able to communicate our approach, respectfully listening to someone else’s approach, and formulating questions. These skills are not only helpful in truly understanding mathematical concepts, but they also help students become creative, effective, and respectful problem-solvers—something our world will benefit from.”
In our Upper School classes, teachers are finding new ways to create that spark in learning. In Biology class, students hike to Brewery Creek to collect water samples to analyze in the lab as they collaborate and answer questions about living organisms. This type of project-based and hands-on learning helps students connect with materials and information on a deeper level.
We know that growth doesn’t happen in comfort zones, and by using our core values to create a safe environment, we can encourage students to engage in healthy risk-taking while being supported and learning new skills. This can be seen flowing throughout the Marshall experience, from the Forest School all the way to the Upper School.
The mission statement, statement of community, and core values are the roots of what it means to be a Hilltopper. These three elements provide the foundation for learning at Marshall and provide a framework for the tools our Hilltoppers will take with them as they start their next chapters. But these elements are nothing without the Hilltopper community; it requires the relationships we build and the support we give one another to make our roots strong.
Jamie Steckart, Marshall’s Head of School, added, “Relationships are the glue that holds our mission statement together. Human beings are social creatures that rely on positive relationships. From teachers to custodial staff, we all pull together to create an extraordinary learning environment for our students.” With our mission-centric focus, we know that our Hilltoppers are going to be lifelong learners who embrace challenges and strive to create positive change in our world!
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