The Commons: Our Blog

Timely, sometimes tough, questions and insights from NAES and Episcopal school leaders on leadership, governance, Episcopal identity, community life, and other issues.

Foundation and Community

In my twenty five years in education, I never thought I would see the day when our country was at such unrest. In every corner of the world, there seems to be chaos. The health and well-being of our neighbors, along with the major shutdown of our country is a stark contrast to what it was this time last year. 

In California, besides the highly publicized health pandemic, ongoing civic unrest and unsettling political climate, there are wildfires which have compromised the air quality and forced families from their homes, at times more than once. As a school, we have had to hold steady and be a source of strength to the families. 

I can’t imagine being in any other teaching atmosphere than the Episcopal School. More than ever I often stand in moments of gratitude and get very quiet with myself. These moments help me to counter feelings of despair that can naturally occur throughout leadership. As I reflect I can see clearly that the core tenets of an Episcopal education are at play stronger than ever and I am thankful that I can lean on the principles of school worship, community life, religious formation and study, and social justice. These principles ground me in my work as a head of school and give me a path through which I lead our community. 

The Episcopal Church motto is “All are welcome.” The church is accepting of all people. While going through a time like this there isn’t any us and them. The church is a great equalizer.  When we have large groups of people in pain or anxious, the space feels like they are concerned for no matter who you are. School is a safe haven, but usually in language only and not in experience. The experience in Episcopal Schools is that it is soothing and is a huge refuge for those who feel alone. 

The values of an Episcopal faith-based school—inclusion, critical thinking, informed action and tolerance for others—cultivates a space to reflect when challenging matters present themselves. The same values that our students hear about in weekly chapel are the very same ones that are studied in class and lived out every day. We take the time and space to reflect and our students have that capability. We don’t just keep going but ask, “how we can make change and impact others positively”? We set the course this way and we are able to be part of that change immediately, because our students have that skill-set in place. 

By inviting cross cultural and interfaith learning, our students are taught the value of personal integrity and respect for all of humanity. And when supported and celebrated by the community at large (peers and adults), students feel empowered to try out new ideas, speak up, listen thoughtfully and pass kindness and respect forward.

We know that the Episcopal foundation supports our various school missions. However, it also affects policy and how we make decisions as a school. In these challenging times, I rely on this.

I feel grateful for the National Association of Episcopal Schools community of diversity practitioners, chaplains, and school heads. I also appreciate NAES leadership for creating a safe space for all of us to share and grieve and be thought partners in this work of leading schools.

As we all work to support our students in the creation of authentic lives of purpose, service and meaning, the Episcopal school foundation is a lifesaver. During one of the most difficult times in our history, the guidance, support, love and strength of our schools are needed now more than ever. I am eternally grateful I am here.

Khadija Addel Fredericks is Head of School at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Saratoga, CA.

Schools are Real Places of Faith

As I write, I’ve just returned home from a candlelit prayer vigil at our school chapel. Two weeks ago, a student only in our Class of 2014 died, under as yet unknown though clearly tragic circumstances. I was contacted out of the blue by a former student who wished to organize a service for their friend in the chapel where they used to worship together. He sounded shy about asking, but when the school and I quickly embraced him and offered all we could to help, he was profoundly grateful that we were taking the time to respond to him with such enthusiasm. It was a small, simple, yet intimate opportunity to gather in the presence of God, in a place which was so much a center of spiritual, emotional and also collegial gravity for those friends. In a way, as one student remarked, it felt like “a home away from home.” Like a parish church, I suppose. Read More »

Explaining Jesus

“Hey! Who’s that?” shouts an excited three-year-old as he enters the church for the first time. He points again at the large Christus Rex (Christ the King) statute over the Altar and demands, “Who’s that?” Read More »

Third Grade Lessons for an Election Year

Welcome to 2020 – a leap year, a summer Olympics year, and a presidential election year. Are you nervous about the elections? Friends and colleagues with divergent political perspectives have expressed anxiety about the polarization in our shared civic life, especially for 2020. I have read blogs describing exhaustion from feeling like we are swimming in a sea of political and cultural hatred, and watched public figures give advice about how to talk to your intolerant relatives about politics. The funny thing is, folks from all parts of the political spectrum are making these same observations about feeling silenced, marginalized, and being branded as the other. My advice is to try to be more like a third grader. Read More »

New Year’s Revelations

For me, New Year’s resolutions always came with a sense of impending doom, as if I was being set up for failure. After all, how could I do something for a whole year? But soon after January 1 comes January 6, Epiphany. And Epiphany offers an opportunity that, to me, feels both profound and inspiring. Read More »

‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple

Is it my imagination or is Christmas coming earlier every year? The Great Pumpkin had not even appeared before – boom! – here comes Santa Claus. It seems that stores just can’t get the bows, ribbons, and wreaths on the shelves fast enough. Read More »

Tailwinds

I recently had the opportunity to preach in our school’s annual Thanksgiving Eucharist. It is difficult, every year, to come up with new and striking ways of communicating a similar message, the message of gratitude. But this year I was fortunate to come across Diana Butler Bass’ excellent book Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, which provided more than enough novelty for the occasion. Read More »

Finding Your Voice

I can remember with great clarity the moments in my young life when I had to speak in front of a group for the first time. It took so much courage to stand before adults and peers and play a witch in third grade. I can barely remember the “before” of that moment, however, and how scared I must have been. What has stayed with me is the exhilaration I felt when it was over and I heard from my parents and friends that I was convincing as a mean and terrible witch! I felt a kind of power that I would work to cultivate and hold in my growing self over many more years. Read More »

In Praise of Preschools

There are 515 Episcopal preschools listed in the NAES database. They range in size from about 30 to almost 300 students. Some are tucked away in the lower levels of parish halls while others occupy multi-story buildings. They include Montessori and Reggio Emilia schools, programs based in the best of developmentally appropriate practices, and an increasing number with outdoor classrooms and school gardens. Some of the most vibrant school chapels happen in Episcopal preschools, lively services with storytelling and skits, finger songs and child-centered prayers, enthusiastic Alleluias and student participation. Read More »