In this new series, the Institute for Classical Education sits down with leaders of classical schools to glean their wisdom. Our first headmaster interview is with Marcy Finn of Great Hearts Irving.
WHAT IS YOUR SCHOOL MOTTO, AND HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN IT TO STUDENTS?
Our school motto is Principium philosophia est admiratio, from Socrates in the Theaetetus. It can be translated as, “The beginning of the love of wisdom is wonder.” As a Kindergarten through Fifth Grade Lower School, we stand at the beginning of our scholars’ educational journey—a journey that will last their entire lives. Our primary responsibility with these youngest Great Hearts students is to inspire them to wonder through observation, exploration, discovery, and discussion. In doing so, we help our students recognize all that is true, good, and beautiful in the world around us, to love the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, and to begin to respond to the world and those in it in virtue.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START YOUR SCHOOL, AND WHAT HAS YOUR SCHOOL’S JOURNEY LOOKED LIKE SO FAR?
As a founding member of Great Hearts Irving, we began as a K-7 school. We added a grade each year and once we became a K-10, we divided into a Lower and Upper school. Being able to lay foundational skills and procedures is inspiring. Merging students from different schools and backgrounds, while merging teachers from various experiences, allows a new school to develop a teacher, student, and community culture. Our journey after becoming a Lower school involved an expansion of 50 percent. Adding students and staff meant ensuring the culture was maintained. This takes strong leadership, targeted training, a mentor program, and a unity in the common goals.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU’VE FACED AS A SCHOOL LEADER, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
The expansion of the school was a huge challenge. We went from serving 350 students to 760 students and added classroom teachers to accommodate our growing population. During expansion, we worked diligently to maintain our methodologies and pedagogy. We needed to acclimate more students into our learning environment, and we needed to help families understand a classical education. Through meetings, open forums, emails, and a willingness to be transparent with our goals, families, students, and teachers felt empowered and responsible to pursue our mission.
WHAT ARE THE KEY INGREDIENTS OF A VIRTUE-CENTERED LEARNING COMMUNITY?
Everyone at Great Hearts Irving works together to teach both the hearts and minds of our scholars. Virtues are an organic part of our daily discussions of literature, history, writing, and, of course, in our conversations with students about their own choices. We thrive in a virtue-rich environment, and that is accomplished mindfully and holistically through shared language, shared values, and our shared mission.
HOW IS YOUR SCHOOL’S CULTURE SHAPED BY YOUR LOCAL COMMUNITY?
Our local community is comprised of families that either have a deep understanding of classical education or have heard about the high-quality education on offer at Great Hearts Irving and simply want a good school for their child. Our community has numerous families of both types that are actively engaged and serve as ambassadors for our school through volunteering and supporting the school financially.
HOW DOES YOUR SCHOOL IMPACT AND GIVE BACK TO THE LOCAL COMMUNITY?
In addition to cultivating habits of virtue in the youngest citizens of our community, our school maintains relationships with local businesses that we support through various partnerships, including spirit night fundraising events.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR SOMEONE SETTING OUT ON SCHOOL LEADERSHIP? WHAT’S SOMETHING YOU WISH SOMEONE WOULD HAVE TOLD YOU WHEN YOU WERE FIRST STEPPING OUT ON THIS VENTURE?
My strongest piece of advice is to listen. It is important to know when to speak and which words to use. Learn to listen without preconceived ideas and approach interactions and communication with honesty and humility. Another key component of successful leadership is to surround oneself with trusted, competent people. I wish I had known how tempting it can be to let the myriad meetings, tasks, and emails consume your day. My priority must always be the teachers and students in my school. Stay connected by being visible in the halls and classrooms; teach lessons in different grade levels; monitor recess or lunch; be involved.
Classical education requires more than great books and good intentions. Learn more about the APEX Program for School Leadership.