Recently, Oracle Editor Chris Liu interviewed Mr. Fortunato on some topics that students are interested in. Mr. Fortunato was talkative and open to all the questions. (It was somewhat concerning that he brought his favorite drink, Diet Coke with Lime, to the interview and was able to finish it within 15 minutes…) Below are the Head of School’s responses to several issues.
Part One: The Blair Bubble
Chris: Mr. Fortunato, considering the term the “The Blair Bubble” has been brought up on numerous occasions, such as at chapels, vespers and convocation, many students have unclear ideas about the actual meaning. What is your understanding of the term “ The Blair Bubble?”
Mr. Fortunato: For me, the “The Blair Bubble” is more like a semi-permeable bubble rather than a fully closed bubble. The value of the “bubble” lies in how we create a close community where friendships between students and with faculty are easier to build. I think it encourages students to spend more time with each other. It helps create conditions for students to feel safe in this community so that they may be more willing to step out of their comfort zones in ways that are good for them. Even when they make mistakes (which all of us will do, often), the bubble creates a comfortable community for them to grow.
Chris: Is there a chance that this “closeness” also limits the students from knowing what is going on in the outside world?
Mr. Fortunato: That is why I called it a “semi-permeable bubble,” because it is also important, like you said, to keep students informed and thinking about the events going on outside of the community, instead of being too far removed or isolated from them. Also, this is why chapels, Skeptics, global issues conversations and travel are so important. Students can interact with invited speakers who are here to talk about different, interesting topics. Chapel is also important because students get to sit down and listen to others’ stories, which can help them to know each other more. I’m hoping to support more opportunities for students to engage with others around the country and the world to learn about their unique cultures, challenges and experiences in a more personal way.
Chris: I understand “The Blair Bubble” can create a better environment for people to get to know each other, however, what is your opinion on that there was only one person winning the “Facebook Challenge” this school year?
Mr. Fortunato: I’m not really worried about that because though I really appreciate the winner’s works, it takes more than memorization to understand the people in the community. The goal is to let people feel that there is always someone in the community who knows them for who they really are, instead of some idea of who they are “supposed” to be. It creates really close relationships even if you are only involved with a small group of people. People can feel comfortable to improve parts of themselves in this bubble.
Part Two: Leadership Programs
Chris: There are many questions about Blair’s new leadership programs. What is your opinion on these program?
Mr. Fortunato: I’m excited that we’re exploring a topic that the world will demand our students to think and talk about. There are many views about leadership – whether it can be taught, what the definition is, how you teach it, etc. We are not meant to arrive at one universal definition of “leadership.” It’s very much a good thing for us to disagree or debate on this topic. It is important to let students think about their own definitions and to take action on their values even when it is hard to do. That is what great colleges and the world will demand and so we’re going to continue to explore how best to give students a solid foundation and skills so they can take advantage of leadership opportunities that will arise in their lives. I also like that these programs provide opportunities for students to reflect on their own stories and explore themselves. Leadership starts by leading yourself in a way that feels genuine.
Chris: Some are asking if it is necessary to record the leadership stories? Is telling a story a big part of the leadership program?
Mr. Fortunato: Telling these kind of stories enables students to reflect on their own experiences and values and to ask themselves “what story do I have.” It is very important to know how to tell their stories effectively to other people. It is a skill that is demanded in the changing college landscape and in work environments, no matter what industry. The process of practicing and recording and getting feedback is important to the project, but publishing those stories on a website is not at all the main goal. I’m excited to share the many impressive stories our students have been sharing, but putting them on a website is never required. We only want that when students and their families are interested in those stories being shared more broadly. The stories and other leadership programs are not equivalent to a “leadership factory.” Instead, they are more about the exploration of ourselves, our values, our stories, and so on. I also want our students to be able to communicate effectively and authentically when they are asked, as they will be often – tell me about what kind of leader you are or want to be. Telling an effective story is the best way to do this.
Part Three: The Blair Schedule
Chris: Some people believe the weekday schedules in Blair is too intense. What are your opinions on that?
Mr. Fortunato: The schedule helps students use their time efficiently. It is also important for students to be structured, considering the amount of school work given to them. Though there are concerns that there isn’t enough free time for students to relax, it is important for students to first learn to organize their free time. Faculty and I continue to talk often though about whether there is enough free time for our students to think, relax, de-stress, etc. We’ll continue talking about it with students and parents as well.
Chris: Do you think the intense schedule contradicts with the “personal time” that students may need?
Mr. Fortunato: There are many arguments for that. Some think the afternoon activities are not intense enough, while some think there should be less time put into the sports or activities. One concern I have heard is that it is hard for students to organize their free time and to figure out efficient ways to do things during the free time they have, which is an argument in favor of keeping a great deal of scheduled time. The intense schedule also enables the community to get closer and spend more time together. It will always be a topic we have to look at closely.
(Copyright Chris Liu 2015)