Since the creation of the Deputy Head of School role one year ago, I have come to appreciate the evolving clarity regarding the contributions this position can have for the whole school, from Kindergarten to Grade 12. This role has certainly allowed me to tap into my background and experiences as a teacher, coach, outdoor education centre director, as an Admissions and Advancement Director and as a Head of School, to support the success of our faculty, staff and especially our students.

Like other leadership roles with Kindergarten to Grade 12 oversight, every week I witness SMUS’s Vision and Mission come alive in the academic linkages, the leadership opportunities and the countless moments when students are tested, grow as learners and are exposed to occasions that will help them prepare for life. Here, I refer to guided experiences with faculty, staff and coaches, but also importantly through unpredictable moments of learning that come from falling short, failing, navigating the actions of others or in circumstances that are thrown their way on any given day.

In fact, it is this hidden curriculum where significant learning can take place in the areas of confidence building, grit and resilience; the latter two areas often being ones that post-secondary prep schools can be accused of falling short on, as we aim to protect and build confidence, while guiding students through the challenges of their life rehearsal, one part of which is known as school.

It is from the inspiration of 25 years of working with young people and the last seven years at SMUS that I developed Rodford’s Rules for Life, which hang on the wall in my office and which fuel most of my conversations with students. Many of these ‘rules’ may seem obvious or aspirational, however, all of them take fortitude and need regular reminding for them to become second nature and sustainable – even for adults.

Every week, SMUS students demonstrate examples of these Rules for Life and, as a result, one wonderful manifestation from our community is the existence of unconditional acceptance. This does not mean that we have created a Shangri-La, devoid of challenges and personal conflicts. However, it is the combination of these rules and the school’s Mission, which contains compassion and the pursuit of goodness, that create an environment where students can take risks and be themselves, knowing that they are supported by the metaphoric safety net of unconditional acceptance. Evidence can be spotted in all grades, on fields, on stage, in social settings and particularly at those moments when students see other students putting themselves out there, doing the best they can and then receiving unconditional acceptance regardless of the outcome. There are no dropped balls, missed strokes, awkward notes or halted public speaking moments that aren’t regarded with pride for trying and with the view that failure is the beginning and not the end.

Keeping the Rules for Life in mind and looking ahead to the rest of the year and in preparation for life, remember to laugh a lot, trust in/be yourself, take risks, be in charge of your happiness, do what you love, eat your veggies, and strive for excellence and not perfection. Attitude trumps aptitude, so living by these rules has never been more important to ensure a rewarding school year and a wonderful life. Our students deserve nothing less.