The Gift of Time

Patrick T. Gallagher, Head of School
A few years ago, a US alumnus reached out to me. His email was concise and to-the-point, just as he had been as a student. He asked whether I might be able to share the home addresses of several colleagues from the lower, middle, and upper schools of US. His fiancée and he, he explained, were finalizing invitations for their upcoming wedding.
At US, we may take for granted that a young man thinks nothing of inviting his fourth-grade teacher and his high school debate coach to such a significant milestone in his life. He would not have had it any other way, of course, and wanted nothing more than to have these all-important influences join him in embarking happily on the next chapter in his life. 
Those he wished to invite were teachers, coaches, sponsors, counselors, and advisors from his time as a US lifer. “A relationship in which a boy can tell that he matters is fundamental to his ability to think for himself and to follow an independent course,” writes psychologist Michael Reichert in How to Raise a Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men. “A young man’s self-confidence is not accidental or serendipitous but derives from experiences of being accurately understood, loved, and supported.” Surely, these colleagues and more had helped to shape this young man and give direction to his life. Each was a powerful mentor to him. 
Each was also an excellent educator. In his 2008 bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell famously put forward the “10,000-hour rule,” suggesting that excellence required at any skill required some 10,000 hours of focused, dedicated practice. 
In a 2020 edition of the podcast EdSurge, Jeffrey R. Young interviewed Anders Ericsson, professor of Psychology at Florida State University, whose study of “deliberate practice” Gladwell had cited in his book. Ericsson took issue with Gladwell’s interpretation of his research: “[W]hat Gladwell left out is the role of the ‘deliberate’ practice, meaning work under the guidance of a teacher. What worked best for that, says Ericsson, is for students to receive personal instruction with a teacher who is able to assess them individually and determine ‘what would be the next step for [them] to actually develop and improve.’” What Gladwell left out, in short, is mentoring.
US students are fortunate to work each day with a faculty with not only educational expertise but also scholarly and professional experience. Today, they include former college professors, executives, published authors, research scientists, entrepreneurs, and even a Rhodes Scholar. Our students recognize and appreciate excellence because they see it firsthand. 
More important than our faculty’s distinction in their chosen fields, however, is their capacity for recognizing and appreciating our students’ interests, passions, and strengths. As Reichert so aptly describes, these mentors help the boys in their care to be “understood, loved, and supported” – and, therefore, positioned for success at school and beyond. 
Mentors at US give over an extraordinary amount of their time to others. Few here would question Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule on its face – and with our most veteran teacher now in his sixth decade of teaching, many have exceeded it markedly. Our faculty give the best hours of their days and best of themselves to our students, daily, and the hours cannot be counted easily.
Mentoring requires time, in both quantity and quality. Much as we obsess over schedules and calendars in schools, very often the most memorable and impactful work comes outside of formal classes, practices, rehearsals, games, or performances. 
As I connect with alumni, I am struck time and again by the wisdom they attribute to mentors at US. Granted, sometimes it will be a dramatic statement delivered from a lectern in a classroom or a provocative question around a discussion table. Oftentimes, though, it is something else altogether. It is a smile accompanying a slap on the back after a disappointing loss on the court. It is an unexpected conversation shared after leaving morning assembly before the first bell starts the day. It is picking up on the fact that that boy might not be feeling quite like himself.
US mentors give the gift of their expertise, skill accrued and refined over lifetimes, but the most important gift they give is their time. 
The time we spend with our boys has arguably never been more important than it is right now. Statistics on boys’ educational outcomes continue to trend in worrisome directions. Writing for The Wall Street Journalrecently, Douglas Belkin points to data on women’s and men’s enrollment in college and discusses the “widening education gap across the U.S.” The piece takes its title from the disengagement of one young man from Perrysburg, Ohio interviewed for the piece: “I just feel lost,” he says. 
One of the questions we ask of one another as a faculty in helping to onboard students new to US is, “Has he connected with an adult?” We know from experience how important a meaningful relationship with an adult can be in helping to navigate the challenges of school. Reichert does, too: “In addition to growing their skills and expanding their ambitions, in a successful relationship with a coach or teacher, boys discover that there is help and they can expect their needs to be met. They realize that they are not alone, even as they face difficult hurdles.” These successful relationships position boys for success and reflect US at its best. It is hard to feel lost with a number of adults behind you and at your side. Mentors matter – whether sitting in class or walking down the aisle. 

Shaker Heights Campus

20701 Brantley Road
Shaker Heights, Ohio 44122
Phone: 216-321-8260

Hunting Valley Campus

2785 SOM Center Road
Hunting Valley, Ohio 44022
GRADES 9 – 12
Phone: 216-831-2200
University School serves over 850 boys in Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12 on two campuses in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. The School’s mission is to inspire boys of promise to become young men of character who lead and serve. Dedicated faculty, rigorous curriculum, and experiential programs foster intellectual, physical, creative, and moral excellence. University School is a diverse and inclusive community where each boy is known and loved.