Joy & Challenge: An Interview with Clair Ward

Ask Head of School Clair Ward what makes Shore unique, and she’ll name two qualities that at first seem as if they couldn’t be further apart. “I think about joy and challenge,” she says.

In this interview, Ward elaborates on the side-by-side virtues of joy and challenge, describes the magic she sees in Shore classrooms, speaks to what makes an effective leader in independent schools, and shares what most engages her about working with children.

Why are joy and challenge so important in our program?

“When walking the hallways of our school, any visitor will see and hear what joy sounds like and looks like. In the classroom, they’ll see the same energy. Our students are being asked to use their minds in truly creative ways. It’s not about test scores. It’s about your ability to challenge yourself and challenge each other in productive ways. The life skill we are most trying to cultivate at Shore is being able to be confident in your engagement with other students.”

How do our teachers make such an impact with our students?

“When you ask students what is the very best part of Shore, they will say it’s the faculty. The faculty is committed to not only providing an exceptional education, but also to doing that in really connected relationships with students. All the way down to our youngest learners, they help students to grow personally and academically, demonstrating our commitment to raising healthy and happy people and students. Teachers are part of the equation for all students, whether they are currently enrolled or have now moved on to secondary school or even college. Graduates will talk about their relationships with teachers as what made their Shore experience so special. And in fact most of them will talk about their time at Shore as the most enchanted part of their education.”

In a changing world, how does Shore remain relevant for the future?

“Because of Shore’s historic success and Shore’s importance in the local area, we believe very strongly in being able to offer a Shore education for the long term. Many generations of students have benefited from it, and we want to continue that. To do so, in addition to having an excellent educational program, we also need to offer the stability of leadership and experience. Successful leadership in independent schools requires something different today than it ever did before. It’s a different time in the world of education and the world in general. In addition to making sure that we are passionate and committed to the students we have enrolled today, it’s crucial that we have our eye on the future, making sure that our financial model supports our long-term health as an institution, and that our educational model will ensure student success in a changing world.”

With so many pressing concerns, what keeps you engaged with students every day?

“What I come back to again and again are those moments that catch me by surprise. Often, those are moments when I see the incredible personal and academic growth that our students are experiencing. I can be in a classroom—and I might be there for an entirely different reason—and I find myself focused on a child who looks decidedly different than they did two months ago. And for me, having that knowledge of that child and the inspiration of their growth humbles me and keeps me focused on why it’s important for Shore to provide the best environment for that kind of growth—for every child.”
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    • Head of School Clair Ward