>>>A 1960 graduate of RPCS, Jean Brune graduated magna cum laude from Middlebury College, where she was elected Phi Beta Kappa, and received her master’s of liberal arts from Johns Hopkins. She taught in Charlottesville and in the Baltimore City Public Schools before serving for 24 years as both teacher and administrator at Gilman School. In 1992, she became RPCS’s sixth head of school and the first alumna to serve in that position. Regular STYLE contributor Kathy Hudson, also an RPCS alumna, recently asked Brune to reflect on 50 years in education.
What has changed the most in your long career?
Three separate pieces have changed significantly: First, because of neurodevelopmental research, we know a lot more about the way students learn. This has empowered educators to view students as individual learners and empowered teachers to learn to teach in different ways. This is truly transforming for our students.
Secondly, parents are more engaged in the life of the students, which is both a strength and a challenge. In general, the parent-school partnership is a benefit for students, families and the school, but I have also seen respect and trust for educators diminish as parents hold schools more accountable for student performance. We’re always trying to do right by our students, and we hope that is apparent. School and home often see different things, and it is as we work together that we can do the best for children/young people. On the other hand, the so-called “helicopter parent” is a great worry, because that parent doesn’t let their child learn from mistakes, then it takes much longer for that child to become a responsible adult.
Lastly, technology as a learning tool has profoundly altered classroom teaching. Knowledge is now at our fingertips at all times, so teachers no longer need to teach information; rather, they need to teach students how to analyze and evaluate information and how to use technology responsibly. They need to encourage critical thinking, questioning, and creativity in the classroom as a direct result of the technology. Because of technology, learning has become much more collaborative. It is critical that we teach students in ways that they understand the relevance of the curriculum.
What do you consider to be the value of an independent school education in 2016 Baltimore? Independent schools are able to tailor their program to fit both their mission and the needs of their students. Independent schools have the flexibility and autonomy to be more easily adaptable. Independent schools offer choices to parents, because no two independent schools are identical. Each independent school has its own mission, and we can really develop each child as an individual learner. We can also focus on building community, leadership and character.
What do you consider your most significant accomplishment at RPCS?
Being head of a school is a complex (but rewarding) responsibility, in part because there are many constituencies with varying priorities. I am proud that I’ve been able to help RPCS remain fiscally strong; doing so has meant that I could always keep the student at the center of our attention and decision making. It touches me deeply that students and employees have come to find joy in the teaching and learning that goes on at RPCS, and that “joyful” is an integral part of our school philosophy. I’m most proud of the diverse and inclusive community of students, employees, parents, and alumnae who make up the REDS.
If you could give young teachers one piece of advice, what would that be?
There are late bloomers who become magnificent adults. We don’t all grow or learn at the same pace. Discover and teach to a variety of learning styles. I always treasure a line from The Education of Henry Adams: “A teacher affects eternity; he/she can never tell where his/her influence stops.”
If you could give students one piece of advice, what would that be?
You are not in this journey alone. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to find a teacher who will support you. Take a risk, work hard and have the tenacity to always find the support you need.