My first impression of Alex Lockett as I shake her hand in her office is that she reminds me of Leslie Knope greeting a citizen of Pawnee. Like Amy Poehler’s character in the hit TV sitcom Parks and Recreation, Alex is organized, passionate about her job, and bubbly with excitement and enthusiasm. My second impression of Alex is that she is a sort of philosopher of pedagogy—in almost no time and with little prompting, she shares many opinions about how educators can be successful.
Alex attended a similarly rigorous school to Crystal and, while she was grateful for a great education, she couldn’t help but notice overarching pedagogical flaws in the hyper-academic setting. Her school focused on how students were thinking, but ignored how they were feeling, which didn’t seem right to Alex. She is a firm believer that “I feel”s are important and that shutting down one’s emotional side is unsustainable and undesirable. For Alex, developing one’s whole self is key to success as a student and beyond. From a pedagogical standpoint, helping students become their best overall selves involves a lot more than simply challenging them to think hard and work hard.
In Alex’s experience, an essential element in helping students become their best selves is building relationships between students and faculty members. She notes that this process sounds simple, but many schools have yet to initiate programs that foster particularly strong student-teacher relationships, even if they have advisory programs in place. At her last job at San Francisco University High School, Alex noticed that although the school was known for a strong advisory program, there was potential to make it much better.
While at University, Alex created a program in which advisors and students met multiple times a week to get to know one another well. Advisors no longer stumbled over student names and students felt more comfortable approaching advisors. The plan was simple, but had ripple effects. Once students got to know their teachers well, they felt more comfortable taking risks in class and asking for advice outside of class. In turn, teachers developed even more empathy for the inner workings of high schoolers. The teachers at University widely agreed that stronger relationships with students helped them become better teachers. When asked to share her secret sauce in creating a successful, supportive advisory curriculum, Alex simply states, “The curriculum is the relationship.”
Although Alex is still learning about Crystal, she notes that ours is a uniquely tight-knit community, which is a large part of why she came to work here. She describes the Crystal community as having a “depth and thickness” like that of a boarding school. Consequently, Alex imagines her role at Crystal will be focused on supporting all community members with managing the stress of a challenging educational program alongside the normal stresses of life outside of school.
Alex notes that this is an anxious time for students, faculty, and staff, regardless of whether they are worried about climate change, homework, teaching, or a myriad of other concerns. Anxiety is a problem that Alex wants to tackle, and she hopes to dial down the overall campus anxiety levels by heavily supporting the faculty and staff. She believes that if the adults in the community receive more support, they will, in turn, be able to provide greater support to their students.
To get to know Crystal well, Alex invited every member of the Upper School Professional Adult Community (PAC) to meet with her one-on-one, and she has met with nearly everyone so far. She took copious notes during these discussions and shared some of the common threads.
Everyone told Alex that their favorite part about Crystal is the people (colleagues and students), and the majority of teachers said that the best aspect of their job is when students have “Aha!” moments. One teacher referenced Oscar Wilde--students should “play gracefully with ideas” as a way to describe their ideal classroom dynamic. Many spoke of building students’ conscientiousness and about delving deep into material. Also, many people shared Alex’s desire to change Crystal by ameliorating anxiety on campus.
In addition to interviewing PAC members, Alex is getting to know the community via “fireside chats” with parents and guardians of students. She has been impressed by the community as a whole, and, as a result, isn’t committed to completely changing any one thing at this juncture: “All the things that I would want to see present in a community are here to a very, very high degree. I’m excited to help us take the next step, but I’m not 100% attached to what that next step is at this exact moment.”
Alex isn’t just a philosopher of pedagogy, though she notes that she and her husband (also a teacher) have both been very passionate about education and academia for a long time. She has a myriad of other interests, many of which involve the outdoors: Alex loves hiking and exploring nature, is a serious gardener, is a former rowing star, and a former Dolphin Club SF member (where she would swim in the Bay without a wetsuit). She spent quite a bit of time sailing including a four-month sailing trip in which she used celestial navigation. Additionally, Alex is a trained medical professional, is wilderness healthcare certified, has worked as a mediator/conflict resolver, is an avid reader (you can likely find Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose and a copy of the most recent New Yorker on her desk), and is such a serious cook that her family plans out menus for the whole week ahead of time.
After I show surprise at her myriad skills and hobbies, Alex explains, “Living a full life is really important to me.” Her motto: “You can do it all, just not all at once.” She hopes Crystal students follow in her footsteps and can do it all (but not all at once), too.