The Boarding Advantage

Dear parents,

As headmaster, I have the opportunity to meet often with educators and admissions representatives from colleges and universities throughout the world. What attitudes and mindsets, I ask them, are most important for our children’s future success? What are the defining qualities of character we should seek to cultivate in our students? What do you want to see in a King’s graduate when they arrive on your campus?

I always get versions of the same answer. First, they tell me that they want to see a record of academic achievement.  But they are quick to add that academic achievement is no longer sufficient. They also want to see evidence of what they call “citizenship.” They want applicants who are engaged in their communities, who lead through influence, and who are committed to service. They want to see the “soft skills” I spoke about during our Fall Parents Weekend, a capacity for empathy, an openness to difference, and what a recent report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education calls “ethical engagement and concern for the common good.”

We know that all successful people learn these things – and there are many ways to do so. But I believe that residential boarding schools like King’s are uniquely equipped to impart these important qualities of character.  Indeed, it is what a school like ours does best. Schools that confine themselves to mere academic outcomes, as important as those may be, fail to equip young people with the skills, attitudes and mindsets they will need to meet the many challenges they will face in the future.

What are the advantages of boarding? Here is my top seven list, based on my own experience as a boarding student, a lifetime in boarding schools, and seven years as Headmaster of King’s:

  1. More powerful and enduring relationships with teachers
    Behind every successful person I know, stands a great teacher (sometimes, if you are lucky, more than one), and all the research agrees that it is teachers, more than any other factor, who have the greatest impact on student learning. A teacher who takes an interest in a child and develops a relationship of trust, confidence and mentorship can have a life-changing and transformational impact on their development, second only to that of parents and family members. We hire for these qualities, and I ask each teacher at the school to develop a supportive and open relationship with each student they teach, advise, coach and work with on our dorms.We seek to recruit teachers who love children, who understand their needs, and have the patience and empathy to meet them. The overwhelming majority of our faculty live on campus, and they are available to our students well beyond the academic day – to talk, to advise, to provide additional support, to coach, to listen, to help with a math problem or an essay. It is often during the evenings, weekends and off hours where the most powerful relationships between students and teachers are formed.
  2. Higher levels of academic achievement, greater readiness for college and accelerated career advancement
    Research from the Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) tell us that students who live on campus study more, use their time more productively, and tend to advance more quickly in their future careers.

    Our own research suggests that boarding students show greater academic improvement over time and tend to graduate with higher levels of academic achievement. Our graduates also tell us that they are better prepared for the challenges of university.
  3. Stronger ethical values
    The same study from TABS demonstrates that boarding schools encourage positive personal development. When students live together, they quickly realize that they have obligations to one another and that they are collectively responsible for creating a climate of respect, kindness and consideration. Because of this, they make better decisions – an essential life skill.
  4. More opportunities to lead
    Students who live on campus have many more opportunities to lead than their peers at day schools, and they actively shape the tone, atmosphere and culture of the school. Our boarding students live in residential houses of great diversity, side by side with students from across the globe and throughout Jordan. A house is like a team, and as part of that team our students learn to collaborate, to work together for common goals, to sacrifice, and to manage conflict. Students also have the opportunity to serve in more formal roles as proctors and junior counselors, where they work closely with faculty, and they are disproportionally elected to positions of responsibility, sitting on our disciplinary and honor committees, and leading conferences, weekend activities, open Mic nights, and various other art and music events. Moreover, everyone who is able and willing can serve as a proctor.Unlike other schools, we have no artificial limit on the number of students who may serve as proctors.
  5. More opportunities for independence
    There is a perception that young people today are fragile, less resilient and more dependent on parents. In a recent interview in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Tim Davis, the executive director of Resilience and Leadership at the University of Virginia, describes young people’s need to develop independence and how our own parenting can sometimes impede that development. And a lively exchange in The New York Times explored how to best encourage responsible independence among children.

    Our students learn to take care of themselves, and, ultimately, of others. The ability to communicate in an open and honest way when problems arise, to advocate for oneself, to resolve conflict, to bounce back from temporary stumbles, and to take responsibility for one’s everyday habits (cleaning up after oneself, being punctual, managing one’s time, prioritizing, meeting one’s responsibilities) – these are the things our boarding program requires. All of these qualities are essential for success in university and career, especially during the critical first year of college, where patterns of success are established and fortified.

  6. Deeper and broader friendships
    Because we actively recruit students from across the globe, from cities, towns and villages throughout Jordan and from all walks of life, students at King’s make friends with a much wider array of young people than they would at a day school. The ability to cross the boundaries of nation, creed and color – to step beyond what is comfortable and familiar – is an essential capacity for young people to learn in today’s world.
  7. More time to sleep
    Because they are not spending time travelling to and from campus each day, students who board can get more sleep.  A student who manages their evening and weekend time well, can, for example, go to bed at 11:00 pm, having completed their homework, wake at 8:00 am, grab a quick breakfast and still get nine hours of sleep.

Does boarding require sacrifice?  It does – on the part of parents, who naturally want their children with them, and for children, who may be accustomed to the ease and comfort of home. But it is a sacrifice worth making. Parents and students often report that their bonds strengthen rather than diminish when they board. And because we continue to provide the flexibility for our local students to go home during the weekends, there is ample time for children and parents to share meaningful family time.

John Austin