Head of School Blog: Richard Sperduto

Having spent most of my life living in campus housing, I suppose I was a bit infantilized when it came to tending to the inevitable minor repairs most homeowners are able to manage without trouble. I always knew that the quickest way to tend to something broken was to call the maintenance office and say, “I think I can fix it myself,” and within minutes, help would have arrived.


So you won’t be surprised to know that when it came to setting up my new office this summer, I was a bit hesitant to begin hanging things on the walls for fear that within days of my arrival, this new head might be the cause of his new school collapsing in a heap. So before I picked up my hammer, I approached Mr. Sperduto and timidly asked for permission.  


Those of you who know and love Falmouth Academy most definitely know and love Richard Sperduto. It would not be a stretch to say that Richard literally built this school. Unlike many schools, he and his team are integral parts of our school community. In response, our students care for our school because they care about the people who care for our school.


Anyway, I approached Mr. Sperduto and asked, “Richard, I am about to hang some heavy things on my wall. Do you want me to do this myself—I am happy to—or would you prefer that one of you do it?”


“I have no interest in doing anything for you that you are willing to do for yourself,’ he replied with an elfish grin. He then added, “but I am also always willing to help.”


I have no interest in doing anything for you that you are willing to do for yourself, but I am also always willing to help. Good and broadly applicable advice for any new Head of School who may not yet have fully learned the art of delegation or might still occasionally succumb to the temptation of micromanagement. But, an even better metaphor for Falmouth Academy’s approach to teaching and learning.


Because learning that is deep and durable requires students to do things themselves. In a recent article in the Washington Post titled, “The Compelling Case for Being an Intentionally Lazy Parent,” Scott Lutostanky makes a strong case for such an approach. Children, he suggests, do not come by executive function skills naturally; they need time and space to practice. These important skills, “are mainly controlled by the frontal lobe of our brains–the part that allows us to set and work toward goals, regulate our emotions, solve problems and make decisions. Intentional laziness parenting allows children to practice and develop those skills. It means that parents can’t function as their child’s frontal lobe.” He goes on to say, “Instead of doing things for children, parents (and schools) need to structure activities or tasks to push the child to take ownership.”


At Falmouth Academy, you are not likely to hear comments from students to the effect of, “Just tell me what I need to do to get an A in this class.” Or, “Is this going to be on the test?” or, “I did exactly what was on the rubric!” Or, most commonly, requests for direction when the directions are right in front of them. And you will not hear comments from teachers to the effect of, “Here, let me do it,” or “just do exactly what I just did.”


When confronted with a task or problem, one student’s first instinct might be to ask the teacher for help, but too often “Will you help me?” actually means, “Give me the answer.” And it is sometimes said of a teacher who does not readily provide said answer that he “doesn’t teach.” But at Falmouth Academy, the student we hope to graduate eschews this path of seemingly least resistance and instead leverages the resources at his fingertips. She is not disinclined to engage in the kind of heavy lifting that builds academic muscle. She doesn’t ask, as I essentially asked of Mr. Sperduto, “is this right?”


Of course, no one would ever accuse Mr. Sperduto of being “intentionally lazy!” However much it spoke to his essence, Mr. Sperduto, I am sure, had nothing profound in mind in replying, “I have no interest in doing anything for you that you are willing to do for yourself but I am also always willing to help.” But it meant so much to me that I had two t-shirts printed; one, I presented to Richard at a faculty meeting, the other hangs discreetly in the corner of my new office reminding me of the enduring value of having done something myself (even though the painting across from me keeps sagging to the right!).


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