Highlighting our Faculty: A Conversation with Dr. Martin
Dr. Greg Martin became Vermont Academy’s Humanities Department Chair after a nine-year career at Perkiomen School, where he served as the Upper School Dean and History Department Chair. Before Perkiomen, he held positions at Porter-Gaud School, the Frederick Gunn School, and Rumsey Hall School. He has also taught History and Educational Policy at the college level at Western Connecticut State University and Mount Holyoke College.
Greg grew up in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, and attended the Peddie School, playing football and lacrosse. He graduated from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, with a BA in Political Science. He then earned his MA in European History from Western Connecticut State University and his Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy from Drexel University.
Greg continues to research, write, and present on staffing models in American boarding schools. His work has been featured in the National Association of Independent Schools magazine. He is a regular presenter at the annual The Association of Boarding Schools Conference. He has also been a guest on the Enrollment Management Association's podcast several times and has contributed to The Trustees Letter on two occasions. He serves on the advisory board for the Independent School MA program at Mount Holyoke College.
Greg lives with his wife Glynis, an editor, and their two dogs, Bugg and Molly. He and Glynis enjoy travel, spending time in Charleston, South Carolina, watching British TV, and gardening. They have three grown boys, all of whom are boarding school graduates.
“Content is important but not as important as skills, habits, and mindsets. Those items are transferable across subjects and stick with you when you move into the adult world.”
What subjects are a part of the Humanities Department at VA? What subjects do you teach?
The Humanities Department consists of History, English, and World Languages. I teach AP US History, AP United States Government and Politics, and Honors European History.
Can you speak to our humanities curriculum? How are we continuing to grow the department and our offerings?
The Humanities curriculum at VA is a conscious effort to break down academic silos and give students a better understanding of the connectedness that exists between historical events, literature, and different cultures and languages. As we work towards enacting the pillars of our strategic plan, the department focus will shift towards developing classes that embrace Student-Driven Inquiry (SDI), Project-Based Learning (PBL), Place-Based Learning (PBE), and Social and emotional learning (SEL).
We are currently working to revise the curriculum already in place to be more intentional in aligning with the pillars of our strategic plan while at the same time developing courses specifically designed to meet the intent of a humanities curriculum. From creating electives that speak to the history and literature of race to an overhaul of the 10th-grade history curriculum to focus on global issues and research, the Humanities Department is exploring multiple options as we move forward. Students at VA will have more agency in how they study humanities and what type of focus they will take. Cross-curricular courses, thematic humanities courses, and independent studies focused on the humanities will put students at the center of their educational experience within the department. Education as a whole needs to be more aligned with the realities students will face in life. Cultural understanding, the ability to research and ask questions, the ability to communicate in writing and speaking, a deep understanding of how the past informs the present and future, and what our literature and culture say about us all illustrate the direction education is going.
While there was a push to cut back on humanities at the college level, what research and anecdotal evidence from industry is telling us is that a humanities curriculum creates the deep thinkers the world needs. Science, design, art, policy, literature, culture, history, etc are connected and we need to acknowledge that if we are to address the needs of the day. With my doctoral degree focused on leadership and policy, I understand the challenges facing school leaders, as the pressures on schools are intense and change is often truly uncomfortable. In my own research and work with schools, I have come to understand that each boarding school is unique, with its own culture, history, strengths, and challenges. VA has an amazing opportunity to stand out in the market by crafting programs that maximize our location, history, and strategic plan initiatives.
How did you know you wanted to be an educator?
It really came back to my experience at Peddie when I was a student. The faculty at Peddie all had major impacts on me as I developed. Their care and modeling of what was possible led me to education. Without those examples, I would not be who I am. They are still people I draw on when I am in need of advice.
Boarding school is transformative, and the relationships you form are unbelievable. The “triple threat” educator, the teacher, coach, dorm parent, is such a special person and in many ways becoming a bit of a unicorn. It's amazing when a true scholar is also a true athlete or artist and that person happens to be your dorm parent or advisor.
What is your classroom approach? How can you prepare students for life beyond VA?
I try to balance fun with work in the classroom. Being honest and authentic is vital. Students have a fantastic sense of when you aren’t being authentic, and they see through that. Building trust is huge. I trust them to make good choices and ask for help when they need it. I trust them to tell me when it's not going well. In turn, I hope they trust me to take care of them and work to better their understanding of events.
Content is important but not as important as skills, habits, and mindsets. Those items are transferable across subjects and stick with you when you move into the adult world. Writing, presenting a project, budgeting time, researching effectively, and being a kind and compassionate person are skills and habits that stick with you.
What other programs are you supporting on campus? What approach do you take outside of the classroom?
I am helping out in lots of little areas regarding curriculum and the direction the school is going in that regard. I am a dorm parent in West Hill and am enjoying that a great deal. We have some wonderful students living there. I am also coaching Girls’ Basketball – we have some very strong athletes and should be very competitive in the Lakes Region League. I hope to do more with cycling here since we have such amazing terrain on campus and the local riding scene is outstanding.
Outside of the classroom, I try to get students to see me as a person and not just a teacher. Young people need to see adults in a light that is accurate. I have interests, strengths, weaknesses, good days, and bad days, and it’s that reality that kids need to see. Students need to see adults as people with diverse interests and skills. I am an athlete and can play guitar and I love hiking with my dogs so having students see me as a well-rounded human is essential to making meaningful connections. Theodore R. Sizer and Nancy Faust Sizer wrote a book a good way back titled The Students are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract; this book references that students are watching everything we do. They see our behaviors. They see the way we interact with each other. They see how we eat, how we speak to housekeeping, how we spend our free time, and how we spend our free time. It all goes back to authenticity. If you model the behavior we expect from our students while also being willing to show you're human, students take notice and come to learn how to be well-rounded, resilient, vulnerable, and empathetic.
How else are you involved in the Independent School Community outside of VA?
I have been researching boarding schools for years, starting with my dissertation on the viability of teachers’ “triple threat” model (teacher, coach, dorm parent). That research continues with me writing for NAIS, doing podcasts for the Enrollment Management Association, and presenting at the annual TABS (The Association of Boarding Schools) conference and teaching at the TABS Summer Institute. I am presenting this year’s TABS conference on updating hiring and staffing practices in boarding schools.
What do you think is most challenging for our students in the world right now? How do we, as VA faculty, continue to support these needs?
In many ways, we are at an inflection point in nearly every area of life. From climate change to economics to politics to demographics. There is currently a generational handoff occurring, and the mindsets, perspectives, and experiences of Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z couldn’t be more different. The world I grew up in is not what our students are experiencing. To that end, teaching students to address global challenges is key. The hard part is trying to do it with “fresh eyes” and not default to how things used to be. Just look at technology or even the very notion of a “job.” I made it through high school without a computer and was taught to believe that working 40 hours per week for a company was the definition of success.
Today’s world is completely different and students need to be prepared to think broadly and utilize technology as a tool. Today’s high school freshmen never lived in a world without an iPhone. Today’s freshmen are likely to have multiple careers and possibly in fields that are yet to exist. Understanding the rate of change and preparing for a very hard to define future is the biggest challenge for students and educators.
What does it mean to be a successful student at VA?
Moving from where you are towards where you can be. It is the way I try to think as an educator. Meet students where they are and bring them along. From the student side, it means getting involved and embracing what it means to think and learn. If students ask questions and think about what is going on around them, they learn. If they learn, they are better informed human beings who can better understand and interact with the world around them. In a sense, success is individualized and student-driven. Success can mean different things to different people.
This interview is one in a series spotlighting Vermont Academy educators; their unique and innovative classroom approaches; what makes their classrooms successful and what challenges them; and what it means to live and teach at Vermont Academy.