Boys Need Time

My calling compels me to think about what boys need most at all times. I am often asked “why an all-boys school?” or “what are the benefits of an all-boys school?” These are important questions to ponder, and at the heart of the answer is one simple yet profound concept: Boys need time.

Of all the commodities and resources known to humankind, none are more important than time. While it is our inclination to try and measure time or capture it, what we know for certain is that it is limited and it eludes us. We cannot stop time or make up for lost time – it just rolls on whether we like it or not. In high school, one of my favorite English teachers had a sign by the clock in her room that read, “Time will pass…Will you?” That always hit me.

The good news is we can make the most of time by being present and intentional with our use of time. Therefore, time is the greatest gift we can give to our boys.

Some boys need time in the form of our patience. Few things bring me greater joy than Morning Handshake, and often I find myself telling boys to “take their time” as they are trying to get themselves together to get out of the car and begin their day. The executive function required to start a busy school day with academics, arts, and athletics is no small undertaking, and to do it well takes time (and for some more than others). I like to slow the moment down, eliminate stress, and create a safe space for boys to take their time.

Some boys need time in the form of additional academic time. We all can use support and reinforcement, and this takes time. It may take an hour in the day or an additional year, but whatever it takes, this type of time matters in the long arc of life. In the moment, things seem much bigger than they actually are. As adults, we know that over time, moments level themselves out and perspective matters.

Some boys need time to learn from their mistakes. In all my years as an educator, one thing rings true – when we can devote real time to unpacking situations with boys through constructive conversation, reflection, and understanding, growth occurs. In order for this to be real, it cannot be rushed. So as to ensure that the 35 year old man can remember back to that moment when a caring adult took the time to process his decision making with him when he was a boy, we must carve out the space and time for this to occur. The word “discipline” is from the Latin word disciplina, which means “instruction and training,” and is derived from the root word discere, to learn. All of this takes time – and it is worth every second.

Boys need to be heard, seen, and valued. In this way, their self esteem is affirmed and their identities are validated. For this to happen authentically, some boys just simply need time, whatever it may look like; slow, lingering, conversational time. I know this type of  moment. Listening to our boys share all that they have to share is one of my greatest loves, and often after listening to fun facts and tall tales, the only two appropriate responses I have are “thank you for sharing that” and ““what else?” There is, perhaps, no greater gift we can give our boys than the gift of time. By simply being present without our adult worldly distractions, paying attention, listening, and caring – regardless of the stressors we as adults may be feeling – we find the way. And here’s the thing – we do not get a second chance. Time flies, and before you know it, those boys become men.

Boys need time. Let’s give it to them.

An independent school leader for more than 25 years, Rik Dugan ’98 is currently in his ninth year as Head of School of Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, an independent, K-8 all-boys school located in Princeton, N.J. Rik holds a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Teachers College Columbia University, where he was a Klingenstein Institute Summer Fellow and a member of the Klingenstein 2023 Heads of Schools Fellowship. He was also a Summer Fellow with the Vanderbilt University Peabody College Independent School Leadership Institute. In addition to volunteering for Williams as Class Agent and, previously, as 25th Reunion Leadership Giving Co-Chair, Rik serves on the Board of Trustees of the Historical Society of Princeton, Princeton Nursery School, Princeton Medical Center Foundation, and the Network of Sacred Heart Schools. This commentary previously appeared on Princeton Academy’s Letters from the Head of School blog.