Installation of the Deane Family Dean of Faculty
The Installation of Philip R. Kokotailo as the first Deane Family Dean of Faculty marked the Opening of Winter Term in Hall on 3 January.
In his opening remarks, Headmaster Kerry Brennan expressed gratitude for Carol and Disque Deane—parents of Carl, R.L. Class of 2010—“who endowed a permanent fund to support RL’s Dean of Faculty in his charge to help create a coherent and comprehensive trajectory of educational experiences, with and for our faculty, that will both inform their work with students and contribute to their growth as educators.” The Headmaster then presented Dr. Kokotailo with a framed citation, which commended his passion for literature and commitment to the English Department; his stewardship of faculty; his service as admission officer, debate team supporter, public speaking coach, and advisor; and his fidelity to the school.
In his address, Dr. Kokotailo focused on the concept of mastery, and described his own “department store theory of education” as an illustration of the process of mastery:
“In urban environments like Philadelphia, department stores stood by themselves, and stand they did, reaching upward for many floors. To get from one to the next, you took the escalator… Often, you had to go searching for it. That’s what education felt like to me. For a long time I would have to wander on a level floor of courses, observing the subject matter all around me. Sometimes I would get distracted, or confused, or lost, and have to double back to material I knew for sure. Eventually, I would stumble upon the escalator, the key topic or assignment that would lift me to the next level of understanding. Wandering the floor was time-consuming and often tedious, but finding the escalator was exhilarating. It gave me a sense of relief; it allowed me to look back over what I had just explored; it gave me a moment to relax before tackling the next floor.… I learned to have faith that the escalator was out there somewhere, and I began to keep an eye out for it at all times. More importantly, I realized that the time spent exploring each floor was necessary, so my anxiety decreased. As it did so, I became not only more attentive to my surroundings, but also more appreciative of them.” Dr. Kokotailo referenced author George Leonard, who said that these upward surges are “the inevitable spurts of progress and the fruits of accomplishment” that come from learning to love the plateau, and that “all significant learning” is measured “not in a straight line but in stages: brief spurts of progress separated by periods during which you seemed to be getting nowhere.”
In addition to serving as the Deane Family Dean of Faculty, Dr. Kokotailo is chairman of the English Department. In that role he has led the steady evolution of his department including re-imagining senior electives (offering his own “American in Paris” course complemented by an instructive March Break trip to Paris), and taught sixies, freshmen, juniors, seniors. Dr. Kokotailo did his undergraduate work at Penn, his doctoral work at McGill, and subsequently taught at Trent University, Université Laval, and McGill—all Canadian institutions. In the US he also taught at Blair Academy and University School before joining the RL faculty in 2007.