Changing Flat Tires = Education

As a Head of School, deciding what to teach and how to teach it is something I think about every day. A few years ago, I was making my way home in December after a long day when I came upon one of our seniors in the parking lot. She stated that she had a flat tire and had called her father to come help her fix it. I immediately declared, "Come on. You should take care of it yourself!" We marched over to the car where I had her get out the spare and jack to begin the process of changing the tire.

I was feeling pretty smug because after a minute or two she obviously figured it out and realized that the "damsel in distress" routine was not the right approach. Her father drove up a few minutes later and was thankful that I had started her down this path. He was probably also glad he didn’t have to give the "you should take care of yourself" lecture.

After that event, I was feeling pretty good because I had imparted some useful knowledge to one of our students, and it was hands on learning. I was living the mission of the school (Wisdom is more important than knowledge) which is always energizing.

The next day I was eager to share my teachable moment and spoke with a colleague. After hearing my story he shared with me that some cars no longer carry a spare, which he discovered when he had a flat tire when renting a car. He had to call AAA to come out and fix it. Evidently, many manufacturers are removing the spare to increase the fuel efficiency of their vehicles. That prompted me to consider if it is building wisdom to know how to change a flat if spares are going to be eliminated from cars. Is that the wave of the future? Should I be investing in AAA stock?

The field of education has many situations like the flat tire where changes have forced a conversation about approach. For example, there are great debates about teaching handwriting (everybody types these days) or the set-up of libraries (let’s go with virtual books) and even perhaps removing teachers from the classroom (long distance learning). From my vantage point, knowledge is becoming a commodity, and its wisdom which will be the niche for independent schools.

These ideas are all worth discussing and considering although any implementation must be within the context of a particular school community. For example, long-distance learning may have an application to allow some of our students to take courses that we don’t offer. But, the linchpin of Tilton’s outstanding education hinges on the relationships between teachers and students which is something you cannot do in a virtual environment. (Here is a link to a short post on relationships:

Deciding what is useful and what to drop is a difficult task. In many ways, that is the art of education. I think it is likely that spare tires will eventually be eliminated from all vehicles in the next ten years. However, I am definitely going to teach all three of my children how to change a flat tire. Part of this is because I will probably hold onto our current cars for some time, and they all have spares. And, perhaps the lesson is not about actually jacking up the car and loosening the lugs, but about being resourceful and independent with whatever comes your way.

About The Author

Peter Saliba, Head of School, Tilton School

Peter Saliba began as Tilton’s 26th Head of School in July 2012. Peter returns to New Hampshire after most recently serving as the Upper School Director at Berwick Academy in South Berwick, Maine since 2007. At Berwick, he was the primary administrator for a day school of 294 high school students, including managing and developing faculty and staff, driving admissions initiatives and working with parents and the board. Prior to Berwick, Peter was the Assistant Head of School at Sage Hill School in Newport Beach, Calif., from 2003 to 2007. From 1995-2003 he was at Holderness School in nearby Plymouth, N.H., where he began as the Director of Technology and served as a teacher, an advisor, a varsity coach, a dormitory parent and a faculty mentor. He began his career in education as the Director of Technology at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio. He is a graduate of Salisbury School (1985), Middlebury College (1990) and Dartmouth College (2002). Peter lives on campus with his wife, Rachel, and their children, Samantha ‘17, Joe ‘19 and Pete Jr. ‘19