Happier vs. Happiest: the International Board of Visitors Offers Insight and Wisdom

Pivot. That’s the word of the day. Actually, pivot is the word of the last nine months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit our world, making us rethink almost everything that we do. MICDS’ International Board of Visitors’ yearly meeting pivoted from an in-person event to completely virtual. The Board of Visitors, or BOV, is a group of out-of-town alumni that provides the school with a second set of eyes and hearts, examining a question that the school provides for them. After BOV members study, discuss, and debate the topic at hand, they provide the School a set of recommendations.

This year’s question comes from Jay Rainey’s desire for MICDS to be the “Happiest School in Saint Louis,” which he articulated in his weekly email to the community on April 10, 2020. This year the Board of Visitors received:

  • a varied reading selection on the study of happiness and well-being offered by a host of experts,
  • videos on the subject and its key qualities,
  • recordings of John Prine and Bill Withers that Mr. Rainey described in his letter,
  • a video of, and later live questions and answers with, our students from the Upper School who were selected by their deans as being the happiest in their respective grades,
  • four video modules with writing prompts by happiness expert Dr. Timothy Bono of Washington University in Saint Louis, and
  • two days’ worth of meetings on Zoom to discuss the topic with each other in intimate and productive breakout groups.

With all of that material and time, the BOV dove into the topic and provided the school with the following highlighted insights on how to become a “happier” school. Divided into four pillars, the BOV offered recommendations for the MICDS community (students and “grown-ups,” i.e. faculty and staff):


  • Grades policy (non-disclosure)
  • Strive vs. compete – a focus on personal achievement, competing against self instead of social competition, positive competitive reinforcement.
  • Promote a mindset of embracing the “raw footage of life” vs. “the highlight reel,” and equip the community with tools to responsibly use social media


  • Working against students feeling isolated -> feeling safe/seen and heard
  • More time for play, especially as students get older
  • Don’t assume everyone in the community feels a sense of belonging, address differences of socio-economic groups for students, ensure a sense of belonging with intentional programming and measure it with data
  • Continue to increase the diversity of the faculty and train teachers on cultural competency and belonging

RESILIENCE – Resources to promote resilience

  • Lift up people as role models who did not have a linear path to success, bring in young alumni and older alums, examine how we define “successful” speakers
  • Lectures/seminars from alumni on failing; redefining failure (students, teachers, alumni share stories) – kids have an open field
  • Flip the idea that failure is bad; learn how failure leads to growth


  • Stress management (tools, meditation, prioritization, journaling, goal setting …)
  • Screening tool (5-7 questions) offered at regular intervals for students ie. every other month to detect warning signs

Mr. Rainey and the rest of the administrative team will look for ways over the remainder of the year to begin to think through how we might implement the Board of Visitors’ great thinking. We will also report back to the BOV and the rest of the community on our progress over the next year.