fbpx Kelly M. Flynn | Phillips Exeter Academy

Kelly M. Flynn

Instructor in English
Appointed
2005
The Phillips Exeter Academy seal

"Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own field…
From your work you will be able one day to gather yourself."
—Miguel de Unamuno

Education

M.F.A. University of Iowa

A.B. Harvard College

Biography

When I started teaching English in 1993 (at a rival school which shall not be named), my greatest struggle was with self-consciousness and an anxiety that my students would discover that underneath everything, I was a fraud. An older teacher told me this: Learn to lead with your vulnerability. In time I realized this meant getting out of the way — abandoning the wish to “be right” and making space for students to create and explore. Nowhere is this more possible than at Exeter, with its philosophical orientation toward student-led discussion.

A video (or even a live demonstration) of a Harkness discussion can look very tame, very sedate. And yet there is a tremendous amount of risk-taking going on, which requires a sense of trust in the group. For some people, it is downright social skydiving. So an ongoing professional project for me is putting myself in situations where I am a student again, or where I have to improvise — anything where I am reminded of what it is to feel completely out of my depth. Adventures in recent years have included playing jazz piano, surfing, doing improv comedy, storytelling, and tangoing in Argentina. I’ve met with mixed success, and there is only so much of this high-octane raw adventuring I can take — I promptly scuttle back to my comfort zone of baking, snuggling with my dog, playing the organ and making quilts! The point is, I think it is crucial for teachers, especially in a setting that demands risk on the part of students, to feel the rawness of vulnerability. I feel privileged to walk with students on this journey.