Evolution of the Mission

Connecting at CAIS ECD

Many of you may be familiar with the work of the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970). Maslow articulated a theory of human motivation that he captured in his well-known “hierarchy of needs.” According to my understanding of Maslow, human beings are motivated to fulfill certain human needs before they can fulfill other, loftier needs. Our motivation to fill our bellies and stay warm, for instance, needs to be satisfied before we worry about having awesome hair highlights or crisp sound on our wireless headphones. The highest level of needs that I learned about in my freshman psychology class were called “self-actualization needs.” People who are self-actualized achieve the full realization of their individual potential. Self actualization roughly equates with the pieces of the CAIS mission that encourages students to “become your best self” and “create your place in the world.” 

In the last few years as CAIS has deliberately shifted to more of a “we” orientation, I have often wondered if there was too much “me” in our mission statement. Why, for instance, does the third phrase in our mission define the relationship between individuals and the world in terms of creating my place in it? What about the responsibility of individuals to the world around them? Maslow had this concern too; something that is less well known about his work is that late in his life, he revised and even criticized his own theory of human motivation and added another level at the top of the hierarchy that he called “transcendence needs.” This is significant because Maslow proposed that the highest level of human motivation is not self actualization but of dedication “to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos.”

I asked many, many CAIS faculty and parents about the “me” vs “we” orientation of our school mission during the year long process of developing a new five year strategic vision for our school. What I learned was that I was not the only person thinking about this; overwhelmingly people in our community expressed support for the idea that our children must develop a sense of responsibility toward others. Some even expressed concern and discomfort that their children might be growing up “in a bubble,” and parents very much wanted their kids not only to appreciate their own good fortune but also to parlay the good fortune of a supportive home and an independent school education into service to something other than themselves. Fifth grade teacher and CAIS parent Ron Morris put it this way, “Academics are super important to me, but I want our kids to use their academic skills to be superheros and not super villains.” We seem to be a community that is motivated to fulfill Maslow’s transcendence needs.

After a full year our strategic visioning process is nearing a conclusion; last Saturday the CAIS board of trustees voted to adopt a new five-year strategic vision that will carry us through 2024. I look forward to sharing it with the community over the coming weeks and months. Today I want to share with you our revised mission, which is a reflection of the community’s shared aspiration:


At CAIS, we are committed to inspiring and empowering learners to:
Embrace Chinese
Become our best selves
Contribute to a better world

More to come throughout the year as I roll out and expand on the various pieces of the CAIS strategic vision and talk about what it means for our children.