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Meet Commonwealth Faculty and Staff: Josh Eagle, Dean of Students

You can pick Dr. Eagle out from a Commonwealth crowd by his snazzy ties, which have become somewhat legendary around our halls. As Dean of Students, he brings his expertise in adolescent development to bear in virtually every facet of school life, from academics to social offerings to disciplinary matters. His ultimate goal? To help students “reach their fullest potential academically, socially, and emotionally.” Trained as a clinical psychologist, Dr. Eagle came to Commonwealth in 2018. 

Keep reading to learn more about this fixture in our community—and why those ties are more than just a fashion statement.

Getting to Know You

What's bringing you joy right now?  

The “upside” of the pandemic is that I’ve been getting to spend more time with my family. It has been tough, sure, but I think I will look back on this time with happiness that I was able to be a lot more present for my kids [Stella, seven; Max, four; and Leo, two] than I might have been otherwise.

What is your favorite book (or book you've re-read)?

My favorite book of all time is The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I've read it at several points in my life, and it's offered inspiration and guidance each time. Right now I'm reading A Light That Never Goes Out about The Smiths and loving it. And I just finished Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin, who's a great Scottish crime writer.

What do you think is the most intriguing paradox? 

I don't know if it quite fits the definition of paradox, but something I often share with students is the notion that exercise gives you energy even as it uses energy up. When you’re feeling rundown, exercise is often the last thing you want to do. And yet, if you can summon the energy to do it—like, to just go for a run—you're often left with more energy than when you started.

What do you do for fun?

Speaking of exercise, I like to run five or six days a week. You might spot me every once in a while jogging along the Charles during a free period in the school day. I like light-hearted humor, too; at this moment, I'm very much enjoying Schitt's Creek. And in non-COVID times, I like traveling with my family to the beach and places like that.

Tell us about your legendary tie collection.

So, I suppose it's become something of a trademark of mine, but it actually goes back to my dad, who is a big inspiration to me. He’s also a clinical psychologist, and I remember when I was starting out in this profession, he told me to always wear a tie when you're practicing because it shows people that you’re professional and respect those with whom you work. I've worn a tie to work ever since, just about every day. To me, it's about acknowledging to the people that I'm with that I take them seriously, and that I'm here to work on their behalf. 

What led you to the field of psychology?

My parents are in the mental health field, and in both my family of origin and in a lot of my early friendships, I've historically been someone who was the listener, someone people talk to naturally. That certainly came in handy in high school, for better and worse. I just try to listen and help solve problems when I can. 

I studied psychology in college, as well as creative writing and literature. After being rejected from every grad school I applied to my senior year, I ended up pursuing writing and editing, and I'm profoundly happy with how that played out. I got to have a whole career in a field I enjoyed before I finished my professional education in psychology. 

I often tell students, if I had gone straight to grad school from college, I wouldn't be half the psychologist I am today, because I really needed to have the experience of it not working out the first time and finding success in another field. Then, I got to come back to it when I was actually ready. 

Working at Commonwealth

What led you to Commonwealth in particular?

I’ve always known that I wanted to work with kids and their families, and that was a driving motivator in my education and professional development. I was lucky to have a couple of really good mentors who helped me see just how valuable it is to have a male clinician who's interested in working with kids, because there are so few of them. I ended up training at a community mental health center that I loved—I thought I would spend my entire career there, actually. I got to go out into the community and meet and work with people wherever they were. At one point I ran a homeless shelter for adolescent males. I really, really loved it. 

One of the things I liked best was training new clinicians, and Eben Lasker [Commonwealth’s school counselor; get to know him] was one of my interns. He's a deeply thoughtful clinician, and he was just wonderful to work with. Then he moved on to Commonwealth and told me all about the school. Long story short, I did some investigating and eventually applied for an open position myself. After two full days of interviews with very robust representation of the community, I was sold.

It was clear to me from the outset that everyone—every stakeholder, in some way—was tied to the mission of the school. They cared very deeply and worked very hard. To me, that's more valuable than just about anything: to have colleagues with that kind of allegiance to the mission and dedication to what you're doing, and students that engaged as well. It's so motivating to know that everyone in the building is working hard towards the same goals. So I took the leap, and I was very happy to have done so. 

What do you wish people knew about the work you do?

People often have varied preconceived notions about what therapy is supposed to be, particularly for teenagers. While they may have different approaches, a good therapist tries to tailor the experience to what the client needs. Therapy is a co-created experience, and the person coming in to see me really determines the structure.

I just met with a new kid who told me he was really happy with his first session, because he assumed I was going to try to pry everything out of him the first time we met, and that's never the case. Yes, sometimes, people want to get everything on the table right away, but it's not necessarily a therapist's job to pull things out of you that you're not ready to share. 

You’re part of the Disciplinary Committee too; what does that entail?

Part of my role involves disciplinary matters, which sounds more intimidating than it is. I want people to know that my door is always open, and I'm here to help, and I think discipline is an extension of that. You’re protecting the community by checking problematic behavior. And I like to think my background lends itself to handling disciplinary matters in a more thoughtful way. Everything I know about adolescent development informs the disciplinary decisions that are made, so I think it's a good skill set for the role, even if it's not a job any of us really enjoy having to take on.

Anything else you want people to know?

My job really is about helping students develop their entire selves and figuring out ways to identify and overcome challenges. I want every kid at Commonwealth to reach their fullest potential academically, socially, and emotionally. 

I understand that, especially among teenagers, there may be a sort of innate skepticism towards adults and systems. I think back to when I was a teenager, and I had a couple of teachers I was close to, but I would have benefited greatly from a concerned adult’s presence, someone dedicated to just helping me sort things out, just acting as a resource. I want students to know that we're here, and we're trying to be as attuned to their individual needs as possible. And they can come to me and Mr. Lasker at any time.

We also encourage them to meet directly with their teachers proactively and when they're having challenges in class, because that's a hallmark of becoming an adult: being able to identify your needs and struggles. If you leave Commonwealth knowing how to advocate for yourself with adults and peers, we’ve succeeded, and I know that will benefit you for the rest of your life.

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