As the staff and students of Oyster River High School (ORHS) returned to being fully in-person this school year, a new face was among them. Smiling at people in the hallways, poking his head into classrooms, and creating a culture of patience and kindness in the school has been John Webb, the new Director of Counseling at ORHS.
Webb arrived as a staff member to the district at the beginning of this school year after working as a school counselor at Goffstown High School for 21 years. Now as the Director of Counseling, Webb is responsible for overseeing the counseling department and making sure that all students receive the academic, social, and emotional supports they need. Even though this is his first year working at ORHS, Webb is not new to the district—he was a student here himself in the 1980s and raised three children who went through the district as well. Webb’s personality and interactions are guided by the principles of patience, kindness, and care for all students.
When I sat down with Webb for an interview, these personality traits were obvious to me as soon as I walked into his office. His walls were covered in affirming posters and art by his children, and his desk held fidget toys and smooth rocks painted by his wife. He told me he decorated it like this because “what I’d like to do for any student that walks into my office is to show them that this is a comfortable place, a safe place, a place where you can grab a fidget or test your stress.”
He added, “if you really want to know me, everything in this office has a meaning or a purpose. If you looked around and you said, ‘John Webb, what does this mean,’ I would tell you. There would be at least a 15 second story with almost everything that you see.” I noticed a Bennington flag hanging behind his desk and asked him about it, and he held true to his word. It had hung in his father’s office for 42 years, and when he retired, Webb asked for it and hung it in his office.
Webb’s father’s influence on him is present in more than just his office decorations. His mother was a psychotherapist and his father was a professor of school counseling, and Webb says his parents have always been his biggest role models. For example, “in a world where masculinity… was mostly tough guys, [my dad] was the kind of guy that when a neighbor was upset because my brother was driving too fast in the neighborhood and said… ‘I got a bone to pick with you,’ my dad would say, ‘pick away.’ He wouldn’t take offense at it. He would just say, ‘let me hear what your concerns are.’”
Because of both who he is and how he was raised, Webb said his talent for counseling comes naturally to him, as kindness and compassion were taught to him from an early age. In Webb’s own words, “I’m the most patient person I know.”
Another valuable asset of Webb’s is the fact that he is a former student and parent of the high school. Webb has found that his knowledge of the school culture and history has helped him form connections as an employee here. As a student, he played on the basketball team, was on the staff of Mouth of the River, and was taught by several legends of Oyster River who he stayed in contact with after graduating. Webb said this background helped him because other faculty could see that “oh, you’re one of us, you know the Oyster River way.”
Webb says that returning to work at the district in which he grew up has been a “homecoming. I felt very welcomed. I felt very comfortable.” He has also rekindled and found many connections at Oyster River, from his students’ former teachers to his own former classmates and now colleagues. He has played music and sang with Mike McCann and Mary Beaton on several occasions, as well as bonding with Dave Hawley, Shawn Kelly, and Scott McGrath over their shared interests in trail running. In just a few months of poking his head into classrooms, leading professional development trainings, and starting up conversations, Webb has created strong bonds with many of the faculty members of ORHS.
But, even though Webb has enjoyed his time at Oyster River, he will not be coming back next year, instead returning to his job as a school counselor at Goffstown High School that he held for 21 years before coming here. “I miss counseling so much, I’m going back to it… I’m kind of bittersweet about that.” Webb continued, “I got a call from my former principal a month ago, and decided that ‘life is too short not to be doing what I love,’ which for the past 23 years, prior to this one, was what I did [as a school counselor].”
“My homecoming was shorter than I hoped, but I’ve had a great ride and I’ve greatly enjoyed my time with the people here,” said Webb. Looking to the future of Oyster River’s counseling department, Webb said, “I would continue to want this department to be the most welcoming place for students, that students of all shapes and sizes and feelings and issues in their life all feel comfortable coming down and getting help.”
It is clear that Oyster River will be losing a wonderful member of our community as Webb returns to Goffstown, but Webb’s legacy of patience and kindness for all students will live on in the counseling department and beyond.