I had a professional development experience recently that spoke directly to what we do as a school to educate the whole child. I attended the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning to develop new strategies to include in our curriculum what is known as social and emotional learning (SEL). In simple terms, SEL instruction helps students recognize emotions in others, manage their own emotions, care about those around them, and act responsibly and ethically.
WELCOME TO THE INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL
Providing a stand-alone division for our 7th and 8th grade students allows them space to grow while they pursue rigorous academic work. Ours is a unique and welcoming environment as students transition to increased academic expectations guided by teachers who particularly enjoy working with this age group. Students enjoy the chance to develop their individual sense of identity, confidence, and leadership capabilities as they prepare for their high school years.
Recently, parents sat down with their child’s teacher for parent-teacher conferences. I believe there are three main ingredients of any successful parent/teacher interaction, especially a conference like this. I ask the teachers to articulate: that they know the child as an individual, that they “like” the child, and that they recognize the child’s areas for growth and a plan for improving the child’s success in those areas.
The teacher who knows your child as an individual recognizes his or her academic aptitude, approach to challenge, social-emotional vicissitudes, and many, many other personal qualities. In short, in the conference parents receive a picture of their child as a member of the classroom community and as a student of their new grade.
This week, Lower, Middle, and Intermediate School teachers came together to discuss the book they all had read this summer: Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. We had wonderful discussions in small groups about the themes of the book and how they could positively affect our work with the children of The Potomac School.
One of our topics focused on our “core values” as a school. Noting that Lower School students have focused on four ideas (respect, responsibility, caring, and trustworthiness), and Middle School students seven wholly different ones based on Tough’s work (self-control, social intelligence, grit, gratitude, curiosity, zest, and optimism), we investigated how these two lists could be reconciled to help create a K-12 set of Potomac core values.
In preparation for upcoming coffees for new Middle School parents, I’ve been interviewing fourth graders. I decided to go directly to the source for the best information on what being in Middle School is like. I asked fourth graders three questions: What’s cool about Middle School? What’s different about Middle School? What, if anything, came as a surprise when you started Middle School?
By far the most frequent answer to both “What’s Cool?” AND “What’s different?” was “the freedom.” Fourth graders seem to relish the ability to walk themselves to different classes, and to walk as a clump, rather than in neat, straight lines. Most gratifyingly, children cited at least 10 times the pleasure they get from “being able to go to the library WHENEVER we need a book.” I just loved the joy children seemed to derive from the nearly unfettered access to books.
Children are striving to make connections with each other hundreds of times a day. These connections occur in a huge variety of ways, from lunchtime conversation, to pairing on a social studies task, to dancing together in music. These interactions are complex indeed, and while we may be “wired” for these interactions, it should come as no surprise that negotiating their complexity is not innate. It seems like the Middle School educator’s life is at times surfeited by conflict resolution discussions that emerge because connection has failed to take place successfully. Connecting well is known as being “socially intelligent,” and we are currently addressing this topic at our Tuesday assemblies.
I sought to approach the topic in assembly by sharing short video “playlets” where feelings are hurt in an failure to connect successfully. I first showed a short video where teachers were the actors, discussing the “villain” of the video, and her reasons for saying things that ultimately hurt anothers’ feelings.