As we begin a new school term, it is an opportunity for students, parents, and teachers to re-group around the priorities for the year’s learning goals. As an elementary school, our goals can be specific or general, but all of them are far-reaching. Feedback, modelling, high expectations, and effort are all important ingredients in the successful achievement of goals for children in the years before high school. These ingredients apply equally to academics and “deportment for learning”.
While the stakes of secondary school are high, so are the habits of mind and habits of behaviour that shape children in the elementary school years. How a child thinks about learning and acts in the learning environment are strong predictors of their future success. And that is why the mastery of self-regulation, community respect, and personal integrity are essential to our purpose – which is to inspire students to become “the best versions of themselves”.
This goal is the essence of the most effective schools and requires the assent of both teachers and parents, who are willing to allow children to experience the logical consequences of their actions, inactions, words, attitudes, and deeds. To be effective, a commitment to this goal must also be free from the angst of well-meaning adults.
Toronto psychologist, Alex Russell, who spoke at our school a few years ago, addressed the topic of parental anxiety and its impact on the formation of children. In his book Drop the Worry Ball (…an excellent read, by the way), he explains how we live in a culture that requires a great deal of “future-oriented anxiety” that is driven by an “anxiety of anticipation” – and he believes this is having an impact on many children today. To assist our kids, he argues that we need to allow them to take on a medium level of anxiety, at least some of the time, in order to become functional citizens, especially in those areas of their lives that are their responsibility in the first place.
According to Russell, there are a few ways to help our children. He advises that in primary and junior grades, we should let homework, school assignments, and school success become the children’s job, not ours. We should be engaged with the School, but we should support teachers’ professional prerogative to set limits, assess work, and impose necessary consequences (without running interference for students !). In Middle School, he urges us to support students’ right to make decisions and insist that they manage their own assignments, materials, responsibilities, and due dates – including allowing them to accept the occasional moments of “non-catastrophic” failure when they make the wrong decision (…what, in the olden days, was sometimes referred to as a “learning experience”).
If we let children accept responsibility for their “jobs”, they will learn an important life lesson. And it will allow us to retire from the role of gatekeeper or manager in their lives – because, after all, we have enough to do and we have already passed elementary school!
Ric Anderson, Head of School