In a typical winter, our classes would usually have the chance to experience a foretaste of the coming year as they “spring ahead”, in order to spend some time with their next teacher. The purpose of “year ahead day” is to sample some of the learning of the next grade’s curriculum and meet another teacher in a different context, so that children can see that their learning occurs along a continuum. Unfortunately, our COVID protocols won’t afford us this opportunity this year.
No matter what the classroom or who the teacher is at Matthews Hall, we all understand that learning seldom happens in discrete steps, but rather in cycles of trial, error, feedback and mastery. Each person learns differently and some have a distinct learning style that requires them to speak their own language differently than others – kinesthetic learners communicate with their energy and bodies; verbal learners use words to great advantage; visual learners observe and imitate with a discriminating eye; and auditory learners must hear, sense and feel in order to interpret the world around them.
Somewhere in this rich tapestry of learning styles, we find your child. Some demonstrate a distinct learning preference and others are a blend. Is it any wonder that teaching and learning is such a complex phenomenon? Which of these equally worthy learning styles leads to success? Do any of them lead to success?
Adam Grant provides some food for thought in his book Give and Take, in which he challenges the traditional belief that success is driven by individual qualities such as passion, hard work, talent, and luck. He asserts that success in today’s world depends more on how we interact with others. Networking, collaboration, influence, negotiation, compromise, and leadership – these are the skills and “talents” that will have a dramatic impact on success at work and in life. In his book, Grant provides compelling examples to support his points. However, I would like to consider one principle that relates especially well to the lessons we give to students in our schools and homes – the dangers and rewards of giving more than you get.
Most of us know intuitively that in any community, there are ‘givers’, those that see a need and offer to help with no strings attached. They are motivated by seeking the common good and they have a perspective that looks for unity without a personal agenda. Grant shares real-world stories of venture capitalists, business people and others who create win-win scenarios that would simply not exist unless the individuals involved understood how to work collaboratively and earn respect by setting aside the “self”. He contrasts ‘givers’ with ‘takers’ and argues persuasively that ‘takers’ strive to get as much as possible from others, seldom looking for ways to contribute unless there is something in it for them. In the middle, we find the ‘matchers’, who aim to trade evenly in a tit-for-tat world – a tedious existence of keeping track and keeping score. I am sure we have all experienced each of these in life.
But, which of these aligns more compatibly with our school’s mission and values?
Kate Matthews should really be the foundation on which we discuss any goals or vision for our school, especially as we imagine strategic next steps in a post-COVID world. She memorably remarked that children should be taught how to live “sanely and happily with contemporaries, learning to face life bravely and with joy, whatever it may bring”. What a great and universal perspective! There is no doubt that Kate herself was a ‘giver’ and not a ‘taker’.
Personally, I think she would say that true success cannot overlook the qualities that equip young people to live that kind of ‘happy’ life that encourages them as human beings to work and play well together without keeping track – all while doing their possible job.
Perhaps this should be the overarching goal for success in school and in life, as we chart our school’s course for the future!
Ric Anderson, Head of School