|Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell|
Prepping the Whole Student for Life’s Blows
Part V in a Series on Empowerment and Potential
Humans find great joy in getting better at something. It is probably not an exaggeration to state that the evolution of our species depends on this characteristic being passed along from generation to generation. For example, our entire educational system, when working properly, should ultimately empower students and move them towards their potential. Drawing on a wide variety of resources and discussions with staff at Currey Ingram Academy, I am writing a series of Extra Credit articles for the 2015-2016 school year on the topics of empowerment and potential as they relate to education. The articles focus on how individuals and groups can take purposeful steps towards empowerment on the road to achieving their potential.
In the August Extra Credit article I asked, “What if we focus on what is right?” In September, I asked, “What if we maximized our talent?” For October, I investigated the idea of mastery. In November, I speculated that creativity ought to be emphasized even more in all educational organizations. For December, I would like to explore the important role that schools can play in helping students deal with life’s most difficult situations.
My family is spread across North America. Over my 21-year career that has taken me from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Nashville, Tennessee, with stops in Indianapolis and Tuscaloosa on the way, it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s been a challenge to gather with family over Thanksgiving.
This is why I was so happy this year when we made arrangements for my mother, father, brother, uncle and aunt to celebrate Thanksgiving with us in Nashville. My mother and father drove down from Brandon, Manitoba; my brother flew in from Victoria, British Columbia; and my uncle and aunt drove from Knoxville.
It had been 20 years since my mother had seen her brother, and she cried tears of joy when she found out she would see him again.
We had a glorious visit. My mother, father and brother came in a few days before Thanksgiving and were able to attend the Currey Ingram Academy Grandparents Day, which was a treat for us all (and the first time they’d visited a school I was working at while in session).
My uncle and aunt came on Thanksgiving Day and left the next day. We ate, played games and spent hours catching up and telling stories. As usual, my uncle amazed us all with his recollection of who in the family did what, with whom and when. Just like old times.
The day after my uncle and aunt went back to Knoxville, we got the news that my uncle had suffered a massive heart attack and passed away. He was 55 years old.
We were in shock and disbelief. After so many years, we had just had a just-like-old-times family gathering and tragedy happened … the very next day.
How does one make sense of this? I suppose you really do not make sense of it. Life is beautiful, and life is difficult.
What Can Schools Do?
Sadly, our students will also face similar realities. Schools must help educate the whole child so they also can handle such body blows.
I have long believed in the hidden curriculum. Often, when adults are asked to reflect on seminal moments in their educational experience, they recount events that really had nothing to do with formal instruction. The hidden curriculum is everything that happens in schools beyond formal instruction.
Character education, for example, is essential. High praise goes to schools that carve out time to reflect on character, morals and ethics.
As an example, Currey Ingram requires all students in grades K-12 to formally study character education. Just last week, I was observing a teacher who was instructing an Upper School Ethics class. The lesson was part of a larger unit on values. During this lesson, the students were meaningfully reflecting on their values.
What values do they have? Why do they hold particular values? Can they explain why they hold such values? Can they defend their values?
It was a very powerful conversation. In one segment, the students were asked to react to morally ambiguous scenarios and apply their values.
For example, they discussed the work / family balance. The teacher asked the students to think about what they would do if they valued both family and work. It is in a setting like this that we could ask students to reflect on any number of moral dilemmas, not exclusive of situations such as the death of a family member or another emotional crisis.
Service learning is another way to help prepare students for life’s ups and downs. Students in all grades at our school are involved in helping others who are less fortunate than themselves. This might mean gathering necessities, visiting children who need support, packing food for the hungry or even building a home through Habitat High. This exposure to the complexities of life will only help students to handle their own ups and downs and to always be mindful of others.
My uncle was an educator for part of his life, and I think he would appreciate this message. If we can teach our students to reflect on and live out their values and to respond empathetically to others’ needs, we can know we have done a good job in educating the “whole child” and in empowering our students to live up to their fullest potential.
I want to wish all of my readers a safe and meaningful holiday season with friends and family. I know I treasure mine.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell is the head of school for Currey Ingram Academy. “Extra Credit” is provided each month by Currey Ingram Academy to help parents at all schools and at all stages of the parenting journey.
Currey Ingram Academy is a private K-12 day school for bright students with learning differences and unique learning styles. For more information, click here.