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Best Possible Selves 15

Monday, January 2, 2017

By any measure, the children of The Chestnut Hill School are quite remarkable young people. Inquisitive, enthusiastic, perceptive, and affable, they represent the best of our educational ideals and inspire us to provide the best possible programs and services. As individuals our students are self-motivated, self-aware, and eager to take advantage of a challenging and dynamic curriculum; as classmates and friends they are supportive of each other’s accomplishments, mindful of the ways in which their collective diversity is a great strength, and proud to think of themselves as members of a vibrant and inclusive community.

Let’s imagine for a moment that this preview is both a description of real students and a prescription for how these students can become their best possible selves. Indeed, this dual perspective lies at the heart of our job as educators and parents. On the one hand, we need to believe that formal schooling can bring about meaningful and concrete outcomes that would otherwise not be possible: literacy, numeracy, informed creativity, civic awareness, social and cultural competence, etc. On the other hand, we need also to believe that the children with whom we work are already capable of great outcomes.

Every skilled teacher faces this duality on a daily basis. If we didn’t believe unconditionally in the natural goodness of our students, we wouldn’t believe in their ability to reach for high standards of performance. However, it we didn’t believe that we could make a difference in our teaching, then we wouldn’t work so hard to create connections with them and to coordinate so fully with our teaching colleagues. There is little doubt that the education of a child is an enormously complex undertaking, and in our ongoing efforts to help young people to become their best possible selves we must have a keen understanding of biology, psychology, social science, cognitive theory, and pedagogy.

I am humbled in the realization that great teachers are knowledgeable about these each of these important aspects of human development. To care about a child’s growth is not only to be invested in his or her total experience, but also to understand the myriad ways in which the various elements of curriculum are all interconnected. More difficult math problems result neither in stronger mathematicians nor in more successful people. Conflict-resolution skills are important but do not in themselves help children to form secure notions of identity. And as much as homework can be a positive extension of learning, it is clear that self-initiated play is sometimes an equally powerful catalyst for growth.

I use these examples merely to highlight some specific measures by which we might agree that Chestnut Hill School students are indeed remarkable: math achievement, secure identify-formation, and self-initiated play. As our teachers and families work together toward the goal of encouraging best possible young people selves, I am heartened by the evidence of such success.