Head of School Blog
Our school generally holds assemblies each Friday morning, often showcasing the work of a particular grade and sometimes highlighting the work of an outside artist or performer. With the whole school sitting together in a common assembly space -- students and teachers, it is quite an integral component of school life.
Organized and hosted by our Equity and Social Justice Team, this week's assembly was designed to showcase student voices across the grades. While the youngest students displayed posters illustrating affinities, family members, and important feelings, the older students introduced poetry and visual art as means by which to express themselves even more fully. Thanks, first, to collaboration by homeroom teachers and specialists alike -- art, Spanish, woodworking, music, technology, and library, this event was truly an example of our students at their best possible selves. Thanks, also, to visionary curriculum design, the students took full advantage of this opportunity and taught each other a great deal about human universals: not just about what is important on the outside, but also about what is important on the inside. Thanks, finally, to our strong tradition of public speaking, the children certainly held teachers and each other spellbound for the duration of the program.
This morning's Boston Globe features two pieces on will and willpower. The lead article on the front page features the challenge for a family and their doctor in facing a seemingly unsolvable cancer diagnosis. This story is presented in serial fashion, this week's installment serving merely as the first of five chapters (written and audio). The idea here, familiar to each of us, I imagine, is that there is something inside us -- we choose to call it "will" -- that sometimes refuses to give up or to accept outcomes that we deem not to be acceptable. No doubt this is a viable strategy for becoming better versions of ourselves: not giving up, believing strongly in better outcomes, trusting scientifically that research and collaboration can lead to unanticipated solutions. Another interesting piece appears in the Sunday Magazine, affirming the importance of willpower but suggesting that it alone may not be enough. "We need, Adler says, to realize we're not just a character in our life stories, we're also the narrator," writes Janelle Nanos, staff writer for the Globe. Together these two pieces make for some fascinating Sunday morning contemplation about the relationship between using our willpower and being our best selves. Happy reading!
Professor Howard Gardner of the Harvard Graduate School of Education has been an iconic force in educational theory for many decades. Indeed, his publications on topics such as Multiple Intelligences, Frames of Mind, and Good Work have influenced the thinking of most educators currently in the field. I have read Professor Gardner's book entitled "Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed" and have been aware of his sincere interest in ethical issues. Indeed, with the "Good Project" at Harvard focused on finding the intersection between excellence and ethics, what better place to begin a conversation about best possible selves. This morning I came across a surprisingly unusual post-election blog post from Professor Gardner and commend it to your attention.
I did not consciously realize how much I admired NPR's Gwen Ifill until today when commentary about her life began to stream so forcefully across our media. Moreover, based on the fact that I saw in her such an elegant combination of physical vitality and intellectual courage, I had no idea that her health was failing. Intelligent, humane, eloquent, discerning, fair-minded, patient, humble, inquisitive, and seemingly indefatigable: these are the qualities that I and so many of us identified in her. When I think of a life well lived -- a best possible life, so to speak -- it is hard to imagine coming much closer to the mark than this. I'm honored to add my voice to the many hundreds of others in fond tribute to a remarkable journalist and iconic symbol of the power of a free press.
As schoolchildren in northeastern Massachusetts wake up this morning to the unexpected news of last night's election results, one imagines that they will be curious and potentially confused. They know that people in an open society are supposed to disagree about important things (indeed, this is one of our highest ideals), but it must be confusing to them when adults are quite so disagreeable with each other. Despite the unpleasantness of this election season, there is nonetheless a shared understanding that a deeply divided electorate must become better at disagreement. Elementary school teachers work on this with their students all the time, and perhaps in their wisdom there is opportunity for a teachable national moment. We want to empower our students with conviction and self-belief, but never in this process do we wish to diminish the legitimacy of others' ideas and feelings. Looking ahead, I do believe (as Mandela suggests) that education can create a pathway both for personal and for national reconciliation. My strongest hope is that all adults -- teachers, parents, elected officials, and others -- will strive at all times to role-model their best possible moral and spiritual qualities.
12 members of our family community participated this evening in a panel discussion entitled "Realizing Pluralism at CHS: An Exchange of Insights." Organized and moderated by our DEI Advocate, Dr. Carlos Hoyt, the aim of the evening was to move from diversity to pluralism or, as stated in the promotional material, from the collecting of "different kinds of a thing or things (objects or organisms) and placing them together in one place" to "the intentional effort to foster a meaningful synergy among the members."
During the discussion I became aware of two different meanings of the word "plurality." In the context of tonight's program I understand that "plurality" stands out as a high-level goal, a veritable thing-in-itself, almost even a holy grail. However, in light of the fact that we are approaching a national election where a "plurality" of voters may determine the direction of our country, I realize that there is another meaning to the word altogether. I'm not sure how these two meanings connect, but I suspect that the point of intersection lies somewhere on the vector of Best Possible Selves.
Similarly, and quite by coincidence, I became aware recently that there are two different ways to think about the word "equity." On the one hand, equity refers to the social or psychological framework of justice and fair play. Here at CHS and in other schools committed to social justice education this is a central theme. But equity also refers to the financial framework of owning a stake in something possessing monetary value. Again, I'm not sure how these two meanings may overlap entirely with each other, but I feel confident that there is something powerful about the relationship between Best Possible Social/Psychological Value and Best Possible Monetary Value.
One of the challenges in being our best possible selves is in confronting the fact that others often hold impressions of us that are not necessarily accurate. Sometimes these false impressions are completely benign, but sometimes they can be both limiting and destructive. Leaving aside the question of how these impressions are formed, it is still important to develop enough of a positive self-concept so as to be able to neutralize those moments when we are marginalized or misperceived. The Lab Decoy showcases this phenomenon in a unique and memorable way.
In attending an annual conference recently for Elementary School Heads, I learned about a list of six qualities that are seemingly aligned with happiness and success. These are called the "Super Six," and I credit Charlie Jones from the Brand Intersection Group for bringing them to our attention. I believe the research itself derives from an organization called the Conscious Leaders Forum. According to this line of research, the following traits are worthy of some serious consideration both for children and for adults in leadership positions: reframing, resiliency, hope and goal-setting, emotional maturity, self-efficacy, and grit and determination. I found these ideas relevant for myself personally, and I commend them equally to anyone interested in the education of young children.
This weekend's School Carnival was a compelling example of how children and adults can achieve greatness by working together and by embracing the ways in which their two worlds can connect. How else might we explain the fact that virtually all of the children are in attendance on a Saturday afternoon or that virtually all of their teachers and parents are signed up to serve in a volunteer capacity? Although most of what we do as an elementary school is centered on learning, the School Carnival is a notable exception. This is a day purely for fun, an all-out extravaganza that could not sustain itself for such a long time without such a magical partnership between children and adults. Children are experts at playing with each other and generally have little need for adults in order to have a good time. However, based on my observation of events like the Carnival, I believe that children are actually capable of having an even greater time by playing together with adults. Maybe this is merely a function of the novelty, I'm not sure. But I am convinced that the simultaneous sharing of "best selves" behavior makes it possible for children and adults together to enjoy the special magic of play.
In Leadership Class this week we discussed the ways in which children and adults face a common challenge in striving to be their best possible selves. More specifically, we talked about being inspired by the positive behavior of others and acknowledged the relationship between one person's actions and the overall well-being of a group. This part of the conversation was both planned and purposeful.
Then something happened that was quite remarkable, something that speaks to the heart of any good teaching. Because we were willing to listen carefully to the children and take seriously their understanding of "best possible selves," we realized that there was another consideration that we had not anticipated, an issue deeper and potentially even more interesting than the original lesson plan itself. Although this part of the conversation lasted merely 5-10 minutes, the two questions that emerged are relevant for all of us:
- Do children and adults earn "best possible self" status in the same way or in different ways?
- Do children and adults not earn "best possible self" status in the same way or in different ways?
We have asked the children to respond in writing to these questions for their next Leadership Class assignment, and their results will be published in my next blog entry. I would neither underestimate their wisdom nor the potential for this prism to shed great light on our our virtues.