Head of School Blog
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.
Once again, I realize that one need look no further than 5th Grade Leadership Class for inspiration about being our best possible selves. After introducing some activities this week that gave the students a chance to explore the difference between equality and equity, we asked them to write down their reflections about this important topic. Here's just a small sampling of what they had to say:
In your own words, please explain the difference between equity and equality.
Equality is where everyone gets the same attention or the same matter. Equity is where each and every student gets the attention or matter THEY need. The difference between these two is that they are both matters for what each student needs to be their best possible selves.
Equality is when everyone gets treated the same, and equity is when everyone gets what they need. One example of this is at my summer camp. A lot of girls want to do waterskiing. So, some of the girls get to do the activity one week, and the others get to do it the second week. This is not equality because not all the girls go the first week. This is equity, though, because every girl gets a turn to waterski.
Equality means everyone gets everything the same. For example, Bob and Joe both got to go to the movie theater even though Bob did his chores and Joe didn't. However, equity means fair, i.e., everyone gets what they need or deserve. For example, if Bob did his chores and Joe didn't, it wouldn't be fair or equitable if Bob and Joe both went to the movie theater. However, if only Bob went to the movie theater, it would be fair or equitable, but not equal or the same.
When have you experienced equity and/or equality in your own life?
An example from my life is when my dad takes all the fries on Friday nights. He says he's two times bigger than I am, so he gets two times the fries. If he's right, that would be equitable, but not equal. I say he is not two times bigger than I am and he's taking too much fries. It's not equal and not equitable. This is an annoying example from my life.
The other day when my friend hurt her leg we were playing a game where two people had to sit and one person stands. The group that she was in, let her stand because it's harder for her to sit down fast. The two people that didn't have a hurt leg were the ones that sat on the ground.
In golf when I play someone better than me I get a handicap which is equitable but not equal.
With "Best Possible Selves" recently announced as our school-wide theme for the year, we asked our 5th graders to tell us a bit about this important idea. Here are a few examples of what they had to say. Do their ideas make sense to you? In what ways does the theme have meaning or relevance in your life? Please return to this Blog page from time to time over the course of the year as we continue to explore this powerful metaphor.
Question 1: How do you know when you're being your best possible self?
I feel like I'm doing the right thing when I am my best possible self. I also feel like things are going in the right direction. I feel confident and passionate. I feel thoughtful too. In addition, I feel like I'm doing the right thing for the right reason.
When I'm being kind and respectful to others I feel like I'm being my possible self. Also, when I stand up for someone or do something nice for someone it makes me feel good because I'm being my best possible self. When someone does something mean to me I always try to do something nice despite their behavior. It's always better to take the higher path. Sometimes it's hard to be my best possible self, but most of the time I try to be despite the fact that nobody's perfect. It also makes me feel like a lot better of a person when I'm my best possible self.
Question 2: How do you know when other people are being their best possible selves?
You can recognize when others are being their best possible selves when they have empathy. In addition they could be thinking hard. On top of that the person could be solving a hard problem. Piggybacking on that, they could be trying out something new, stepping out of their comfort zone. That is what it resembles when I see someone be their best possible self.
I can recognize when others are being their best possible selves by looking at their body language, their expression, and overall how they act. If they are smiling or playing with friends or helping other people, I know they are being their best possible selves. I know when they're not their best possible selves when that person is pouting, being mean, or even just not paying attention to anything. It really all depends on the type of person. Some people may be their best self by just playing by themselves and others may have higher expectations for themselves, and doing different things.
Erika Christakis, author of ‘The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups," has just written a beautiful review in The Washington Post of a new book about parenting: Alison Gopnik, The Gardener and the Carpenter. Well, to be perfectly accurate, the whole point of the book she's reviewing is that "parenting" may be the wrong approach altogether and that people who are raising children should focus less on "parenting" and more simply on "being parents." "To be a parent," as Christakis suggests, "is to be in a loving and nurturing relationship with a young child, not unlike a gardener who tends the soil in which a variety of seedlings are given the ingredients to thrive." If you're raising a child and in any way wondering how to imagine your best possible role, both the book review and the book itself should be of keen interest.
One of the great pleasures of teaching or parenting in 2016 is that the breadth and quality of children's literature has blossomed so beautifully in recent years. Young children love to listen to and follow along with stories, and as they get older their literacy becomes an important foundation of their learning. "Children's books are amazingly flexible teaching tools," explains Byrd Pinkerton in an interview on Boston's own WBUR. "They help millions of kids learn to read and write, of course. But we can also use them to teach kids — and adults — ideas that might otherwise seem overwhelming. Want to teach philosophy? Use Harold and the Purple Crayon. Financial literacy? The Berenstain Bears. Even math is a little easier with help from Pete the Cat."
As the summer draws to a close and we scramble to catch up on our long list of unread books, we can take heart in the fact that some of the world's most profound truths may be revealed in the most accessible of picture books. Take Shrek, for example, a crowd-pleaser for children of all ages. Not only can he be viewed as "an ogre who relishes putrid stews but runs scared from adorable children," he is also a cipher for potentially deeper truths. Pinkerton calls attention to a Professor of Philosophy at Mt. Holyoke College, Tom Wartenberg, in whose class (Philosopy 280: Philosophy for Children) a parallel is drawn between the lessons of Shrek and the complexity of Immanuel Kant. Confession: when I struggled as an undergraduate with Kant's philosophy, I did not realize that some of these mysteries might be revealed through the simplicity and straightforwardness of children's literature. Either way it is inspiring to realize that powerful adults ideas may be formed through direct exposure to compelling, if not silly, literature.
I just came upon a fascinating article in Harper's Magazine by Tom Wolfe. This is a man whose works of fiction have been entertaining readers for nearly fifty years. Among my favorites: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and A Man in Full. In my experience, few contemporary writers are able to weave together such lengthy and enjoyable stories. When I started reading The Origins of Speech, I didn't notice the name of the author, nor did it occur to me that the Tom Wolfe that I knew could possibly have been the author of such an intensely deep probe into language and linguistics. If you've ever heard of Noam Chomsky and wondered about his theory regarding the "deep structure" of language, you will want to luxuriate in the painstaking analysis of Tom Wolfe. For me, this is an enlightening step on the journey of understanding the power and scope of how and what we communicate to each other.