Learning Beyond Academics

This past week sure has been busy and a good microcosm of the school year as a whole so far.  Wednesday in the High School was PSAT testing for the 10th and 11th graders and Group 4 project time for the Seniors.  I was lucky enough to spend my time working with the 9th grade class during this time and we had a blast working as a whole grade level group!  Our 9th grade class is certainly a strong bunch but they are also very nervous about what the future holds for them.  As they look to the future and see college looming they begin to quake ever so slightly.  What are they most worried about?  Academic success?  Yes, certainly.  However, they’re beginning to realize that they’re going to have to make it in this big, scary world on their own and they’re curious about what they have termed “life-skills”.  This revelation has made me step back and think, “what are we doing to prepare our kids to become ‘free-range’ adults?”

Our 9th grade students, when asked what they’re most interested in for mentor time lessons, overwhelmingly said ‘life skills’…but where to start?  And, is four years really enough time to teach them all they need to know?  So we started here, close to home, in our community.  The focus was on community building and the importance of communicating effectively with those around you.  We had lessons on introducing yourself professionally, engaging in conversation with new acquaintances, and discussed the importance of understanding differences (cultural or otherwise.)  Our aim was to start working through some of the things that just don’t seem to get taught within the course of a normal workload during the school day.  This all culminated in a huge pot-luck brunch (life skill: following a recipe and cooking) which allowed them to practice and improve their conversation and community skills, it was awesome and the feedback from the kids is that they really enjoyed and took a lot away from this opportunity.

Take a moment, no matter what level you teach, and think back to your days in school.  Think back beyond university or high school if possible.  Who was that teacher who had the biggest impact on your time in school?  Maybe there are a few names that come up.  Now, WHY did their name come to you so quickly?  What was it that they did to make you remember them after all of these years?  I have a strong feeling that it wasn’t something academic, they may have had a huge impact on your academic success but I would guess that their impact wasn’t specifically academic in nature.  They probably influenced you in more of a ‘life skills’ sense.  In your classroom there are plenty of opportunities for teaching students skills that will transcend your subject area and stay with them further on in their lives.  

Have a look at this article, it’s an interesting view on some things that we may or may not explicitly teach our students during their academic time (some may be more relevant to our context than others.)  How can lessons like these be incorporated into the things you do on a daily basis?  I would also suggest that there are a lot more ‘life skills’ being taught every day in your classes…what are some of those skills?  I’d love to hear from everyone about the amazing opportunities that our students have to grow beyond the classroom!

We Are All Role Models For Others

Last week I mentioned the work we did as grade level teams to prepare for upcoming advisory sessions.  While those discussions were happening I overheard some great conversations about the best ways to get our kids to demonstrate those behaviors that we value the most.  I bit my tongue and let the discussions proceed but over the last couple weeks this has been knocking around in my mind over and over again.

There is a quote (often credited to Gandhi but in reality not his) that says, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  It makes a great bumper sticker, and probably means more if Gandhi said it, but I digress.  Either way, it’s a brilliant idea.  If we want something to be true we can’t just sit around talking about it, we need to live it!  The beautiful (sometimes scary) thing about our position as educators is that we have tremendous influence over the next generation of leaders!

When we choose our lessons and map our curriculums we consider all of the most important and relevant information for our subject areas.  In advisory we’re trying to teach the pastoral care elements that are often missing from ‘academic’ classes.  What about, however, the other stuff?  How do we teach kids to be kind, gentle, polite, respectful, and caring people?  How do we get them invested in their community, motivated to succeed, or excited to take risks?  Well, we can stand in front of a room all day long talking about it…or we can live it and show them!

Prior to Shanghai I worked in a charter school in Houston, Texas called YES Prep.  We had something called our “Thinks and Acts”.  Essentially this was a list of cliches and catch phrases about things, that as adults, we all know.  However, they hung in the hallways from the ceiling where they served as constant inspiration and reminders for our students (and everyone else!)

I was thinking about these “Thinks and Acts” as you were talking in your grade level teams; one in particular.  “We are all role models for others.”  It jumped to my mind almost immediately because I believe so strongly in the fact that we need to, as Ghandi didn’t say, “Be the change we wish to see in the world.”  I think you get where I am going with this; our students watch us, they listen, and they emulate.

I came across this video earlier this week, I love the message in this video.  You’ll notice that this is more than just “Pay it forward”.  The people in this video aren’t experiencing the helpful acts directly, they are watching them happen and then being inspired to act themselves.  This is how we need to live our lives, as though our students are constantly watching, analyzing, and emulating…we need to be the inspiration for our students!  We need to lead by example and set the tone, “We are all role models for others!”

Here is the video, I don’t think you’ll need a VPN because it’s hosted on our school’s server as part of the next Dragon Time.