Necessary Mess?

Independent School Management’s research on admissions suggests that a student is more likely to select a school if he perceives it as a respectful environment that provides him the opportunity to engage in adult-like decisions. While it should be a given that all students are treated in a respectful manner, I wonder if our boys have the opportunity to make “adult-like” decisions at UCC?

At first glance, it is easier to see decision-making moments in the co-curricular program because that’s where students can make decisions in drama, music, service, and publications as well as athletics. These judgments are “real” because their outcomes affect others.  For example, the editor of the school paper can squash an article or put it on the front page, in the same way that a catcher can call for a pitch, a defensive line-up, or an intentional walk.

I wonder, though, if we might benefit from giving students, especially our older boys, even more opportunities to make decisions. Years ago, a mentor teacher offered me this bit of advice, “If the students can do it, no matter what it is, they should try.” This was at a boarding school that allowed the grade 12 students to help run the food service. As a result, potatoes were sometimes overcooked, and dinner was often a few minutes late, but that was a small price to pay for giving those students the chance to flex their developing leadership muscles.

I wonder, too, if our intense focus on achievement and assessment inadvertently undermines our ability to endure the necessary mess of adolescent growth?


One thought on “Necessary Mess?

  1. I couldn’t help myself. Your message strikes at the chord of learning – and what gets in the way of learning. Some folks think if something is too practical – too authentic – it must be an “applied” learning – something less than ‘academic’. This couldn’t be further from what most of the educational research claims. When leadership is viewed as an ‘extra-curricular’, an option, it is perceived as ‘other’, or ‘not applicable’. It might be a nice anecdotal comment on a report card, but clearly it does not match the status of the ‘academic subjects’ that are given a different currency. On the other hand, when leadership, character, organization…are considered co-curricular pursuits, they must be subjected to the same rigorous criteria for exceptional practice as academic subjects are – and I look forward to the day when more schools take steps towards such re-visioning. It’s great to have the words on the walls and a generous extra-curricular offer, but when a curriculum is too crowded there is no time left to become a leader. How many leaders work on eight projects (subjects) at a time? Making it ‘real’ requires some huge changes in the way school is done. A great conversation to begin….

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