Sunday, November 6, 2016

Beyond Certificates and Ceremony - Awarding Distinction

Beyond Certificates and Ceremony
Academic Awards

Many parents, students and teachers have posed the question of the purpose of academic achievement awards and the ceremonies where they are given, not to be defensive or offensive, but rather with genuine curiosity and a desire to understand the role and consequence.

We are taking a break from the trimester awards ceremonies this year in the Middle School to engage in an open exploration of the purpose and whether or not the outcome provides a meaningful contribution to a positive school climate. We will continue to recognize students receiving the trimester Loretto Leadership and Spirit awards. That will take place during our MS reflection time after lunch.

We know from research that a positive school climate contributes to higher academic achievement as well as to healthier social and emotional being. We know that recognizing and celebrating academic achievement is not outside of the school’s mission, yet are we recognizing that achievement well and justly. Is there a better way?

If you read the belief statements of faculty and staff, and consider the Loretto School Values of community and justice, there is a force of argument against recognizing less than 1.5% of the student body for excellence in academics each trimester with some students being called forward multiple times each trimester and across the trimesters. The same may be said of recognizing a specific athlete on a team, which we have also put on hold. How is one athlete or one musician in an orchestra to be recognized when the product or purpose is working in collaboration to create an outcome?

For many years now, we have structured the awards ceremony more like a pep rally. The pace is fast, the words few and the applause and cheers frequent. We gather in the Commons and sit in Community Action Teams. One student from each section of a course’s four sections is called forward to receive a certificate and applause. There is minimal space left for additional audience members and we avoid bold announcements of the event on the calendar, which minimizes additional audience. Yet, we surely do not want to minimize the accomplishments of the awardees. The balance is precarious.

How do we fairly choose the recipients when we are continually evolving away from traditional measures of learning, such as scores, organization and behavior, to more progressive ones, such as the capacities to inquire, collaborate, explore and create? When we encourage learning driven by curiosity, are public awards discouraging that sort of learning?

If receiving an academic award in a school career is not a strong indication of future accomplishment, why do we continue with these awards? If receiving an academic award in a school career does not contribute to community and a positive school climate, why do we continue with these awards? Perhaps the reason is that we are part of a culture that embraces competition.

I welcome your perspective and stories. What is the purpose of academic and team awards? What are the consequences or outcomes of awards in our school community and in the lives of students immediately and in the future? How do we choose who receives an academic award and who does not? And how do we recognize the awardee? How do we award social and emotional distinction?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Why a Middle School Diversity Liaison?

Why a Middle School Diversity Liaison?

Middle school students in general want to belong and they try to conform to the norm so that they don’t stand out in a way that marginalizes them socially. They begin to question family values and God’s love. They turn to their peers for determining what is in and what is out in music, language or dress. Some days, a given middle school student is confident and bold and other days unsure and fearful. In fact, in one hour, a middle school student can flip flop multiple times between self-assurance and none at all. Every visible and invisible aspect of a human being during these years is changing – body, brain, and chemistry.

We know that middle school students are powerhouses of creative energy and capable of being more than followers. We know they are capable of standing alone and of standing up for the underdog. We also know how social pressure can sap creativity and make the heroism of standing alone or for the underdog difficult. That’s why we continually review ways to help students navigate one of the most dramatic and significant developmental periods of their lives so that they come out on the other side with a base of resilience, empathy and informed convictions.

When Cheri Buxman was assigned exclusively to the Middle School, she offered to add to her roles as an art and religion teacher the task of additional research and support of activities that more intentionally engage students in leadership development, empathy and how to handle conflicting viewpoints. These are the sorts of activities that underlie the MS religion curriculum, community action team experiences, overnight trips, and academic delivery. We can always learn more and do more to develop emotionally and socially smarter kids.

The title of diversity liaison was applied to the role because the goal is to provide students with additional tools and experiences to learn about and from emotional, social, religious, economic, racial and cultural differences, and to discover that for every difference there is a similarity. This goal strengthens students’ sense of personal identity and place in the world.

That middle school students are looking for ways to belong and not yet sure who they are, is a given. They can be extremely kind to and tolerant of one another and selves at times, and at other times, they can be cruel, thoughtless or unforgiving. We see this in the lunchroom or on the playground. We hear it in anecdotes from students and parents. So, we are adding one more resource to further facilitate the good work of building emotional intelligence.

The diversity program goals support student capacity to:

·      Live the Loretto school values – Faith, Community, Respect and Justice
·      Act for the underdog, and even heroically, through the power of empathy  
·      Establish valued identity through keener self and other awareness
·      Build and shape experiences in CAT, service outings and on trips
·      Live and lead more intentionally

These goals are not new to SMA’s Middle School program. Having a diversity liaison who can broaden and deepen our ability to nurture emotional intelligence is a bonus for which we are grateful. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Middle School Dating


In Middle School, some girls and boys ask each other to go out or date. Going out or dating is synonymous with going steady from a previous generation.

Going out does not usually mean actually going out on a date, nor is going on dates recommended for middle school students. If the girl and boy agree to go out or date, there is an agreed upon allegiance that may last for a day, several weeks or even months. The two individuals who are dating may sit together at lunch or reflection. Sometimes they are just good friends and other times there is a romantic aspect.

The teachers and administration at St. Mary’s Academy Middle School are aware that dating or going out is part of social development in the middle school years for some students. We do not encourage it.

Dating or going out in middle school can have negative repercussions on the formation of identity, but may not. At the least, middle school dating is academically and socially distracting. Often the middle school students who date are perceived as popular. Being popular brings a pressure to maintain an image that may feel false. Often dating is at the center of social drama.

There are studies that support the delay of dating. Following, is one link that might lead to others if you are interested in exploring the findings. My experience and observations as a middle school educator lead me to strongly recommend that parameters for young love be thoughtfully considered and applied.

·      Make yourself available for or initiate discussions about ‘dating’ or going out.
·      Inform your child of your position and expectations in regards to going out. Do you allow it? What behavior do you expect? What are the parameters? (While your child would say the opposite, the majority of parents discourage romantic alliances in middle school.)
·      Provide your child with ways to say no to a request to go out. Many children do not know how to say no. They worry about hurting feelings or being put down by others. Give them permission and words to refuse. You can give them permission to use your disapproval of going out as a reason to say no.
·      Prepare your child for refusals should he/she ask someone to go out. Respecting another’s right to refuse is a valuable social skill and allows room for friendship to flourish afterward.
·      Set boundaries for your child if you do allow him/her to go out.
It is not recommended that you allow your middle school child to go on a date such as to the movies or to the mall without adult proximity. Allowing a couple or a mixed group to hang out in the basement out of earshot and without intermittent parental presence is not recommended.
·      Discourage pre-arranged dates at school socials and mixers. These events are more enjoyable for everyone when the group is fluid.
·      Be aware that in middle school, good friendships can become troubled when one of the two develops a boy/girlfriend relationship and the other does not. The one without the boy or girlfriend may feel left out, frustrated, or irritated with his/her friend’s preoccupation and lack of attention. Be a good listener for your child’s dismay or sadness.

Tomorrow, for a middle school student, everything changes. The academic, emotional, and social development among this age group is dramatic.

There are no one-size-fits-all rules. Friendships can change from day to day. Moods change quickly. Listen to your child and provide suggestions and strategies for him/her to implement. Empathize, but do not over-react.

Set boundaries. Your child will of course say, “But everyone else is allowed.” That isn’t true. A few others are allowed. Trust yourself as a parent. Help your child with boundaries whether it is in regards to dating or any of the complex issues he/she faces.