Happy November, and welcome new readers Brenda, Rachel, Amy, and Mikayla!
No additional updates this week on our facilities due diligence, but remember, these things take time. Here’s a few thoughts and shares from the past 7 days.
Free food and free feedback.
So, I got to be a bit of a mooch on Wednesday night. It was a bit ironic to stumble upon Facebook event for a “Parent Focus Group” around education. But, since I’m 1) a parent, 2) not averse to a free meal, and more importantly, 3) very interested to listen in on other local parents’ opinions about education on someone else’s dime, I happily signed up. (I also wanted to learn who was behind this – an existing school, another new school startup, a community group, or something else completely?!? Turns out it was an existing school, and we’ll say a private school in Muskegon County is specific enough for this tale.)
Other than humorous bits where our hosts were schooled on how Tri Cities parents think (yes, the bridge is a thing, Grand Haven peeps really won’t commute more than 15 minutes to anywhere), what struck me most about the conversation were all these unreconciled dichotomies that parents are struggling with. For instance, a parent felt that having a large number of opportunities was really important, by allowing more kids a better chance to find their interests and passions. But the same parent lamented a lack of downtime, heightened busy-ness and stress, and a lack of family time too. Other things mentioned were a desire help students’ find their calling – but at the same time, not pressure them to “pick something” at a young age.
For me, the related thread between these two examples of trade-offs is scale. On the one hand, too many opportunities are just too big. Want to play sports? Better train year-round and join a private league if you want to make varsity. (Not true in every case, but certainly legit for the more competitive ones.) Many extracurricular activities are oriented around the goal of being the most excellent at what they do. Very few are oriented around giving kids exposure, a try, or time to dabble. So, they tend to be big – more practice time, more involved, more commitment. On the flip side, since we do value exposure and want kids to “try things”, there are another whole set of experiences that are too little, too shallow. Take a career quiz. Do a job shadow. Now, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” In those cases, the activities are too small – and when you push a large number of kids through small-sized experiences they usually become meaningless, bureaucratic, or both.
If instead you can meet each student as an individual, and help them build a path that starts in the playful dabbling of “I wonder if I’m interested in this” but then supports them to seek more experiences as their interest grows, it keeps things at just the right scale for that individual – neither requiring that any one interest become their all-consuming “thing”, nor wasting their time with one-size-fits-all ‘drive-by’ experiences. Then we can help every kid to find their talents and passions, while maintaining a balance of doing and simply being – taking downtime for self-reflection, balance, and yes, mental health.
From EdWeek (paywall), “Educators have the unique opportunity to shape the next generation of adult listeners by modeling effective listening with their current students. Teachers and administrators often claim we encourage students to advocate for themselves. But, the question is: When students advocate for themselves are we actually listening?” Here were their seven tips (hint – replace “student” with “your child” and you’ll see these work equally well for parents!):
Keep an open mind and assume positive intent.
Be present, (as hard as it may be) and don’t multi-task when talking to students. If a student approaches you at an inopportune time, offer another time to talk and follow-through on that meeting.
Ask unbiased questions (Can you tell me more? What makes you think that? Why did that happen?) rather than leading questions (Did you hear what I said? Did you forget again?)
Respond to student responses with additional questions rather than statements (What would happen if you did that? What does that look like to you?)
Try not to take student comments about expectations or assignments personally, (when will we ever need to know this?) and refuse to become defensive. Instead, ask questions to try to understand the impetus for why students make such comments. Look at the comments as suggestive feedback. Maybe something can be done.
Don’t be quick to offer a solution. Instead, collaborate with students to problem-solve.
Seek to understand your students before you ensure their understanding of you.
Thanks for your interest, excitement, and support of what we are doing. The student interest forms keep coming in, particularly those looking to join our 9th grade in the fall. That’s great news, helping demonstrate the desire and need for this new high school option!