What’s the future of independent school education?

I have a daughter, Kathleen who is 13, and a son, Jacob, who is 15; and probably like you, we believe we have raised them the very same way, and yet they are totally different. From a young age, we often said of Kathleen, that we could ship her to China, alone, and she would be just fine. But Jacob was always cautious and never one to jump in to something. When Jacob was four, we enrolled him in this artsy nursery school program. Jacob loved the outdoors, and we liked the emphasis on play, and we thought he really needed that creative and stimulating environment.

Now, I just came back from Washington where I heard Susan Cain, the author of Quiet. And I am so glad that her kind of research now exists, so we can think differently about introverts. If I had read her book back then, when Jacob was four, I might have chosen differently for him. But at the time, my husband and I wanted this lively learning program for him. We loved it there.

So we couldn’t figure out why he was so unhappy. We would see the artwork displayed; nothing by Jacob. At Halloween, he was the only kid who refused to wear a costume. At the Christmas concert, he lay on the stage and the other kids marched and danced over and around him. The highlight was at one point, the teacher tried to pick him up, and he loudly yelled, and it was a moment when it was silent in the auditorium so everyone heard him, “I told you I didn’t want to do this and stop touching me”. That was when all the home video cameras turned away from their child to my son…. And the image went up and down as they laughed. That day, he was the kid who made all parents feel better about their own parenting, because no matter what their child did, he was not THAT child… today the video would go viral.

Soon after that concert, we decided it was time to pull him out of the program. I called the teacher, and even she agreed that it might be time to go. But she said she had one more strategy to try. She said she noticed that he was engaged and happy in activities but seemed to get upset at the transition points – moving to the drama room, or getting ready to go outside. She said she was going to tap him on the shoulder about ten minutes before the transition time, and quietly tell him what was coming next.

And she was right. When Jacob gets into something – some might now call that flow – he doesn’t like to be interrupted. That kid could focus for hours if you let him. Jacob needed to prepare for what was coming. And once he knew it and wasn’t rushed in to something, he settled down and had a great year. I am so thankful for that teacher for thinking deeply about what might be needed for my child to thrive.

Jacob’s feelings at a young age remind me of how I feel when I stop and really think about all that is happening in the world of education: many options, over-stimulating, rapidly changing without knowing where you’re going. A few specifics here –

  • Our CAIS National Parent Motivation Survey revealed that the number one priority for parents is not necessarily academics, but the development of character, morals and value. Our schools do this well, but we can be more intentional.
  • We need to address issues of wellness, particularly as we see a rise in anxiety and mental health challenges.
  • We need to figure out how to cultivate learning in our schools, in a way that is unique and really focuses students on a growth mindset, especially in comparison to what is offered in very good public schools, for free.
  • And perhaps the greatest challenge, we need to figure out how technology can enhance learning, while also ensuring deep relationships, while also finding opportunities to address cost per student, to ensure our model of education remains permanent and strong.

My point is that schools can be very stressful environments for teachers, with all the additional pressures, but also for leaders whose job it is to manage change. And the more we know where we are headed, the more we can tap shoulders along the way.

So I was so pleased that this week, John Chubb, President of NAIS, spoke to over 250 people in three cities, to give us that proverbial tap on the shoulder. A summary of his remarks are included in our December newsletter.

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