I wrote in a previous post about students leading. It’s an important concept and one which I actually think is overlooked too often in education. To allow someone to lead, you need to trust them, to give them the space to make decisions and take action, and you need to acknowledge that giving someone this space to lead may mean things don’t work quite as they might if you were in charge. In fact, you need to accept that the other person may blow it. This can be incredibly hard to do, particularly when the someone else you could allow to lead is a young person. After all, the media, films, tv, etc. all tell us every day how irresponsible the youth of today are, how self-absorbed, how lazy.
I’ve worked as a teacher for 22 years now, and I can tell you without any hesitation whatsoever that this characterization of young people is false. And not just at Solebury, although it is certainly false here. I travel to other schools a lot, I meet a lot of young people, I hear about life at other schools. There are lots of good young people out there who are being underestimated and hindered from great things because of this stereotype.
One of the things about Solebury that I am proudest of is that one of the core values of our philosophy runs counter to this stereotype. We believe there should be a mutual respect between teachers and students. This means that we believe students to be capable, to be good at heart, to desire to do well. While we take our role to supervise and guide them very seriously, we also put trust in them to live up to these perceptions. Our recent Convocation was a clear example of this. The whole school gathered on the main lawn where graduation is held and our Head of School addressed the community, in particular the new students, on what it means to be part of Solebury and explained the values we hold dear. It was not a long speech, for this was not the main piece of the event. When he was done, each new student was escorted by a member of the senior class from the gathering (they walk the same path they will walk at graduation but in reverse) and they go to the Performing Arts Center. Once there, the seniors and the new students sit down, the doors are closed, and they have a conversation. The seniors lead it by talking about what they value about the school, what about the school they hope the new students will ensure carries on after they graduate, what they wished they knew when they started at Solebury that they know now and what new students can do to get the most out of their time here. I’ve never been in the room, as I said it is a closed meeting for students only, but those who have told me it is a powerful moment. Whatever is actually said in there, the format of it sends a clear message to all. It communicates to the seniors in no uncertain terms – we trust you, you are the leaders of the school, we know you can do a great job here. The new students see this too, and to them the message is equally clear – this school believes young people are good and are responsible and the event practically screams at them to live up to that trust.
Young people will never learn how to lead if they are not given the chance. They will never grow as much as they might unless we give them the room to take on “adult” roles and moments, and other kinds of challenges. Some of the best moments I’ve had at Solebury involve watching students do these things: watching a dorm proctor take a young student under his or her wing and help them, watching our students tour prospective families around campus, seeing how our students interact with adults because they know how to do so, teaching a student in a class they pushed to take even though people cautioned him or her was too hard and watching the student rock it.
I’m a type-A guy and it is hard for me to give up control at times. However, every single day my students remind me that they are more than up to the task.