The final week of the school year provides an opportunity to acknowledge excellence in a variety of realms. While tomorrow's assembly will honor athletic teams and afternoon activities, Monday's assembly was devoted to recognizing underclassmen for their academic and artistic achievements.
Head of School Mike Henriques began the awards assembly with a few thoughts on the importance of making mistakes as a part of the learning process. After showing a few short clips of Kathryn Schultz's TED Talk "On Being Wrong" (see video below), Mike noted everyone's learning process is a journey and making mistakes is an inevitable part of that journey for all of us. No one has ever 'arrived' and we all must continually embrace learning opportunities presented regardless of who we are.
Some students recognized Monday have excelled in a number of disciplines and we applaud them for the time, effort, and dedication they have demonstrated in each discipline awarded. Every student called down to the stage has put in countless hours to working through mistakes; each revising work, wrestling with new ideas, and fully engaging in the learning process alongside peers and teachers. As each student rose from his or her seat and accepted an award, I was, once again, reminded of the tremendously diverse abilities represented within our student community.
However, for every student recognized Monday, there were at least four students not recognized. While the acknowledgement of excellence serves an important purpose for the community, we must be careful to not forget about the growth that has occurred in the remaining 80% of the student body who did not receive an award over the course of the year. (Peter Southworth's assembly on Tuesday reinforced this message to the community.)
Awards can be a doubled-edged sword (one that is currently commanding the attention of a group of faculty seeking to study the awards process at Proctor in an effort to ensure we have the right processes in place for our community) simply due to the fact that those students who do not earn an award can feel as though they have failed in some way. We want to recognize as many students as possible, but with each award given, a population of students feels inadequate.
This article emphasizes the challenges that accompany a society in which every child is recognized for his or her efforts, where every student feels they 'deserve' something. While positive reinforcement is an essential component of student motivation, Proctor values the processing that accompanies being 'wrong' as a far more effective form of positive reinforcement than simply providing every student with an award. Our goal is not to shelter students from negative feelings associated with failure, but rather to help build the confidence in each student to be 'ok' with being wrong as part of his or her learning journey.
As this previous post discusses, learning, by its very definition, requires failure at some level as we all learn far more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. Schultz makes the point that 'being' wrong does not feel bad, 'realizing' you are wrong does. It is with great confidence that I suggest our students feel supported by faculty and peers to take intellectual risks in the classroom and while it is our goal, as educators, to support students in taking these risks, it is not necessarily our responsibility to insulate each student from that feeling of being wrong. It is that very feeling of being wrong, when properly embraced through a supportive community of learners, that leads directly to perseverance, a catalyst for excellence.
We want to recognize academic, artistic, and athletic excellence; our community thrives on those students who fully invest themselves into a multitude of responsibilities at Proctor. At the same time, we must remember that the core of our mission statement is to educate a diverse population of learners. Each of our students is at a different point in their educational journey, just as each of us as educators is at a different point in our journey. We each must understand that despite our hard work, dedication, and pursuit of excellence, the vast majority of us will not be recognized publicly for how we have grown. And that's ok.
If we, as teachers, advisors, coaches, and mentors model the concept that not one of us is immune to being wrong, not one of us has 'arrived', and that we are all on this journey of learning together, our community will continue to appropriately value the recognition of certain students for their academic excellence. Similarly, as we discuss with our students the qualities of those honored in relation to our own educational journey, we will foster the growth of desirable learning attributes within the community.
The end of each academic year allows the community to recognize academic, artistic and athletic excellence in assembly.
This time of year reminds all of us of the tremendous work students have completed this year.
While we firmly believe awarding excellence is an important part of the learning process, we must be aware of the impact recognition of a few has on the overall community.
The social makeup of Proctor's student body is overwhelmingly supportive of each other when awards are given.
However, we must be sure students know that we not only value the excellence demonstrated by those students who received an award this week, but that we value every student's educational journey.
No student or faculty member has 'arrived' at the end of their learning process. Instead, we are all in a constant state of learning.
Because learning is essentially the process of making mistakes over and over again in pursuit of excellence, we can be thankful we live in a community that places value on this process.