By Dr. JEFFREY L. MITCHELL
What do you hold sacred about your children’s education?
Of course, it varies among parents. But are there commonalities regarding what parents hold in high regard?
Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, based on my experience as an educator and parent, I’ll explore what I believe are critical overarching features of a quality educational experience. I’ll cut a large swath across the educational landscape, in the exploration of what I think are the essential features of a quality education.
The previous five articles in this series have focused on care/connection, mission, communication, optimal conditions for learning and great teachers. This sixth article
argues for opportunities.
As a college instructor of future teachers, I often conducted the following preliminary activity. Without any guidance, I would simply ask the would-be teachers to think about and share, one or two memorable (positive) experiences from their K-12 schooling.
Over the years, two clear patterns presented themselves. As highlighted in the previous Extra Credit article on Great Teachers and not surprisingly, a number of the experiences cited extraordinary things done by extraordinary educators.
Interestingly, an equal number of the experiences cited pertained to beyond-the-formal-curriculum opportunities that people have enjoyed as part of their school experience.
My message to the teachers-in-training at the conclusion of this exercise was to remember to appreciate that the influence of the K-12 education experience will not be confined by the walls of the classrooms.
What does it look like?
What do great opportunities look like? I like to say, “They are whatever got you out of bed on the day you most wanted not to go to school.”
As a high school student, the opportunity to participate in athletics got me to school on many days.
Over the years, I have seen how important the right opportunities can be in the analysis, by both students and parents, of the perceived value of a school. Whether the value stems from athletics, the arts, clubs – it does not matter – perceived value is strongly influenced by these beyond-the-classroom opportunities.
Education brings about opportunity, and in turn inspiration. — Senator William Frist, M.D.
There’s no shortage of studies (e.g., Positive Effects of Extra Curricular Activities on Students) highlighting the vast array of benefits associated with opportunities. Without much effort, you can find empirical evidence to support the benefits of beyond-class opportunities for improving resilience, self-regulation, self-esteem, identity and motivation — as well as improvements in behavioral indicators such as empathy, tolerance, cooperation and collaboration.
Moreover, the type of opportunity (i.e., arts, athletics, clubs) does not seem to make much difference to these findings.
An interesting TED Talk (The secret to great opportunities? The person you haven’t met yet) takes the benefits of opportunities further. The speaker referenced a paper by sociologist Mark Granovetter titled, “The Strength of Weak Ties.” Granovetter asked, how people got their jobs.
He discovered that most people don’t get their jobs through their parents, best friends, etc. (i.e., “strong ties”). Rather, most people got their jobs through “weak ties” — people they recently met.
Granovetter states that the problem with strong ties is that the network is redundant. Everybody that they know, you know.
Whereas, the strength of weak ties is the expansion of possibilities through new connections. Moreover, participation in K-12 opportunities develops skills like effort,
organization, discipline, teamwork and leadership. When this occurs, the stage is set for the individual to be comfortable and open to developing weak ties.
For our 50th Anniversary video I was asked to comment on “the best thing about Currey Ingram.” Of the many things I could say, I went with “witnessing students do something that neither they nor their parents ever thought they would be able to do.”
This, of course, means performing academically at a level previously not thought possible. But it also means participation in opportunities, often well outside their comfort zones.
At Currey Ingram, providing an array of opportunities that extend beyond our foundational academic program is absolutely critical to our success. Our students spend a significant portion of their day receiving instruction to confront their learning differences. But significant to the success in the classroom is the confidence gained from participating in an opportunity outside of the classroom.
As both a parent and Head of School, one of the credos I believe is to expect that my children and students participate in the life of the school beyond the classroom. There’s hardly anything I have come across that has a wider and more lasting set of ancillary benefits.
Thank you for reading and I welcome your thoughts on the importance of opportunity or any other Extra Credit topic.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell is Head of School for Currey Ingram Academy.