The Eight Conditions that Make a Difference in Schools

As I continue my sharing of the Aspirations Framework, it is important that I spend considerable time highlighting the eight conditions that make a difference in schools. (Student Voice, pg.24). The first condition, “belonging”, is the belief that students are valued members of a community, while still allowing them to maintain their uniqueness. The Upper School strives to foster an atmosphere where all students can be their best selves as they experience the academic and social opportunities available. While the condition of belonging is aspirational, it does come with certain considerations.
As students enter high school, any high school, they are faced with a choice: adopt the ways of the school environment, or, adapt to the school environment. Most times students choose or are forced to adopt the ways of the school. In doing so, students often replace part of their authentic selves with certain aspects of the new culture in order to ‘thrive’. It is my contention that students should adapt to their new school culture. The process of adapting implies that students maintain their ‘full’ selves and use their innate talents and attributes to navigate their new culture.
Over the years, I have seen students struggle in school because they were not successful at adopting the school’s culture. The act of replacing part of who you are in order to ‘fit in’ can be draining and demoralizing. Instead, when students are experiencing a sense of belonging, it often can be attributed to the fact that they have remained whole, and have not had to let go of any aspects of their being. This feeling leads to a higher level of success academically and socially.
As an Upper School, it is imperative that we create opportunities for each student to shine for the unique individuals that they are. We want students to bring their whole selves to school each day so the community can benefit from this collection of wonderful human beings. I am cognizant of the fact that not all students experience a sense of belonging on a daily basis. This is where the work of the Upper School faculty and staff becomes an essential part of creating an atmosphere of Belonging. Curriculum design, student programming, collaboration with students and parents, and connecting Bush to local and global communities are ways in which we move closer to ensuring that all students are feeling seen, valued, and heard.
I remain committed to creating and sustaining resources for students to access as they navigate their journey in the Upper School. Student voice is important and necessary. As we think about the days ahead, I encourage all of us to think about moments when we feel a sense of belonging—and in doing so, identify the reasons that created those moments.
I look forward to continuing my sharing of the 8 conditions for making a difference in students’ experiences in school. The next condition will be “heroes: the everyday people in students’ lives who inspire them to excel and to make positive changes in attitudes and lifestyles.” (Student Voice, pg. 24).

Mighty Times: A Children’s March

As we head into the upcoming long weekend, I want to highlight that Monday is the acknowledgment of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. There will be numerous celebrations of his life and the impact he made on society. Dr. King inspired many people to work toward eradicating discrimination, racial injustice, and other forms of oppression. Though images from the civil rights era in the 60s usually captured adults involved in some form of protest or resistance, young people played a vital role in the struggle to dismantle hatred and bigotry.
In 1963, a grassroots movement engineered by students of all ages served as the turning point in an ongoing battle for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama. You can learn more about this movement in the video, Mighty Times: A Children’s March. The power of a collective voice must be heard during a time when acts of violence silenced the disenfranchised. Through word of mouth, clandestine radio broadcasts, church sermons, and more, the planning and execution of a march led by students was successful in integrating businesses in Birmingham. In addition, the students involved knew very well the risks when they made the decision to demonstrate peacefully.
As I reflect on my career working in schools, I have always believed that students have the ability to generate change. Bush students have been instrumental in making change throughout the school’s history. As a result of experiences at school, coupled with students’ personal journeys, Bush graduates emerge as leaders in conversations focused on bringing justice to various societal concerns.
I am encouraged by the array of causes that our students are involved in supporting. I often see and hear our students engaged in actions aimed at eliminating racism, sexism, homophobia, bias, environmental destruction, hunger, prison transformation, education, and more. These conversations often happen within student-led clubs or local organizations.
As we enter into the start of a new year, please take time to think about 2018 and the important journey ahead. I remain hopeful and optimistic that the future of society will be nurtured and cultivated by today’s young people. Providing opportunities, education, and encouragement toward their continued growth will propel the movement further.
On Monday, take time to watch the video, Mighty Times: A Children’s March, and think about the power of young people in the work to create a society where all members are seen, valued, and heard.

Self-worth, Engagement, and Purpose

As I mentioned in a November bulletin, I will devote periodic communications to sharing the Aspirations Framework and its applicability to the Upper School. Within the Aspirations Framework, there are three guiding principles that support students’ aspirations: self-worth, engagement, and purpose. As an Upper School, we will collectively work to implement these principles as the year progresses.
Self-worth occurs when students know they are uniquely valued members of the school community; have a person in their lives they can trust and learn from; and believe they have the ability to achieve—academically, personally, and socially. (Student Voice, pg. 23-24) I believe that when students’ self-worth is high, amazing actions occur. There have been countless moments when students have exclaimed meaningful connections with their teachers, or feel like they have an adult or peer they trust. However, there have been moments when students have expressed feeling disconnected from the community, or feeling that they cannot thrive socially and/or academically. These moments are sparked by a variety of possibilities—learning styles, racial differences, special interests, etc. As a school community, we will work to mitigate these instances in an expeditious manner. If students are not feeling seen, valued, or heard, it will be difficult for them to achieve at their highest levels.
Engagement happens when students are deeply involved in the learning process as characterized by enthusiasm, a desire to learn new things, and a willingness to take positive, healthy steps toward the future. Students are meaningfully engaged when they are emotionally, intellectually, and behaviorally invested in learning. (Student Voice, pg. 24) The faculty and I are in ongoing conversations about engendering engagement in the classroom. We are exploring ways to deliver daily lesson plans that take different learning styles, intercultural fluency, experiential education, and creativity into account. In addition, each teacher has a special sauce that defines their teaching style. When students feel a connection to the material, personalized meaning and curiosity develops. This curiosity provides fuel for future exploration and ultimately a goal for life after Bush.
Purpose exists when students take responsibility for who and what they are becoming. This involves not only choosing a career, but also deciding to be involved, responsible members of their community. Purpose is as much about who students want to be as it is what they want to do. (Student Voice, pg. 24) The beauty of The Bush School lies within its roots in progressive and experiential education. We believe that students must experience education. In doing so, they will learn pertinent information as well as the nuances of each discipline and its application to society. By bridging the classroom to the world beyond Bush, students make discoveries that awaken a passion for making a difference. There are many students who refuse to sit idle when it comes to interrupting behaviors that promote dysfunction within our school and in their local communities.
I am encouraged by the possibilities that lie ahead for the Upper School. Our students, faculty, and parents/guardians will have a myriad of opportunities to contribute to our aspiration of making sure we are all seen, valued, and heard. My next letter on the Aspirations Framework will delve deeper into the 8 Conditions that Make a Difference (Student Voice, pg. 24). I invite any parent/guardian to come in for a cup of coffee to chat further about the Aspirations Framework and its meaning for the Bush Upper School. Students and faculty will have opportunity during advisory, class meetings, and Monday Morning Meetings.