Friday, January 20, 2017

Teaching and Learning in an Election Year

Having recently seen the President’s final address and anticipating the inauguration this morning, few could argue that this has been an election year like no other.

There have, and continue to be, passionate political views from all corners, and Trinity Valley School is no different.  This is a natural hallmark of a school that embraces intellectual curiosity and supports respectful discourse (and even disagreement) and appropriate dissent.

What an opportunity we have, and are taking advantage of, in the current political climate, to fan the flames of curiosity and help our students understand, real-time, the nuances, flaws and challenges inherent in a democracy.  We can help our students dissect the Constitution and understand the challenges in applying a document that is two-hundred years old to a global and ever-changing society.

All of this happens within an educational environment where respect and tolerance is not negotiable and discourse is considered an important and valued component of learning and teaching.  Students at TVS are doubly fortunate to have families who are interested in furthering  the conversation in the car, at the dinner table, and beyond.  This is noticed and appreciated by faculty and administration alike.

We look forward to continuing the conversation, and anticipate there will be much fodder in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Learning is the Ultimate Adventure

This summer, about a week after moving to a new state, a new home, a new school, and a new community, I went for an early-morning run.  Bleary eyed and still half asleep at 5:15 a.m., I began my trek.  Shortly thereafter, I noticed movement to my left.  I saw what I believed to be a tan opossum with a shell.  Because there was a fence to his (her?) left, and I was on the right, the startled armadillo (I soon figured out) had nowhere to run but straight ahead.  I was running straight as well, so we became an odd-looking jogging couple for about 25 yards.  And there, in the pitch-black early morning, I couldn’t help but laugh, and those 10-15 seconds became the perfect metaphor for being in a new place and embracing the novelty, armed with a sense of humor.

One of the themes for this school year proclaims Trinity Valley School “the ultimate adventure.”  I can absolutely relate.  So much recent change in my own life has renewed my empathy for all that our students navigate.  Through our sons – one a freshman at TCU and the other in ninth grade at TVS – my wife, Holly, and I have witnessed firsthand the adventure inherent in undertaking new experiences and stepping out of one’s comfort zone.

Each day, outstanding faculty members and coaches guide our students through the wonderful, exciting, and sometimes scary moments that comprise each child’s unique TVS journey.  I have been thrilled to watch this in action since I arrived on campus.

The most obvious parallel would be the Trojan Outdoor Experience.  On their TOE trip in September, I observed our fifth graders walking backward toward the edge of a high cliff in order to rappel down, or undertaking a daunting climb up a rock wall, and I saw every emotion conducive to learning - fear of the unknown, reassurance by a trusted guide, the contradictory emotions within, the resolve to overcome fears, and finally, the thrill of personal success.  This was almost invariably followed by the almost-instant desire to repeat the process immediately.

Another example is the Global Initiatives Program.  Dr. Roemer hosted a wonderful dinner here at TVS this summer with our friends from Fort Worth Sister Cities International and our friends from Japan at the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Harashin Scholarship Student Exchanges.  We began with a performance by incredibly talented traditional Mexican dancers and concluded with a traditional Japanese drumming presentation.  In between, I tried to navigate overcoming my lack of Japanese fluency, and we heard moving testimonials from students and adults who have been on these exchanges.  All of this on the 71st anniversary of the date that the Japanese formally surrendered to the Allied Powers. 

These unusually wonderful programs are but two examples of how our students engage in the “ultimate adventure” of learning every day.  From the struggles inherent in mastering a new language and being forced out of one’s comfort zone to writing code or operating a 3D printer or laser cutter, opportunities abound.  Trying out for an athletic team or auditioning for the lead in the musical requires the same fortitude and skills learned on the fifth-grade TOE trip.  Taking a more rigorous course, signing up for a club without having much experience, or applying to a “reach” college demands courage.  Asking someone to the Homecoming dance, sitting with a new person at lunch, or speaking at assembly can cause butterflies in the stomach and activate social pitfalls. Growth occurs with risk-taking, overcoming adversity, and feeling success or even failure. 
Indeed, failure is an incredibly important part of the equation.  Today’s TVS students soon will enter a world with unprecedented challenges and prospects, and there is every chance that they will be unsuccessful in meeting at least some of them.  Will they dust themselves off and try again?  It is our job to be sure that they are armed with the resilience and confidence to do just that.

Perhaps after their time as Trinity Valley School students, when they have walked backwards off a cliff, learned a new language, spent time in other countries and with folks from all over the world, and faced difficulty and failure and success with the support of amazing teachers and coaches, they will opt not to accept defeat as the ultimate outcome, and will be energized to take on new and different adventures all over again.