Monday, April 29, 2013

The Vital Role of the Arts


As one of my favorite times of the year, this is the week when our school is transformed into all things artistic.  Over the weekend, at least one piece of work from every child is hung from floor to ceiling in the gym, and all over the school.  Tonight we will gather as a community and give out many art awards and celebrate the accomplishments of our students.

Tomorrow we have our Student Art Day.  We begin with student performances in band, chorus, strings and dance for grandparents and the rest of the school.  From there students spend the day in different workshops from pottery to story-telling to ceramics and on and on.  They do, however, take a break for burgers on the grill and to listen to the rock bands perform. 

On Thursday the culmination of an enormous amount of parental volunteerism takes place with the annual three-day Harding Art Show (http://artshow.hardingacademy.org/podium/default.aspx?t=105613).  60-70 artists from all over the country have applied, and are chosen to display and sell their beautiful art work as we will welcome more than a thousand visitors from all over.  There is great variety in the art work and the mediums, and it is a wonderful culmination of a week that puts art in the spotlight.

In the January issue of Education Update (http://www.ascd.org/Default.aspx) they list ‘Ten Reasons Art Education Matters’:
1.      Arts education increases student engagement.
2.      Children learn positive habits, behaviors and attitudes.
3.      The arts enhance creativity.
4.      Students sharpen their critical intellectual skills.
5.      The arts teach students methods for learning language skills.
6.      The arts help students learn mathematics.
7.      The arts expand on and enrich learning in other subjects.
8.      Aesthetic learning is its own reward.
9.      Students practice teamwork.
10.  Arts education is just the beginning.

What a pleasure it is to be a part of a school that recognizes and values the arts for these and for so many other reasons.

Friday, April 5, 2013

How Adults Are Stealing Ambition From Kids by Tim Elmore


A Terrific Article by by Tim Elmore

I visited the home of a friend of mine just after he’d coached another season of little league baseball. His son, Jacob, plays first base on the team. He is ten years old. As we were talking, my friend suggested to his son that he take me up to his room to show me the trophy he’d just won. Upon walking into his room, I was stunned. The room was filled with trophies and ribbons. It reminded me of the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York…only bigger. (OK—I admit, I’m exaggerating a bit). But, awards were everywhere. When I asked Jacob how many championships he had won—he looked blankly at the wall and said, “None.”

I soon discovered, every one of his awards was simply for playing on a team.

I realize this experience may not sound new to you. We are raising a generation of kids who are used to receiving recognition for participating. It started back in the 1980s, when moms and dads were determined to boost their kids’ self-esteem and encourage participation over conquest. I understand that; I am one of those parents. But I believe this works when a child is five; not when they’re ten or eleven. It has backfired, and we’re now reaping the consequences of this decision. I know a kid who gave the trophy back to his dad after the ceremony. He said, “This doesn’t mean anything.” These kids are not stupid. But I wonder if we are.

Reflect for a moment on the long-term impact of this kind of world. When a child gets to swing at a ball until he hits it (there are no strike outs), when coaches decide not to keep score (there are no losers), and when everyone gets an equal award in the end (we are all equal), it can begin to de-motivate kids, especially boys. It takes the steam out of their engine. They begin to think: Why try? I’m going get the same reward whether I put out any effort or not. And it’s easier…put out no effort.

This is not just about sports either. Adults so wanted these kids to feel special, we began to take away the possibility of failing a class. Students always seem to find a way to negotiate a grade or do some extra credit work to make up for failing to do what they’d been asked to do. Many parents have removed the possibility of failing at home; kids still get money or perks even if they failed to share the responsibilities around the house. As a result, college staff and faculty are reporting the comments that incoming students are making to them:
  • Why didn’t I get an A? I showed up to class every day.
  • You’re guaranteeing me a job once I graduate, right?
  • OK…so I flunked the test. What do I need to do to get the grade I want?
  • How come my suite mate got a scholarship and I didn’t?
  • If my parents pay the tuition, I deserve the grades I want.
  • I think the government’s job is to make sure I get a job and a house.
  • You can’t criticize me. I tried.
By wanting our children and students to be happy, we may have created the most depressed population of kids in recent history. By leading them in this way, we have all but removed ambition in them. We have most certainly diminished it. Below is the reason why this philosophy has holes in it:
As their possibility of failure goes down, so does their value of success.
Think about it. If I grow up in a world where almost everything has been given to me, or made easy—I start feeling entitled to it. In fact, I stop trying hard, because I know, somehow, an adult will insure I get what I need or want. One of the most valuable commodities we can cultivate in this emerging generation of kids is ambition. By this I don’t mean selfish ambition, or some self-absorbed preoccupation. (Narcissism may or may not motivate a kid to try.) I am speaking of the internal drive to achieve and to grow. The motivation to excel in an area. Further, it is a motivation that comes from serving or adding value to others.
I feel most valuable when I add value to other people.
Self-esteem is not something we can conjure up with a few affirming statements, or by giving them a ribbon just because they’re pretty or showed up on time. It comes from them knowing who they are intrinsically, and using their gifts to contribute to a cause greater than them. I firmly believe ambition is part of the equation. Ambition builds self-esteem and vice versa. When I feel good about myself I tend to try harder. And when I try harder, I tend to feel better about myself.

So What Do We Do?
Here are some ideas for cultivating ambition in kids:

1. Let them fail, but when they do, interpret the failure with them.
Don’t rescue them, but if they fall or fail, talk it over. Show them it’s not the end of the world and is not a reflection on their identity. It is a chance to try again.

2. Tell them stories about your failures.
My kids love to hear me talk about my past flops, failure and fumbles. As we laugh together, they think: Wow, if you did that and still made it…there’s hope for me.

3. Help them put their finger on something they really want to achieve.
Goals are important. They are targets to shoot for, and either hit or miss. Once you identify a goal, help them create a plan to reach it.

4. Establish rewards that only come as they work hard and make progress.
Separate the idea of merely “showing up” from putting out effort. Big difference. Set a reward that they can get only if they really excel.

5. Discuss your ambitions and how you felt when you accomplished them.
Once again, it’s the power of stories. Talk about an ambition you had years ago, and how you felt when you pursued it; how rewarding it was inside to earn it.

6. Communicate your love and belief in them, regardless of what happens.
Love should not be a reward for performing. Caring adults must demonstrate belief regardless of their accomplishments. This is a solid foundation for ambition.