From the Director's Chair
“We can’t accomplish anything together without a plan,” replied one of our sixth graders to a debrief question from the camp counselor after a survival challenge. While there were many eloquent and spot-on comments all week from many of our students during our class trips, this one topped my list. Hopefully, by this time, your children have shared their impressions, struggles, joys and funny moments from their recent experience with their teachers and classmates, and if they have been reluctant, too tired or just generally mum about school, maybe this will shed some light.
The survival challenge was simple. The hypothetical plane we are all traveling on crashes and everyone survives, although many have debilitating injuries. The group needs to travel from point A to point B using a map in order to rendezvous with the rescue team. Along the way they have many challenges like helping the injured travel across rough terrain, navigating the rushing waters of a make-believe river, interpreting the map and more. When the challenge began, the able-bodied members of the team rushed ahead in their desire to get to the rescue location quickly, and the injured struggled behind. (Adolescent Trait #1: For many, being first is important.) The most compassionate and empathic team members frustratingly yelled ahead to remind everyone that the people with broken legs and arms, loss of vision, etc. are important, too, as they struggled to carry, shimmy, piggy-back and guide those with injuries. (Don’t we all wish those were our kids!) Then the camp counselor reminded the group, for the third time, that the success of the mission was dependent upon everyone reaching the rescue location together. Did I mention that while we were mostly in the shade of the woods, the temperatures hovered around 90 degrees, and all team members were operating on wildly varying amounts of sleep? (Adolescent Trait #2: They need massive amounts of sleep and nutrition. If not, they will become deregulated more quickly and evidence much less resilience.)
In my group, the injured were painstakingly reluctant to share how hard it was to hop on one foot for a quarter mile because one leg was broken, or share how frustrating it was to be blind and hear “just walk straight” from their guides. (Adolescent Trait #3: Most are super-reluctant to ask for help, especially when there is a chance that they will appear weak or less capable.) After some back-and-forth and the realization that the injured members of the group were struggling, there was more teamwork evident in helping them, although some were still focused on being first and some seemed resigned to just sit down and give up. Then, as the team of students approached the rescue location, they were asked to cross a river and given instructions about how the stepping rocks, represented by colorful plastic disks on the ground, wash away in the river if stepped on and then vacated. In our group, the students had to restart when nearly all the rocks were swept away by the river after the first four people attempted to cross the river. (Adolescent Trait #4: They usually prefer to jump in and try something, rather than talk about it first and plan – and sometimes they haven’t even heard the directions.)
Our students' shining moments came during this last obstacle. In order to succeed, the group realized that each member could not move ahead without clearly communicating to the teammate behind them. And, that the injured students in the group needed guides who were strong, decisive and willing to communicate. After about 25 minutes, the last person exited the river to the safety of the other side, and the group roared with applause. (Adolescent Trait #5: When properly motivated, they can achieve nearly anything.)
Then came the debrief, and again, our students shined. When asked how it felt being injured and unable to walk normally, a student said, “I felt invisible until my friend spoke up for me.” Another student said his friend had good ideas, but that the group would not listen to him at first. And toward the end came the statement I opened with, “We can’t accomplish anything together without a plan.” (Adolescent Trait #6: They are fully capable of achieving impressive results when given agency and independence, and the freedom to make mistakes without judgment.)
The most powerful portion of the entire exercise was the debrief at the end. And, as a result, the team was much more successful in future endeavors because they had a shared experience of failure, and a shared experience of success. Our students did not require the wisdom of the adults, but rather needed the right questions, and time to respond and listen to one another. We have to constantly remind ourselves as teachers that the power of an experience lies in the debrief, and that we need to process and communicate together in order to help our students grow and learn.
If you have any questions or feedback about any of our school trips last week, please feel free to contact me or your child’s grade coordinator. I look forward to seeing many of you at the exciting presentation on the evening of October 20.
Director of Middle School
Our Peace Theme in Action in Middle School
At our opening Middle School assembly, we challenged our students to create a video, write a poem, paint a picture, perform a song or make another original contribution in a mode of their choice in which they share what peace means to them. The due date was right in line with the September 21 International Day of Peace, and students were treated to an animated film designed and produced by students in the Midwest as an example. We also shared a pertinent quote from a famous Quaker, Rufus Jones, who, in 1944 said:
"There must be amidst all the confusions of the hour a tried and undisturbed remnant of persons who will not become purveyors of coercion and violence, who are ready to stand alone, if it is necessary, for the way of peace and love among [us]."
We unpacked some of the vocabulary, and students seemed to digest the meaning, as well as what was happening in the world in 1944 when Rufus Jones wrote this. We have been discussing the “confusions of the hour” in our world today in advisory, social studies, English and more. One reason the Jones quote is so powerful is because it still applies 75 years later, and we challenged our students to submit a peace entry that would also stand the test of time.
Lastly, in advisory last week, all of our middle graders participated in a lesson called Peace Cranes, which was authored and created by Alice Bateman, seventh grade advisor and social studies teacher. The lesson challenged students to think deeply about expressions and actions of peace, and culminated in each student writing a peaceful intention on a colorful piece of paper and then using that same paper to create a piece of origami resembling a crane. We will display the cranes in the atrium sometime soon.
October 20 Reveal
Friday, Oct. 20, 6-8 pm; Dooney Field House
Food, fellowship, illuminating conversations and student performances when Head of School Darryl J. Ford reveals the plan for Penn Charter's future and the campaign that will fund it. Look for your invitation in the mail and join us. . (Free child care for school-age children.)