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Grey Matters, December 7, 2015; Volume 4, Number 14

posted Dec 6, 2015, 8:40 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:29 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,


I attended the Friday evening performance of Bye Bye Birdie, and it was the most fun I’ve had on a Friday night in a long time.  Those who might know a little bit about how I spend my days and nights could rightfully reply, “that’s not really the high praise you’re hoping to bestow on the experience, Andrew.  You might want to try a different point of comparison.”  Fair enough.  Nevertheless, it was so incredibly enjoyable to watch a performance featuring our students, watching them showcase a whole different dimension of who they are, and the talents they possess. Even for those who may not know the students, this was a high-quality production that would please anyone in the audience, and remind us of the importance of including the arts in our schools.  This type of endeavor is only possible if the students demonstrate commitment and enthusiasm, and supported by adults who are willing to offer their time, energy, and expertise.  Many thanks to the RJ Grey staff involved in the show, starting with Cheryl Carter-Miller and Chris Charig, and including Andrew Patenaude, Jeanne Goulet Bouchard, Jean MacDonald, and Anne Spalding, along with choreographers Melanie Najarian and Julia Blanco.  And extra special thanks to parent volunteer coordinators Ruth Bendig, Shannon Callison, Martha Papalia, and Elaine Rowles, who managed an army of generous parent volunteers who were central to making everything possible.  


A few weeks ago, I shared some information about our school’s examination of homework practices, and used that as an entrypoint to introduce the larger topic about narrowing definitions of success, and our interest in developing an ongoing dialogue within the community on this, and related, subject(s).  I also mentioned that if I came across different articles and stories that I thought would be relevant and useful food for thought, I’d try and pass it along.  Well, I’ve got three to share today, that look specifically at the potential value of allowing students to experience mistakes and certain failures, and helping them develop tools for coping with those difficulties, and how to develop the resilience that will help them adapt and move forward.  The first is an article from the Boston Globe entitled, “How did failure become fashionable?” that highlighted a children’s theatre production, and an exhibit at Mt. Ida College that are both trying to offer messages about how mistakes and failures are not only a normal aspect of life, but often a crucial aspect to future successes.  The second is an article that I read last week in Psychology Today about the growing concerns within and amongst colleges about the decline in resilience amongst its students, and the speculation by many in those settings of the unintended consequences of not allowing adolescents to experience certain types of failure and difficulty earlier in their lives.  Finally, I wanted to direct your attention to the work and writing of Jessica Lahey.  Ms. Lahey is a contributor to The Atlantic and the New York Times, and has recently written a book called The Gift of Failure, which is next on my list of things to read. Her website has links to many of her articles, as well as other pieces on this topic, and I think her work can contribute to the conversations we have with each other.  


The first of three parent-teacher conference days is scheduled for this Thursday.  That means all students will have an early release day, and dismissed at 10:40am.  All bus routes will be available after school, and a friendly reminder to families to have a quick conversation with your child about plans and expectations for where they should be going once school is dismissed.  For those parents and guardians who have meetings scheduled on Thursday, please double check your assigned times.  You would have received that via an email message from either Katy Frey (7th grade) or Anne Spalding (8th grade).  


RJ Grey Yearbooks are now on sale until Wednesday, January 6th.  Our Corner of the Universe, our sci-fi themed book, consists of 60+ colored pages full of 7th and 8th graders participating in clubs, sports, special events, survey responses, silly pictures, and everything in between!  Students MUST order a book by January 6th if they want to receive on in JUne.  The cost of the book is $37 and can be paid by credit card by using this link.  Students may also order a Yearbook with cash or check (made out to RJ Grey) by bringing payment to Ms. Weeks in Room 406 or to the main office.  Make sure students include name, grade, and homeroom teacher’s name with payment.  


Finally, Fall Trimester report cards are going home with students today (Monday).   Rest assured that the timing of my comments above about failure and mistakes on the same day that report cards come out is not (entirely) intentional!  Once you do have time to view the report cards, please use this as an opportunity to have a conversation with your child(ren).  For subjects where they experienced some success, what did they think was an important factor, and how can they build on that momentum?  For subjects where they might be hoping to improve, what goals or strategies might be worth trying over the next few months?  Asking students to self-assess and giving them a supportive venue to be honest with themselves is a critical first step to any adjustments that they (or you) might hope they make moving forward.  


I would imagine that amongst our student population, there may be a few whose report cards show some signs of difficulty in a few subjects.  They aren’t the first (nor will they be the last) middle schoolers whose report cards may result in a bit of angst and distress for themselves and their parents. What has also become an annual Grey Matters tradition is where I now confess to RJ Grey families about my own sordid middle school academic career, specifically the minor disaster that was my 7th grade winter report card, issued in 1989 by the Andover Public Schools.  You can view a photo of said report card by clicking here.  Again, please note that teachers’ names, and my parents’ home address, have been blurred to protect the innocent.  If your child is reluctant to fork over the report card or comes up with an illogical explanation about its whereabouts, compare it to the below story of what I tried to do with mine. (now being re-told for the 4th time).  


On the day that the above report card was distributed, I spent a good hour devising an ingenious plan to save myself from what I expected to be a painful conversation with my parents.  My brilliant idea?  I folded up my report card, placed it in my pants pocket, and then purposely ran those pants through the washing machine - twice.  I convinced myself (truly) that a spin cycle or two would actually make the D+ I earned in Math fade a bit and maybe look like a believable B+.  Shockingly, the plan didn’t work.  On behalf of your kids, and the thirteen-year old version of me, please keep in mind that they are not purposely trying to make you miserable and turn prematurely gray/bald.  The prefrontal cortex of thirteen and fourteen-year old brains is still developing, and this will often result in utterly bewildering decisions (and excuses).  This too shall pass (though later for boys than girls).


For those whose kids may instead be coming home with “that other” report card that might look like mine, when you have a conversation with your child about it, please remind yourself of what we all already know: that patience and encouragement (and some mercy) often go a long way in these situations.  Middle school is a time when a dozen things are happening and changing at the same time - to their brains, their bodies, how they relate to peers and adults, and they’re trying on different personalities to see what feels right.  With all this change, sometimes the academic part doesn’t go quite as planned and they may not be prepared to identify the reasons why.  A less-than-stellar middle school report cards is not usually a preview of what your son or daughter will be like when they are adults (or even as high school students), nor is it really structured to offer insight about their continued development as kind, thoughtful, and creative individuals.  We (parents and educators) should definitely continue to have healthy academic goals and aspirations for all of our kids, and let’s remind ourselves that getting there can sometimes be a function of time and might also include (and benefit from) a few detours along the way.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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