Melisa and I had the good fortune of spending last Thursday evening at an event featuring comedian/actress Amy Poehler. Ms. Poehler headlined this year’s homecoming event for Northeastern University and a family member’s ties to the school resulted in our getting to spend about 90 minutes listening to the Saturday Night Live alum share stories that ranged from her days growing up in Burlington, MA to her most recent movie project with Will Ferrell. My guess is that many in the audience connected most strongly with her stories from her time on the NBC series Parks and Recreation (apparently the town of Eagleton was loosely based on her impressions of Lexington), others may have been more interested in her comments and reactions to the results of last Tuesday’s presidential election. For me, I was most drawn to her statements about the valuable role that failure played in the arc of her career. She made a point of encouraging aspiring performers to realize that honing one’s craft involves endless versions of work that simply aren’t going to be that good at the beginning (and for a long time), and that countless revisions are really baked into anything that was ever successful for her. To emphasize this point, Ms. Poehler referenced something she once heard by Ira Glass (host of NPR’s This American Life) and so I went home and found his comments (the miracle of Google). Here’s what he said:
“What nobody tells people who are beginners—and I really wish someone had told this to me…is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.”
I think I was most drawn to this part of Amy Poehler’s reflections (and her paraphrasing of Ira Glass’ comments) because I still had in the front of my mind what Dr. Denise Pope presented to the staff and parent community during her visit to Acton-Boxborough last Tuesday. Among a number of different topics (which I’ll get to later), Dr. Pope emphasized the importance of schools and families engaging in practices that allow for “successful failures.” My interpretation of that is that adults (teachers and parents) need to develop a comfort with having kids experience the natural consequences of things that go awry in their lives. To be clear, Dr. Pope wasn’t advocating for parents to sit on the sidelines during high-risk moments or if their child is in danger of failing a class. Instead, she was advocating for letting a student figure out on her own how to recover from a not-so-great test score or consider resisting the instinct to drop off to school that homework that they left at home that morning. While Poehler’s take on failure was a bit different and more narrowly focused on its place in the artistic process, there really seem to be some universal benefits to encouraging in our children a different response to encounters with failure, mistakes and messiness. As Dr. Pope emphasized, it’s from those mistakes and “successful failures” (and perhaps sometimes some higher-stakes failures) where students develop a resiliency and a growth mindset that enables them to be more able to handle the complications that accompany us in all stages of our lives. Author and psychologist Dan Kindlon calls this “psychological immunity” and explains, “it’s like the way our body’s immune system develops… you have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack. Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle….Civilization is about adapting to less-than-perfect situations...”
We had a fairly strong turnout last Tuesday evening for the Dr. Denise Pope presentation - maybe 350-400 parents and guardians? Thank you to those who were able to carve out some time to attend. My understanding is that families should have received a message from Dr. Brand’s office describing how high school parents can access videos of other Dr. Pope presentations similar to what she offered last Tuesday on the Well-Balanced Student. Access to these Challenge Success videos is being offered through a generous donation from Danny's Place Youth Services. Please see the email sent on November 9 for details on how to access the video. During a 90 minute window, Denise covered a whole lot of ground, and of course there was plenty that wasn’t addressed. Over the course of this year (and probably the next few years), we’ll spend a good deal of time revisiting a lot of these topics including sleep, scheduling, homework, and school and parental expectations about success. In both the staff presentation and the evening presentation for parents, Dr. Pope’s information about adolescent sleep and school start times certainly generated a good deal of interest. For those who continue to have some curiosity about this subject, here is a recent Business Insider article that describes the experiences of a few school districts who have shifted to later start times. Locally, here’s an article about how the town of Ashland will be shifting middle school and high school start times to later in the morning starting next September.
The annual RJ Grey musical is just around the corner! The students are working hard on this year’s production of Once Upon a Mattress (The Story of the Princess and the Pea) and we’re looking forward to another performance that showcases our students’ talents. Five performances are scheduled for the week after we return from Thanksgiving Break, on Thursday, December 1 (7pm), Friday, December 2 (7pm), Saturday, December 3 (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday, December 4 (2pm). Tickets are $15 and are now available in the Junior High Main Office. ABSAF holders are entitled to two free tickets and must pick up their tickets from the Main Office. Tickets will be available for sale, starting this Wednesday the 16th, at Donelan’s in Acton, and Red, White and Brew in West Acton. Tickets are also available for purchase this week from cast members. This is always a great family-friendly event and we hope to see many A-B families there. Now that the High School’s production of Mary Poppins is now complete, and was a big success, I can now share a link to one of my favorite episodes of the aforementioned radio show This American Life. Entitled, “Fiasco!” this episode highlights a small-town production of Peter Pan that, like the High School production of Mary Poppins, involves the use of flying apparatus. Unlike our High School’s production, their efforts involving the flying apparatus didn’t exactly go as planned, along with a few other mishaps that turned the show into a full-fledged fiasco. If you’ve got twenty minutes to spare, I encourage you to listen to this piece that apparently required Ira Glass to turn off his microphone during recording because of how hard he was laughing/snorting.
For those whose kids may be considering one of our winter sports, here is a link to the tryout schedule. Other general information about the winter sports season and related forms can be found on our Athletics site. I also want to use this as an opportunity to remind everyone that most of our after school clubs and activities invite students to join at any time during the year. Perhaps some students who participated in a Fall sports program might have time or interest in one of the clubs being offered. And don’t forget our Community Service recognition program that runs the whole year!
Finally, I want to bring everyone’s attention to another upcoming community presentation. On Thursday, December 1 Acton-Boxborough will be hosting Michelle Icard, author of Middle School Makeover. Michelle is a member of NBC Education Nation’s parenting team as well as a regular contributor national and local media, including the TODAY Show. She presents to communities about various factors that often influence the “tween” years and providing practical guidance that can support both kids and parents as they navigate this stage of adolescence. An RJ Grey teacher first made me aware of Ms. Icard’s book a few years ago, and I am really looking forward to hearing her take on many of the subjects that we’ve been discussing as a community. Michelle suggests that her talk is best geared to parents, guardians and teachers of children in grades 4 through 8. The event will be held in the High School Auditorium at 7pm on December 1. I do want to acknowledge that this is the first night of the Junior High’s musical, so here is the plan - go the Michelle Icard on Thursday, and then bring your whole family to one of the shows on Saturday or Sunday! This event is free to the public and sponsored by Danny’s Place Youth Services and the ABRPTSO as part of this year’s Family Learning Series.
Have a great week, everyone.
Grey Matters >