“I don’t need to be shy”
By Briony Chown, head of Lower School
The head of Lower School shares how public celebrations of student work create a strong culture of academics.
At the beginning of November, Lower School students filed into the Balboa Theater, ready to watch the ballet. There were gasps of excitement when the lights went down, and the show began. There is excitement to a live performance that you cannot get from watching a movie. Tangible magic is created in front of you.
The excitement in the theater reminded me of the excitement that spilled out of our third-grade classrooms when families recently listened to their children’s poetry reading and when our fourth-graders took time to read and celebrate each other’s writing. In the third-grade rooms, the parents applauded loudly as each child took turns walking to the center and reading their poems. When they planned the event, the teachers had been worried that not every child would be brave enough to stand up in front of their peers and their parents, but child by child, they stepped into the center and rose to the occasion. As they read, they glanced toward their parents and their faces beamed.
By sharing their poems, our children learn that their writing and their voices have value. When I asked what they had learned, our students talked about overcoming their fear, feeling proud of their work and how they had to speak loudly so that the audience could hear them. They also spoke about feeling that their work was important and that they had learned from listening to their friends.
As a community, we are more likely to invite an audience to see a play or an athletic game, rather than for academic work. Director of Visual and Performing Arts Robert Wagner shared the impact he sees when actors perform their work in front of an audience. The audience is an opportunity for children to share their hard work with a lot of people. Sharing your work in front of an audience means that you have to be able to stand behind it. Psychologically, an audience teaches students about the difference between intention and perception. It provides immediate real-time feedback.
Director of Athletics Jeff Hutzler elaborated on the positive feedback and feeling of support that comes from an audience. He also spoke about how attending athletic contests “brings us closer as a community, gathered together in a singular purpose, wearing school gear that makes it visually recognizable that we're all on the same team with a shared goal and celebrating successes and suffering setbacks together.”
When children publicly share their learning, several things happen: children learn that their voices are powerful and that adults (and their peers) should listen to them. Moreover, the entire community gets an important message about our value on student work and student voice.
Children learn that we value their athletic achievements every time we sit in the stands for a sporting event. When the house lights go down for a play, they learn that we value the performing arts. When we create a gallery of their work, we let them know that we see them as artists. These are powerful lessons for them to learn. Let’s also demonstrate how much we value writing, math, science and all their academic pursuits.