Dear Parents, Guardians, and NSHS community members,
If there is one overarching message I have been thinking about in recent weeks, it is the importance of viewing adolescent development for what it is: a time of rapid growth across multiple domains. Our kids are individuating from their families, expanding their capacity to think abstractly, and developing into independent, self-advocating young adults. When we are able to “zoom out” and look at the big picture the transformation is remarkable. Too often, however, external forces nudge us to experience the journey through high school as a strategic, rather than a developmental, process. When this happens, students become susceptible to imbalance in their holistic development.
Over and again, I tell students and families that no single course, grade, activity, or honor will be the factor that makes or breaks admission to a specific college. Too often I see students making life decisions using a sort of mental calculus designed to maximize the odds of gaining entry to the most selective college possible. Make no mistake, aspiring for entry to elite colleges is not inherently bad, but I worry that this kind of strategizing is sucking much of the joy out of learning and compromising the development of critical social-emotional skills.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) offers a thorough definition of social emotional learning:
SEL is a process for helping children and even adults develop the fundamental skills for life effectiveness. SEL teaches the skills we all need to handle ourselves, our relationships, and our work, effectively and ethically. These skills include recognizing and managing our emotions, developing caring and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively and ethically. They are the skills that allow children to calm themselves when angry, make friends, resolve conflicts respectfully, and make ethical and safe choices.
It is important we maintain our focus on how we approach the learning process at least as much as we focus on the end result. When our focus shifts too far toward a specific result or outcome, we turn struggle and failure into catastrophes to be avoided rather than expected steps in the learning process. We risk systematically creating highly fragile and/or disengaged students.
Our fragile students often fear that any misstep negates all of their hard work, and feel paralyzed by the pressure to be mistake-free. In short, they fall prey to all-or-nothing thinking and other perfectionistic tendencies. Our disengaged students tend to cede ownership of their learning. For some, that leads to failure to complete assignments, truancy, or even dropping out of school. For others, it’s copying a friend’s homework, cheating on a test, or otherwise short-circuiting learning in an effort to achieve a particular outcome. In either case, students miss out on opportunities for growth and development.
Together, by keeping the emphasis on healthy growth and development, we can model balance and perspective. We can validate that not all progress is linear and that we will often stumble along the way to our goals. Most of all, we can consistently reinforce the message that one’s worth is not solely a function of their accomplishments, but rather, an amalgamation of their character, their relationships, their successes, and yes, even their failures.
There are no simple solutions or quick fixes to alleviate the pressure students feel. Open and honest exchanges that challenge the status quo are a start. I hope you will consider attending the upcoming presentation (Monday, Feb 8th, 7:00 pm, Cutler Commons) from the AWARE club, our student organization focusing on mental/emotional health issues, to hear directly from students about how they are experiencing Newton South. Perhaps you will leave feeling better prepared to engage in these conversations with your own child.
Director of Guidance
Detailed news by class:
In Case You Missed It
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- February 8th, AWARE Club Parent Presentation, 7:00 pm, Cutler Commons
- February 8th, Program of Studies available online
- February 9th, Sophomore Parent Night, 7:00 pm, Seasholes Auditorium @ NSHS
- February 12th, Senior Local Scholarship Application Due
- February 24th, Ninth Grade Parent Night, 7:00 pm, Seasholes Auditorium @ NSHS
On the Horizon
- March 9th, Eighth Grade Parent Night, 7:00 pm, NSHS Field House
- March 17th, AP Exam Registration Deadline (Total Registration)