Dear Flint Hill School Families,
The outcome that we all want for our parenting efforts is the hope that our children will be poised, confident and engaged young people. We want them to act the way we have taught them to act when they are away from us. And one of the most important concepts that we teach when parenting is “decision-making.” Part of the process causes us to be stressed out about many things. Will they keep their room neat and brush their teeth before bedtime? Will they look people in the eyes when they meet someone or shake hands with a firm handshake? Other parents will worry about their kids clinging to them when they are introducing them to people or wonder what will happen when they bring them to their preschool or elementary school to meet their teachers for the first time. Will they be polite, respectful and responsible? And at school, we not only want them to do their homework, turn it in, and do well academically, but we also want them to use good judgment in picking friends and in what they do with their friends. And when they hit adolescence and begin to drive, we want them to be careful at all times for themselves, for anyone who may be in the car with them, and for anyone else nearby.
The whole concept of “decision-making” and being on their own falls right into our vision for each of our students: “Take meaningful risks. Be yourself. Make a difference.” The “meaningful risk” is the key phrase here. In our strategic planning process, it took an enormous amount of time to figure out how to express that term appropriately. In fact, we focused on the “meaningful” as the subjective part of the whole struggle. So often, when I talk at admission events, I refer to our “meaningful risks.” Things like taking a class you never thought about taking before; trying a sport you never tried before; or maybe hearing that a teacher is really tough but would really be a tremendous mentor, so you challenge yourself and take that class. All of those examples demonstrate taking a meaningful risk. I also see it when students get older; they focus on getting a summer job like babysitting, doing yard work or applying for an internship. I see it in many of our students now wanting to take even more classes.
I am always amazed about how the concept of summer school is no longer a negative. Instead, it is something that students want to do, so they can get more course work through the summer, which will open up their schedule to take even more classes during the school year. And as long as it is a balanced, healthy mix of classes, that is an exciting “meaningful risk” to witness. It is impressive and carefully structured, it doesn’t have to be a “pressure cooker” or a burden, but simply pushing themselves to get everything they want in life. That is taking a real meaningful risk. Even yesterday, our Juniors and Seniors had a guest speaker talk to them about “bystander apathy,” and how there is a time and place to assess any situation you are in. How do you know when to reach out and help someone? What are the appropriate actions to take? When do you speak up, seek help or provide the help? All of it comes down to us — each individual — taking a meaningful risk.
Taking “meaningful risks” is an ample concept and it can mean good or bad. It doesn’t mean that we can do just anything we want. Over the years, my heart always gets broken when I have to deal with some students who have taken a joke too far or have engaged in actions that put themselves or others at risk. In many cases, they never intended things to happen the way they did. The “risk” they took was lacking in the “meaningful.” At school, we continue to work hard to foster the prevention issues with alcohol and drugs for our adolescent students. To this day, I still consider them the greatest threats to our children’s well-being. Unfortunately, too many, take the risk and leave off the “meaningful.” They think it is a rite of passage and an appropriate thing for them to engage in. The statistics have indicated for more than 40 years, that approximately 6,000 teenagers die each year in alcohol related car accidents. What a waste! And numerous people struggle with depression and contemplate suicide. The numbers of teenagers who engage in risky behavior are far too high. After all these years in education, I am still amazed at how some adolescents still believe in the three “I’s.” They think they are Immortal, Indestructible and Infertile. Those risks are not meaningful risks and, we, as parents and as educators, need to remind them that those are destructive risks.
But our focus at Flint Hill and as engaged parents has to remain on the positive, because it is taking those meaningful risks, that help our children gain confidence. It is taking those risks that allow people to begin to grow as individuals, as scholars, as artists, as athletes, and ultimately as ethical leaders. It is taking meaningful risks that puts people on the path to truly be themselves. Being yourself doesn’t just happen. The second phase of our vision builds on those meaningful risks. Taking the meaningful risks allows us to learn valuable lessons. It may not be all that smooth taking those meaningful risks; there may be some failure along the way, but it is the proactive sense that allows us to find our own strengths and passions. This will lead us to the third level, which is “make a difference.” And ultimately, that is what we want to help foster, nurture, protect and ensure.
In just the last week, I have seen lots of our younger students grow from taking some “meaningful risks.” Last Friday, the entire Middle School gathered in their “Husky Houses” — mixed grade-level groups of students in Grades 5 to 8. Students were placed in 48 separate groups and were challenged to create a device that would test energy, which ultimately released a helium balloon in their house color. You would be amazed at the contraptions they created and the learning that took place. Although it was chaotic at times, together they designed, created, built and succeeded in meeting the challenge. They all took “meaningful risks” and grew in the process. Their creativity, sense of collaboration, problem solving, and communication skills were tested, but those “meaningful risks” led them to a newfound confidence.
And just yesterday, our Lower School Director Sheena Hall helped me tour the Lower School Enrichment Clusters. Our students in Grades 1 to 4 engaged in deciding on a different activity to take on four consecutive “F” days. To see them working — coding, ozobots, making jewelry, and working on paper circuitry, among other interests — was just amazing! The full list is here. The bottom line, they were all taking “meaningful risks” … and having tons of fun while learning from the activities.
Parenting and teaching is a challenge for sure, but the rewards for our children and for us are enormous. Watching young people develop skills and confidence as they take their “meaningful risks,” gives us confidence that they are ready for whatever is ahead of them.
Have a super week! And continue experiencing the greatest “meaningful risk” there is… being a parent!!!
Best wishes to you!
John M. Thomas