In between interviewing candidates and welcoming several finalists to campus this week, I have had the opportunity to spend time with three separate classes working on long-standing Country School projects: a 5th grade class discussing the validity of school dress codes/uniforms, a 6th grade class preparing for its speeches, and 8th graders practicing telling stories from various cultures around the world. Each of these is a highlight of the year for the grade because it has a public component; it involves performance of some sort and younger students see and look forward to partaking in these activities themselves one day.
Working on communication skills like this builds confidence, poise, and leadership, all hallmarks of our mission and the unique experiences students have in their years at Country School. Best of all, each of these involve some form of public presentation – whether delivering a request to a school administrator regarding a dress code change, telling a classic story from a global tradition to a class of younger students, or giving a Ted-talk style speech in the auditorium to your parents and classmates. Students experience both the anxiety and nervousness of performance, which requires resilience and confidence. The reward that comes at the end when students hear the applause and appreciation tell the student that the effort was rewarding and worthwhile. As in all performances, the best feeling is at the end.
These have also been highlights for me because of the skills the students are learning and practicing under the umbrella of a project they have anticipated and whose past participants’ final products they have enjoyed. In other words, these are no ordinary lessons: the excitement of participating in these highlight events contextualizes the learning more than in other forms. The 5th and 6th graders are essentially writing persuasive essays, a hallmark of the early adolescent years. Instead of writing an essay on a book they have read as so many fellow students do, they get to write it on a topic they care about and, in the case of the 6th graders, deliver it as a memorized speech. The 6th and 8th graders are learning key components of speech making, especially the importance of engaging delivery and interaction with an audience.
At the end of this week, I feel gratitude that our students have the chance to learn these essential skills in such a joyful, collective manner and that they are pushed to be their best in such a supportive fashion. No wonder our students go on to have great impact in their lives after learning foundational skills in such an environment.