Becoming Better: How You Influence Growth

Last weekend I traveled with my son, Jack, and his Cub Scout pack to a joint campout with an older Boy Scout troop.
It was a perfect October weekend: 70’s with sun and breeze; evening temperatures in the 50’s—cold enough that a sleeping bag was the perfect cocoon for tent sleeping.
Although Jack and I have camped a lot, this was my first experience watching a Boy Scout troop at a campout. Throughout the whole experience, the boys were in charge. During mealtime, the senior patrol leader, a ninth grader, separated the group of 23 boys into three groups. Each had their own food preparation area, menus they had created, food they had procured, and tasks assigned.
Whenever the entire group needed to be addressed, the senior patrol leader would call them together, hold up a Scout sign (three fingers), and everyone would go silent as they held up their fingers in response.
That night the boys had a special treat: they were given a tour of the U.S.S. Batfish, a retired World War II submersible boat that once toured the Pacific and survived. Its maiden crew of 80 was confined to tiny spaces where each man played essential tasks: repairing engines, launching torpedoes, radioing signals, navigating with gauges and periscope, or preparing pastries for hungry crew members.
After the tour, the boys were allowed to bunk in the berthing room for the night. Two adult leaders stayed on the boat, but I made way back to my tent.

Life’s a Classroom

Of course, all of this reminded me of a great classroom: students who have been taught roles and responsibilities, procedures and routines; and roles that had been delegated and practiced; space given for making mistakes, and debriefing afterwards to discuss ways to improve for next time.
It reminded me of what I saw happening in an Anatomy lab last week when our science teacher, Ms. Irving, split groups of students around tables and had them studying and logging the differences between their own skin cells and the cells of plants.
It was like what I saw this afternoon at the boys’ field house where coaches were collaborating with football players who were split into specialty areas to study diagrams and practice plays.
This is all a part of the joy of learning, and the empowerment that is given to a child when he or she is trusted with a task, given responsibility to complete it, and allowed the benefits of a job well done.

Bulldog Traits

How can you keep encouraging students to grow both in skills and in character?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I know every school, including my own, has its challenges. My teachers have the constant struggle of providing good instruction while managing student behavior. Just today I handed out discipline for an array of infractions.
At the same time, we also announced an initiative we are calling “Bulldog Traits.” Each month, we have chosen a different character trait to emphasis. Our first month for Bulldog Traits is October, and we are talking about the trait of responsibility.
Our Photoshop classes are designing images and signage to hang in classrooms about the traits. STUCO members will discuss it during class meetings, and our elective teachers are helping students complete self-assessments about it. These same teachers are instructing about responsibility, and we will recognize students throughout the month who demonstrate the trait by awarding them “Good Deeds” awards.

Skills and Will

Just as important as it is to focus on learning skills (which we do in classrooms, through PLC’s and data teaming), it is equally important to focus on the “will” of students—the intangible but essential habits necessary for success.
This afternoon, for instance, I had a freshman boy stop by my office after school. He told me he had been pulled from football practice because he is behind on classwork and needed to catch up so that he could be eligible to play.
He asked me how long I thought it would take for him to reach his goals. We spent the next moments together developing his first entries in his school planner so he could have a list of daily tasks and homework assignments missing. And I gave him some folders so that he could more efficiently organize his work.
All these little steps: teaching, mentoring, modeling, coaching, encouraging, and instructing–are all a part of the teamwork it takes to educate students in ways that matter.

Standing On Shoulders

During the weekend campout, we took a photo of the boys standing on the deck of the U.S.S. Batfish. The clouds and blue sky hovered above them as they lined up shoulder-to-shoulder–tall, short, lanky and vibrant figures–standing on the memories of men who once served to give them the freedoms to enjoy being boys and becoming men.
I remember what Jack told me the first few days he had been in Cub Scouts. He was studying the Scout oath when he found me to practice what he had memorized.
“You know what, Dad?” he said. “When I joined Scouts, I thought it would be a lot about camping or learning how to use a knife. But what I’m thinking…”
I could tell he was trying to find the words.
“What I’m thinking,” he continued. “Well, I don’t know how to say it…but what I’m thinking is…it’s really about becoming a better boy.”
I smiled. “I can see that,” I said. “Do you think another way to say that is: it’s teaching you about good character?”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to say.”


As you are providing new opportunities for students to grow in knowledge and application this week, let’s keep this in mind: whatever subject or topic students are learning–whatever outcomes or skills –whatever goals they are achieving–they can always reach greater heights when they’re able to stand on the shoulders of someone willing to sacrifice, to mentor, to model, and to lead.
If you’re a school leader, you are one link in a great chain of other teammates. Learning takes an amazing dedication to teamwork, but with strong collaboration, we can all keep becoming better.

Now It’s Your Turn

What are ways that you can continue to encourage collaboration so that students are growing in both skills and responsibilities? Let’s keep learning, sharing, and growing!

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker