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Preparation for Life

Posted on: Tue, October 04, 2016 at 12:10

Preparation for Life

I was recently traveling to San Francisco, when I found myself in the usual holding pattern at Logan Airport. Hours of delay and swarms of travelers waiting at the crowded gate, I was at peace with the unexpected ‘free time.’ After reading for a while, I looked about and noticed a young mother-to-be with an unmistakable book in her hands, How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. Having first heard of the title on NPR several years ago, I was oddly intrigued by this soon-to-be mom and how she had come across the book so early in her parenting journey.

Later while on that same trip, I was visiting San Francisco’s Exploratorium. About to leave the museum, I caught sight of a woman reading the very same title. While the popularity of the book does not surprise me, the serendipitous sightings do. This notion of success is one that is tossed about a great deal in educational settings but it often confounds me. In an ever-changing world, one in which I am not certain any of us can fully predict the rigors our students will face, I wonder how we define success and how we prepare for it?

Success can take many forms, so is it possible to find a universally accepted definition or measure that would allow us to adequately address some of the most common questions at Open Houses and Parent Administrative Meetings: How prepared (or successful) are Lighthouse students when they graduate? Where do they go after graduating from high school? How do they compare with their non-Lighthouse peers?  I appreciate these questions, as I, too, am a parent and understand the weight of such matters. Who doesn’t wish for their children to be ‘successful?’ Surprisingly, no one has ever asked if our students are happy people or good citizens or whether or not they manage adversity well? I have never been asked how well they puzzle through problems with their peers or with new challenges that require creative or imaginative solutions. Are they tenacious and resilient? Do they love school and learning? As both a parent and an educator, the answers to these questions are equally important as the ones that ask whether or not our students are academically prepared for high school or college.

It’s quite easy answering questions regarding Lighthouse students’ academic preparedness, accomplishments, and accolades. By traditional measures of success, they are doing well, as well as their public and independent school counterparts. They are on the Honor Roll and the Principal’s List; they are writing for and editing the high school’s award-winning newspaper; they are on Varsity sports teams, as well as a semi-professional soccer team in Chile; they are recipients of a variety of awards for art, leadership, and citizenship; they have been their classes’ Valedictorian or Homecoming Queen; and they are attending an array of colleges and universities including Harvard University, University of Connecticut, Maine Maritime Academy, Cooper Union School for the Advancement of Science and Art, and Leon Schiller National School of Film, Television, and Theater in Poland.

Generally speaking, Lighthouse students are prepared and successful when they graduate. However, it’s disingenuous to focus exclusively on our alumni’s many distinctions, as I am not convinced that they alone define preparedness and success. More and more, educational researchers are finding that some of the greatest markers of success are those more subtle skills such as grit, tenacity, problem solving, perseverance, resilience, communication skills, imaginative thinking, confidence and a healthy sense of self, curiosity, and a love of learning that drives them to pursue their passions and goals.

These are 21st Century skills and they transcend the traditional, narrowly defined measures of success. Success in the world that we are preparing our students for is one that we have not experienced ourselves, and it is not as singularly defined as it may have been when we were growing up. Are we preparing our children for our past or for their future? A unsettling paradigm shift for many of us, as we attempt to re-conceptualize how we prepare students for more than just success at the next step and instead consider how we prepare them for life. This is not to suggest that that preparation does not include specific academic skills and knowledge but that it also considers equally what they really need to be successful in life.

Lighthouse School takes very seriously the development of these non-cognitive skills. Our social curriculum is simple but powerful. Stemming from the Golden Rule, which asks children to treat others as they wish to be treated, this curriculum helps children develop an honest and respectful language around negotiation, problem solving, and conflict resolution while also cultivating empathy and compassion. Children learn to accept responsibility for their actions, even when doing so may be uncomfortable. They also learn that their voices have importance and that they have the power to advocate for themselves and their classmates. With the guidance of compassionate, committed teachers who truly recognize each individual child, our students learn to navigate the intricacies of group dynamics while still feeling valued for their unique constellation of qualities.  We are committed to raising whole, healthy children who are creative, imaginative, collaborative, artistic, curious, confident, and tenacious, as well as those who are skilled problem solvers with a healthy sense of self and a feeling of responsibility to the world and those around them. In addition to preparing Lighthouse students for high school, we are preparing them for life.

Emily Miller
Head of School
Nantucket Lighthouse School