MS Head's Blog
In the Middle of It All
Middle School Musings by Trevor O’Driscoll, Bancroft's Head of Middle School
Most weeks, MS Head Trevor O’Driscoll writes a short note to parents and faculty about middle school, education, parenting, and other topics relevant to our community. We share these Middle School Musings here for the benefit and enjoyment of all who are interested. Read recent entries, browse the archives, and delight in Mr. O’Driscoll’s take on our Middle School and the amazing people who inhabit it.
No, these eighth graders aren’t in trouble – they’re just acting! A moment from the 8th Grade Play, “Scared Silly.”
One thing I love about Bancroft’s Middle School is the fact that we don’t force kids to make binary choices about their emerging identities. Questions like, “Are you a jock or an actor?” or “Are you a musician or a math team star?” aren’t ones we ask of the students here, as we find ways to provide opportunities for all middle schoolers to try new things. Every eighth grader plays several roles in the production of the 8th Grade Play, from the behind-the-scenes stuff you won’t see to the scenes they steal on stage. We know that acting may not end up to be your child’s calling. But who knows until they try?
For much of last week I was in New Hampshire chairing the reaccreditation team that immersed itself in a gem of a school in Nashua that serves infants through eighth grade. Our team of seven volunteer educators, which had collectively racked up 20 New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC) visiting team appearances and 165 years of school experience, spent time digesting the school’s 200-page self-study report and hundreds of accompanying documents before our arrival. We then spent four days meeting with every employee and many students as we watched the place in action. Our own report that evaluates the school against NEASC’s 15 accreditation standards will soon be finalized, and it will serve to validate the school’s strengths and highlight its opportunities for growth and evolution. It was a fun, grueling, intense, and rewarding process that was enriching on many levels.
Here at Bancroft our faculty and staff have been deep in the reflective process (including on Friday when your children didn’t have school) that will result in our own self-study and visiting team arrival in October 2018. From my various experiences on both sides of this process, I can tell you it is incredibly valuable to every school that undertakes it, and most schools see benefits for their students and community long before the visiting team arrives.
Despite any visiting committee’s best efforts, what is hard to capture in these visits and reports is the spirit of a place. How does one measure faculty commitment to its students? How does one quantify student happiness, or those unseen moments when a student succeeds at something for the first time due to the behind-the-scenes help of a teacher? While the culture of a school may be hard to capture in a report, I do know it’s easy to identify when you see it.
With advisor/parent conferences coming up on Friday, what I see tells me so much about Bancroft’s Middle School and its faculty. Though the sheer amount of time our faculty is devoting to talking and sharing information about your children is impressive, it’s the quality and substance of these conversations that really strike me. These teachers know your children. Think about how special it is to be a young adolescent who is known so well by so many caring adults. Outside of closest family members and dearest friends, who, at this moment in time, knows your child better than his or her Bancroft teachers? Based on the conversations I have been part of and witnessed, I think you’d be hard pressed to find more people in one place who know your whole child better.
When you have your conference, we trust you will find your child’s advisor has a very good sense of how your son or daughter is doing across many facets of school life, and is able to talk about patterns, strengths, and areas ripe for growth. We look forward to continuing and strengthening our school/family partnerships.
In addition to the philosophical approach that drives our goals in these advisor/parent meetings, we’ve organized this conference day with these logistics in mind:
- Maximize the time you spend with your child’s advisor;
- Be mindful of the amount of time you need to be on campus while recognizing you lead busy lives; and
- Align the conference day across all divisions with awareness that child care arrangements can often be burdensome to arrange.
Of course, as is always the case, any and all of your child’s teachers are only an email or phone call away should you need to follow up with any of them.
Just two days ago, after school got out at 2:45 for the weekend, I had the honor of heading to the lobby of McDonough and sitting in tech teacher Kevin Briggs’s low slung blue beach chair, a typical Friday afternoon fixture in the fall. Fridays after school are when our robotics team and Mr. Briggs voluntarily gather to build, tinker, program, fail, refine, fail, rebuild, reprogram, tinker, reprogram, and sometimes succeed before moving on to the next problem.
Watching the kids as I filled in for Kevin, I saw that students were serious about the robots, some of them working through programming issues that stymied them for weeks. But they were also having lots of fun with each other. There was laughing and socializing. A dance move was busted. This atmosphere naturally led to a spirit of communal experience, and in turn that spirit engendered examples of empathy and care. On three separate occasions I saw three different eighth graders help sixth graders solve problems, not because they were asked but because they noticed the need. By 5:00 the area was totally cleaned up and the last student headed home.
It’s probably a good idea to be crystal clear about my role filling in for Mr. Briggs on Friday. My role was to sit in the low slung blue beach chair. That’s what I agreed to do, and, amazingly, that’s all I had to do.
I sat while the students were completely self directed, from setup (including unfolding said chair for me), to collective problem solving, to cleanup. To be sure, Mr. Briggs deserves all the credit for coaching these students and having the skills necessary to work with this technology. More importantly, he’s also responsible for creating the climate I sat amongst, one that’s a mix of chilled out curiosity and a dogged determination to make crazy ideas work. Like all of our Middle School educators, Kevin brings an original style and expertise to a community of teachers who love working with Bancroft middle schoolers, helping them become self-sustained learners. Of course the kids deserve credit for their work ethic, attitude, and commitment on yet another Friday after school. And me? I was asked to sit in a chair.
The other day at a Middle School assembly I recognized two seventh grade athletes, a volleyball player and a cross country runner, for their accomplishments as Bulldogs. The volleyball player was a huge factor in the team’s win, scoring five points in a row in the deciding match. In just her second season of the sport, her winning contributions were especially remarkable given that she spent much of the previous year trying to get the ball over the net, a skill that proved persistently elusive for her.
The cross country runner finished first in her most recent meet. What made her victory so notable was that she competes at the varsity level. She’s a 12-year-old who is very humbly beating 18-year-olds. The genuine and enthusiastic cheers that each of these athletes received from the assembled division were indistinguishable in their raucousness, and these two athletes beamed.
On the first day of school I gathered with a robust group of Middle School parents and asked them questions such as:
- When did your son or daughter first learn to tie their shoes?
- When was your son or daughter first allowed to put on their own sunblock?
- Is your son or daughter allowed to be home alone and if so, when did they start?
The wide range of answers highlighted the fact that a calendar or an age often has nothing to do with when kids will be ready to take on the next challenge or responsibility. This is true whether we are talking about applying sunscreen or tackling abstract mathematical concepts. So, while one athlete demonstrated remarkable progress toward mastering a fundamental skill, another athlete chased challenges beyond her age group. Yet both demonstrated clear personal growth and success.
At Bancroft we strive to meet kids where they are, and have fun acknowledging and celebrating their impressive range of personal achievements.
The unspeakably tragic events in Las Vegas have yet again reminded us not only how imperfect our world is, but also how precious our families are. As we grieve for others and try to make sense of that which is senseless, we should unabashedly take comfort in how fortunate we are to enjoy our friends, our family, and our children.
During Tuesday morning’s Middle School assembly, I spoke to students and teachers briefly about the incident in Las Vegas. I relayed my own sense of hope at knowing about the countless acts of bravery, help, and humanity that hundreds, if not thousands, of strangers performed for those around them. Humans, time and again, overwhelmingly demonstrate that within us we have the power to transcend the self on behalf of those around us, and in that we can see both beauty and a pure kind of love.
Bringing it closer to the lives of our kids, I reminded middle schoolers of the various circles of support that exist on campus for each and every child at Bancroft. I told students that on this small patch of earth alone there are literally hundreds of people who care about them, their health, their happiness, and their success. Should any student, for any reason, need to tap into these intricate webs of support, we are here for them.
As we see yet another example of violence shatter so many lives and families, I am saddened to once again think about how we as parents can have meaningful, supportive, and developmentally appropriate conversations with our children at home. I wish there wasn’t the need for these “how to talk to your children about X” moments in our lives. Nevertheless, we parents need to be prepared to handle the questions that arise for adolescents who, by nature, have an increasingly acute sense of the larger world around them. Below I have shared some resources that may help you frame conversations that we all wish we did not have to have.
How to talk to kids about the Las Vegas shooting:
Choose groups to clone to: