At Keystone, we know that it’s important to take risks

Jan 31 2020

At Keystone, we know that it’s important to take risks

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
–Helen Keller

In their final semester of high school, three seniors choose to perform in their first play. After months of learning the basics of the sport, an eighth grader scores in a basketball game. Every day in aftercare, several girls practice their crocheting skills and eventually create beautiful scarves and hats.

Pushing limits on the 7th grade trip

So much of what we do in schools comes down to asking students, as well as adults, to take risks, try new things, and possibly fall short. As experience shows us, going out on a limb can be scary; it is much easier, and therefore safer, to continue doing what we have always done. Routine is comforting, particularly when we receive recognition for doing well. This can be all the more true with children who are successful in school and pride themselves on their performance. The possibility of failure presents an obstacle to taking on something new or different.

So, how do we create the conditions for motivated and engaged children like Keystone Cobras to put themselves out there? There are a variety of ways ranging from structure to culture. Further back than I care to remember in graduate school, I researched and wrote a paper on the benefits of small schools. As study after study has shown, smaller schools can raise student achievement, increase attendance, create stronger school climate, and strengthen teacher satisfaction. In addition, smaller schools can allow for greater parent involvement, safety through children knowing one another, and more respect among everyone in the school. When measured against larger schools, it would seem readily apparent that there is more opportunity for individual children to be known in a smaller setting. Although much research has focused on the benefits of small classes, and these are important, the size of a school in general can also determine student involvement and success.

Among the many memories from my large public high school was the passing periods in the hallways. Funnelling far too many adolescents through hallways with lockers on both sides made us feel like cattle herded through a chute. One day in a form of mild protest at our perceived anonymity, we all started moo-ing. In retrospect, it may sound childish, but for us, it was symbolic of our experience.

Being a smaller school, though, doesn’t guarantee student engagement. Just like small towns, small schools can feel confining or stultifying if there’s not proper attention to the culture. By itself, a lower student enrollment can induce a homogeneous myopia and fail to prepare students for diverse colleges, multicultural workplaces, and an interconnected world. Similarly, if there’s not proper attention to encouraging students to be courageous and stretch themselves, all schools can stunt student growth and development. Fortunately, the diversity we celebrate at Keystone helps promote a wide variety of experiences, personalities, and perspectives.

At Keystone, we take to heart Brené Brown’s advice when she says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” Students will try new things if they feel secure in being vulnerable; this can only occur when educators instill a culture of risk-taking and celebrating what Lower School Head Mrs. Jeanette Vilagi refers to as “beautiful oops,” the mistakes that allow us to grow. Many years ago, a student posted as her senior yearbook quote something I said in passing but she took to heart, “bravery is not being unafraid, it’s acknowledging your fear and then overcoming it.” In every division at Keystone, teachers and staff members encourage students to “give it a shot,” or “take a chance” whether it’s in Science Fair, in the art room, or on the courts or fields of play. Although Nike trademarked the maxim, “Just Do It,’ this saying could just as easily apply to the way the adults at Keystone exhort our students.

As parents and educators in the lives of Keystone children, we get to help students recognize and name their fears, and then provide them with the tools to transcend them. When this occurs, students give their debut performances on stage only months before graduating, score a basket in a game they had never played until recently, and create beautiful works of art in a medium they didn’t even know existed until a kind and compassionate adult took them by the hand and showed them what they are capable of doing. We are fortunate indeed to be charged with the work we are doing.

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