Keystone offers a space place for students to figure out who they are
“Know first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.”
Among the many joys of working in schools is observing students discover and clarify their identity. This may be even more true in a school where children range in age from 3 years old to graduating seniors. Much of who they are and who they will be plays itself out right in front of us at school.
At the same time that children master concepts, develop skills, and challenge themselves intellectually, they also travel a winding path of self-invention and refinement. On any day, they decide to change themselves radically and become an entirely new person. This can take place over a year, or it can happen overnight. As parents and educators, we can help them in this journey if we have patience and perspective.
I considered yet again how we aid students in the process of self-exploration while studying the new art installation in the Upper School commons (aka the fishbowl.) Dangling from strings are photographs either taken by students or chosen by them to represent their identity. As Keystone digital arts teacher Megan Letos explained, “ During the first quarter of wellness, students explore identity, and for the art rotation I ask students to create a series of photographs that offers a window into their identity.”
When the students finished selecting their photographs, they assembled them on strands that Ms. Letos then hung in the window of the fishbowl. The pictures now hang like a curtain allowing passers a chance to get to know these new Upper School students in an entirely new way. They demonstrate both the individuality and the commonality of these interesting young adults in a captivating and intriguing manner. To quote Ms. Letos again, “There’s a tendency for us to complete a project and not appreciate what was done, and I thought it was important to give these photographs the time and place to do so. These photo essays highlight or focus on a single student, but when they are displayed together they showcase the unique personalities that make up the class. I think it is a poignant way to appreciate both the individual and the collective.”
Many times I have thought that what we actually teach students in school is relationships. We help them relate to the content they are studying, to their peers, to the adults in their lives, and to themselves. Sometimes, they learn these notions in tandem; other times, they find them individually. This is made all the more complicated as they go through different phases in the normal process of child and adolescent development. They are changing while their world goes on. It’s like trying to hit a moving target while one is simultaneously in movement.
As children grow, they come to realize who they are and how they differ from and resemble others. An article called “How Children Develop Identity” from authors Krischa Esquivel, Emily Elam, Jennifer Paris, & Maricela Tafoya states,
“Another dynamic surrounds ‘personal’ versus ‘social’ identity. Personal identity refers to children’s subjective feelings about their distinctiveness from others, their sense of uniqueness, of individuality. Social identity refers, on the other hand, to the ways in which they feel they are (or would like to be) the same as others, typically through identification with family and/or peer culture (Schaffer, 2006). Factors like age, gender, religious background, ethnic background, interests, role models, talents, and hobbies play a part in a child’s emerging concept of self.”
In the process, children may come to identify a core set of values, but they will express them differently depending on their age and state of maturation. As parents, we may find these changes vexing and even aggravating. Deep breaths may be the best medicine for our frustration.
I recall when our older son and I were reading one of the Harry Potter books where the main characters were now in late middle school/early high school age. Our son, who was in fourth grade at the time, said, “I don’t really like Harry right now.” I wondered whether he would be likable all the time when he was in 8th or 9th grade. JK Rowlings’s ability to portray the changes in children’s personalities as they go through different stages may be one of the strongest elements in her wildly successful series.
As parents, we see how our children change constantly. On the drive to school, our daughter informs us that she’s dropping her life-long passion for gymnastics to play basketball. At dinner, our formerly passive son proclaims his newfound political activism. The budding historian says she wishes to study engineering. We may develop whiplash as children declare their novel sense of self. As adults, we can challenge, support, and encourage them to be the best version of themselves throughout their lives.