As a parent and educator, I believe that the best thing we can do for our children/students is to create an environment that develops fortitude. After all, one of our primary goals is for them to be happy in life, and I am convinced that happiness starts with balance and strength.
At the beginning of the holiday, I attended an Aberdeen Hall alumni event in downtown Kelowna.
We had hosted a few of these in years past, but this one was different. I am not sure what exactly made it different, but I left the event with a tremendous sense of satisfaction and pride for the achievements of our graduates. (Full disclosure, both of my alumni daughters were there, so I may have a little bias!)
It was great to reconnect with the 30+ alumni at the event. They were excited to tell us about their successes and challenges of the last few years. Some of them were just finishing their first term of university, and some had just started their first full-time jobs. It has been 4 ½ years since our inaugural graduating class, and we now have a few students who have started their careers in professional
fields, - that’s pretty cool!
One of my favourite questions for the alumni is if they felt prepared for university after their time at Aberdeen Hall. The answer is usually yes, however we are always listening for feedback on how we can further develop our academic and student life experience. It was particularly interesting to hear these young adults talk about the importance of resilience and dealing with adversity.
A graduate from three years ago told me that the biggest difference between high school and university was that when he was at Aberdeen Hall, “the teachers chased the students, and now that he is at university, it is up to the students to chase the professors.”
I was perplexed at first, but as he continued, I realized exactly what he meant. He suggested that perhaps we should have our teachers “chase less.” I reminded him that the teacher’s chasing may have contributed to him working harder and achieving higher marks, and ultimately university entrance to the program of his choice. However, he had a good point.
At staff meetings we often debate the degree of re-testing that is ideal for our students. On one hand, we want to ensure that the students learn the material and achieve the best marks they are capable of. On the other, we understand the pitfalls of spoon-feeding and second chances. This places us in a bit of a quandary.
At school, we work to build resilience within the students by teaching them to be independent and accountable. This starts in the early years by teaching them to manage their belongings and pack their own knapsacks. It continues in the middle years with independent study guides and instruction on time management. In the senior years, we have a structured mentor program that assists the students in fine-tuning their work ethic, accountability and sense of responsibility. As our Strategic Plan mentions, we provide opportunities for students to build the integrity and resilience necessary to live a contributing, ethical life.
Sometimes I wonder if the benefits of a child’s chores of yesteryear have been lost. When I was a child, traditional chores were on the wane, and now seem to be virtually non-existent in some environments. In reflection, there were positive aspects in this practice that assisted children in building on their skill sets both emotionally and in some cases physically.
The appropriate management of losing and failure can also be tremendously beneficial. Elite athletes understand this very well. In order to be a high performer, one must pair up against stiff competition, and this often results in losing. Roger Federer, probably the greatest tennis player of all time, lost a great number of matches early in his career, and he credits some of those failures for providing him with the determination and hunger required to achieve his incredible success.
Much of my career has been devoted to the creation of new schools, which can be very challenging at times. I can still remember Alberto Bacardi, my first Board Chair in Toronto, saying more than once: “Nobody said that it was going to be easy.” This comment gave me strength and was a valuable lesson. As parents and educators, we need to make sure our children understand (and live) this.
University is hard, and so is life as a young adult. Developing the fortitude and strength necessary to effectively deal with the associated challenges is one of the most important aspects of a good education.
With warm regards,
Head of School
Fortitude: definition - bravery when dealing with pain or difficulty, especially over a long period. Fortitude is a teachable and learnable skill formed over time, and most everyone has the capacity to be courageous in the face of danger. Courage is also about coping with risk and uncertainty. (Cambridge dict, 1994)