By Dr. JEFFREY L. MITCHELL
Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, based on my experience as an educator and parent, I’ll explore what I believe are critical overarching features of a quality educational experience. I’ll cut a large swath across the educational landscape, in the exploration of what I think are the essential features of a quality education.
As a college instructor of future teachers, I often conducted the following preliminary activity. Without any guidance, I would simply ask the would-be teachers to think about and share, one or two memorable (positive) experiences from their K-12 schooling.
Over the years, two clear patterns presented themselves. As highlighted in the previous Extra Credit article on Great Teachers and not surprisingly, a number of the experiences cited extraordinary things done by extraordinary educators.
My message to the teachers-in-training at the conclusion of this exercise was to remember to appreciate that the influence of the K-12 education experience will not be confined by the walls of the classrooms.
What does it look like?
Over the years, I have seen how important the right opportunities can be in the analysis, by both students and parents, of the perceived value of a school. Whether the value stems from athletics, the arts, clubs – it does not matter – perceived value is strongly influenced by these beyond-the-classroom opportunities.
There’s no shortage of studies (e.g., Positive Effects of Extra Curricular Activities on Students) highlighting the vast array of benefits associated with opportunities. Without much effort, you can find empirical evidence to support the benefits of beyond-class opportunities for improving resilience, self-regulation, self-esteem, identity and motivation — as well as improvements in behavioral indicators such as empathy, tolerance, cooperation and collaboration.
An interesting TED Talk (The secret to great opportunities? The person you haven’t met yet) takes the benefits of opportunities further. The speaker referenced a paper by sociologist Mark Granovetter titled, “The Strength of Weak Ties.” Granovetter asked, how people got their jobs.
Granovetter states that the problem with strong ties is that the network is redundant. Everybody that they know, you know.
Whereas, the strength of weak ties is the expansion of possibilities through new connections. Moreover, participation in K-12 opportunities develops skills like effort,
organization, discipline, teamwork and leadership. When this occurs, the stage is set for the individual to be comfortable and open to developing weak ties.
For our 50th Anniversary video I was asked to comment on “the best thing about Currey Ingram.” Of the many things I could say, I went with “witnessing students do something that neither they nor their parents ever thought they would be able to do.”
At Currey Ingram, providing an array of opportunities that extend beyond our foundational academic program is absolutely critical to our success. Our students spend a significant portion of their day receiving instruction to confront their learning differences. But significant to the success in the classroom is the confidence gained from participating in an opportunity outside of the classroom.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell
As both a parent and Head of School, one of the credos I believe is to expect that my children and students participate in the life of the school beyond the classroom. There’s hardly anything I have come across that has a wider and more lasting set of ancillary benefits.