Reciprocal Learning: Student and Principal

The following essay is a conversation and comparison of three Habits of Mind between a high school student and a high school principal.

High School Student

My name is Matt Trussell, and I am finishing my junior year in high school. As a high school student who has maintained a 4.0 GPA and is involved in multiple extracurricular activities (while publishing my own newsletter), many of the Habits of Mind are important to me. I utilize many of them when I publish my weekly newsletter called “The Random Thought Of The Week” (subscribe: randomthoughtoftheweek.substack.com). I am going to be discussing three Habits of Mind here – Striving for Accuracy, Taking Responsible Risks, and Finding Humor.

High School Principal

William A. Sommers, Ph.D. of Austin, Texas, continues to be a learner, teacher, principal, author, leadership coach, and consultant for multiple educational groups. He was on the Board of Trustees for five years and President of the National Staff Development Council now called Learning Forward. Bill puts theory into action by coming out of retirement multiple times. His website is www.learningomnivores.com.


High School Student on Striving for Accuracy

The first Habit of Mind I am going to discuss is Striving for Accuracy. Obviously, as a high school student, striving for accuracy is extremely important for me. In my academic life and when I’m writing my newsletter, striving for accuracy is critical to send the right message and convey the right facts. Striving for accuracy is commonly misinterpreted by the general public when they think about high school students. Some think that high school students do not care about accuracy or are unable to write a good essay. This is mainly why I publish my newsletter under a pseudonym. If my readers knew I was a high school student, their perception of my newsletter might change. This is not anything against the reader, it’s just how societal standards are. High school opinions count less because some don’t strive for accuracy and do not have the experience of life after high school.

Another way to put this is through the phrase “good enough.” “Good enough” is a commonplace phrase in high school. I think “good enough” is the worst thing a person can say. I think “Good enough” is why our world is rapidly tilting into shambles. “Good enough” tends to end up being the worst answer because it is a “get by” attitude. The world would be much better, much smarter, and much kinder if everyone strove for accuracy and did not push the “good enough” mentality.

Principal on Striving for Accuracy

As a principal, would you want a schedule “good enough” or a budget “good enough?” Would the community stand for schools that are “good enough,” where behavior was not conducive to a safe and orderly learning environment? Physical and emotional safety are required to facilitate more learning.

In the complex world, there are some things that we have to be specific with strict boundaries. Weapons, drugs, and bullying, for example. These are more operational boundaries. At the same time, learning has so many moving parts. I heard a speaker say, “students know more ways to learn than we know how to teach.” The key to this habit is to know what and when specificity and accuracy are paramount while keeping options open in the form of learning opportunities.

High School Student on Taking Responsible Risks

The second Habit of Mind I want to address is Taking Responsible Risks. And before you all think it, no, I don’t drink or do drugs, despite high school societal standards and media coverage. For me, taking responsible risks is not about whether to do drugs or not. I rarely have the chance to take responsible risks that have real effects. Sure, I can take irresponsible risks, like driving unsafely or spending money on stupid garbage, but what are responsible risks to a high school student?

We as a society put high school students into a box and don’t give them enough freedom to take responsible risks. If we as a society did give enough high school students the freedom to take responsible risks, I think many students would turn responsible risks into irresponsible risks. So, we are stuck in this limbo of limiting things high school students can or can’t do, and that’s just how it is. Taking responsible risks is something I look forward to later in life, but not something that I constantly am able to do now. After all, businesses want future employees to find new and improved ways to solve problems, which starts with taking responsible risks.

Principal on Taking Responsible Risks

Sometimes high school is about conformance, e.g. no weapons, bullying, or dangerous behavior. Unfortunately, test scores have become the holy grail. There is also a time to experiment, discuss ideas from multiple perspectives, and build a support network along the way to support us when we take responsible risks in the future. There are plenty of research studies that tell us that the more diverse the team, the better the decisions. Amy Edmonson’s research says that if the workplace is safe, more thoughts will be forthcoming. Taking responsible risks requires a base level of trust. With trust people will share more information, identify concerns, and offer suggestions.

It seems to me that assessing collaboration, considering options, and creativity are highly sought after. Do we really want standardized students? Haven’t you learned a great deal from failures? Things that don’t work out can be a great source of learning. Edison found hundreds of ways not to build a light bulb.

Student on Finding Humor

The last Habit of Mind I would like to speak to is Finding Humor. This is one of my favorite Habits of Mind, and, in my opinion, one of the most important. Let’s be honest, high school can be depressing, and it’s only gotten more so with social media and the technological revolution. My ability to find humor has been crucial to both coping with high school and writing my newsletter (“The Random Thought Of The Week” often incorporates humor into the posts). I think no matter where you are in life, no matter how good or bad things are, finding humor is imperative to living a happy and healthy life. Humor helps to keep life struggles in perspective.

Principal on Finding Humor

Victor Borge said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Schools can be humorous places and, as I have said many times, “you can’t write this stuff.” Last year a colleague I was coaching said in over forty years I must have seen it all. WRONG. Every year has something that was not in the principal preparation manual. Humor helps us adapt because it forces us out of our comfort zone. Another area is laughing at ourselves and our own actions. Have you ever said something your parents said to you? And you had probably said, I would never say that to my kids. HA. Obviously, we are not talking about life-threatening issues. Sometimes students come up with the most creative ways to beat the system. They actually help the adults do better. I learn from the students constantly. It is important to give students a voice.

An important point is that humor is NOT to be at someone’s personal expense. Unexpected outcomes, creative solutions, and some failures can be funny. There is an ecological safety issue. If an attempt at humor causes psychological or emotional safety to be compromised, it is not humor, it can be depressing or emotional abuse.

Conclusion

As this essay demonstrates, a high school student and a high school principal are developing the same dispositional thinking by employing the same Habits of Mind in situations that are unique to their roles. Despite there being many obvious differences, age, experience, etc., much of their sentiment towards learning, life, and Habits of Mind are similar. In fact, school and life share some common goals such as preparing to participate and live in a safe and thoughtful community. When we make that transparent to students, principals, staff, and parents, we are better able to shape a better future for all.

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