As we begin a new school year, I think that most students are excited about an array of opportunities, but a lot are also naturally feeling somewhat vulnerable. A major contradiction of our times is the unintended message of the nuts-and-bolts priorities of the “I generation”. I hear a lot about “I this” and “I that”. Let’s face it, across North America there’s an obsession with the individual and with individual public displays of personal competence and strength. Although there’s nothing wrong with strength, courage and developing into a solid individual, none of our students are able to do it alone, I assure you.
I recently asked high school students to consider how to gently shed some of their fear of appearing vulnerable. In all honesty, we are all vulnerable and need input and help from others most of the time. That’s a fundamental reality of the human condition and learning and working productively.
Students need to stop worrying about developing an impenetrable self-image, both in person or online. To do this they need to consider less focus on “I” or “me” and shift the focus more to “we”. Collaboration with others is a reality of life and a set of key skills to develop. It actually requires practice so that young people can become valued contributors who actually listen better and be genuinely trusted by others.
Despite the powerful cultural messages about having the courage to stand alone and stand apart from the crowd, I’m asking our students to come together more in groups. I have asked them to consider how you will develop their ability to work more effectively with others. Fortunately, they are gaining a lot of practice in the classroom.
All the modern workplace gurus and writers remind us that the ability to work with others is now the key attribute of today’s employees and professional teams, whether you are at a school or a start-up, or a professional, such as a doctor or a teacher. I assure you, our teachers all work in teams – more so than ever before. This is evident in our many dynamic Professional Learning Community (PLC) teams! In working together, they are impressive role models to our students every day.
So, I urge our students to let their relationships flourish and I guarantee them that in due course, they will feel good – more positive and well supported. We all do when we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster