As many of you may know, I just celebrated my 50th birthday. I found this to be an intensely reflective week as I pondered my own life journey, my family, my community, my world, and of course, the future (and history) of CSD. To be honest, I am kind of excited to be 50 years old! Crazy I know! I find it empowering and humbling at the same time. I finally feel like I truly get what matters in my life.
In the world of leadership, we are often reminded not to let the unimportant things fill our days. Great leaders spend the majority of their time focused on what matters. This sounds so simple yet it proves to be the most challenging part of our job. Long ago, when Leslie and I first founded CSD, we were confident that our school philosophy was right for every student but maybe not right for every family. Why might we say that you ask? Simply said, we take the road less traveled at CSD and it is often muddy and messy. There are certainly easier and faster ways to get a certain expected result but we believe that what is best for students is rarely easy, obvious, or inexpensive. Those who work to deeply understand what we do, will hang on through the tumultuous times and experience the rewards that typically await us at the end of the road.
Let me give you a few examples:
Most of the teachers at CSD were trained in college to use behaviorism (many of you would recognize this as it surrounds us in the form of rewards and punishments) as the main method to “control” a class. We did it as beginning teachers and we did it well. But guess what? While this does get a short term result, it is actually destructive if your main goal is to create intrinsically motivated students who use self-control and careful thought as they make decisions and meaning from their lives. As you know, this is our main goal at CSD. We are not concerned with running a school that makes the lives of adults easier. We are concerned with preparing our students for life. You see, if we spend all of our time in K-12 education controlling our students so that they never have room to make mistakes, then we are missing the opportunity for those students to learn from these mistakes in a safe environment. We then send them to college and the world having had limited freedom and a severe lack of skills in the area of decision making, problem solving, conflict resolution, and being comfortable with who they are as individuals. It is our sincere belief that using behaviorism is a destructive strategy for gaining control in our classrooms but more importantly, it severely handicaps our students as they leave our school and transition into the adult world.
Another “easy out” that educators take regularly in the world of teaching and learning is giving a student an F and moving on. At CSD, we are more focused on learning than we are numbers and we never want to give any student the impression that we accept the answer of, “I choose not to do the work. Just fail me.” Although that student may not be able to earn an A or a B for the work that needs to be redone or relearned, we will relentlessly pursue them and require them to participate in their learning. They are simply too immature to be allowed to make such damaging life decisions in their education. It is our sincere hope that if we provide the necessary scaffolding, the student will experience success as a result of hard work. Hopefully, this will lead them to want it for themselves badly enough to eventually pursue it independently. I just recently had discussions with three alumni graduates of CSD. All three of them were students who struggled to take school seriously and they often got angry with us for not allowing them to “just take the F.” Interestingly enough, all three of them are taking their post high school studies more seriously because they finally want it for themselves. One of them even said to me that he is grateful we did not give up on him as we taught him how to study by forcing him to study WITH us. Now he is finally ready to step up and do it for himself, and thanks to the perseverance of his great teachers, he knows how. Trust me when I say that many schools are perfectly fine to allow a student to give up on himself. That would not be CSD. It is hard for me to imagine that there is any child in this world not worthy of someone who will fight for him and his education.
So……..what is the result of all my birthday contemplation? I stand firm on our belief in what matters. CSD is not perfect but we are deeply committed to doing what is right for our students. We will continue on the road less traveled and focus on what matters because our students deserve our commitment, effort, and perseverance. Everything we do (and don’t do) is intentional and backed by current educational research. Leslie and I said from the beginning, this may not be the right school for every parent because parents must choose with their hearts and we honor that responsibility, but we are committed to our vision and mission and believe our students are worth the good fight. We cherish the trust that you give us each day as we walk this challenging walk of raising our children together. Whenever I need a reminder to stay on this road less traveled, all I have to do is talk to the students at the high school and our first class of alumni. They remind me that giving our students room to make mistakes and learn from them is worth the struggles that we encounter along the way. They are pretty extraordinary young adults!
We hope that today you are reminded of what matters for your child, for your family.