During last week’s assembly, the Grymes student body and faculty enjoyed speeches by seventh and eighth grade candidates running for election as leaders of the four committees of the Student Leadership Council. Each candidate outlined his or her goals and aspirations for the committee in the year ahead, reflecting countless hours of careful thought, meticulous preparation and impressive effort. The issues discussed were delivered with confidence and courtesy; students listened to each other, applauded each other, and a thoughtful conversation about such topics as the honor code and community service ensued within our community. Every upper schooler cast a ballot, and once votes were tallied and winners announced, all candidates were congratulated for their efforts. When the committees soon come together for the first time to start their work, this meaningful exchange of ideas will result in true collaboration. It is democracy at work.
I can’t help but think how important it is to teach this kind of respectful leadership to children who are watching a very different kind of democratic exchange.
At Grymes, we apply our mission to the day-to-day lives of our students with our watch words “Respect, Responsibility, Kindness, and Honor.” These four words are the pillars of our community. They are posted in every classroom, discussed among students and teachers, and revisited in teachable moments throughout the school day. For instance, a disruptive student might be asked: “Was that respectful of your classmates and your teacher? Were you taking responsibility for your part in making our classroom work?” Through collaboration in the classroom, students are taught that working together effectively means they must listen carefully to one another, debate conflicting ideas and approaches with respect and civility, be kind to classmates and supportive when a peer needs extra help to understand. Whether seventh graders are sharing and critiquing their writing in English class, eighth grade science students are working through a lab, second graders are creating their class movie together, or Junior Kindergartners are building an elaborate train track during centers time, civility, kindness, and cooperation are front and center.
These watch words help us to translate our mission into a common language for our community. They allow us to frame a conversation that students can understand; a conversation about what it means to be an individual in a community.
So, tonight, as you tune in to watch the two candidates for future leader of the free world engage in a high-stakes – and surely fiery – debate, consider how our watch words could reframe the conversation. I’d like to think watch words like ours could redirect the election, and who knows what the possibilities could ultimately be.
If only we were watching Grymes students in the presidential debate tonight… Some day, I imagine we will.