A Banner Day by John Gifford, Head of Middle School
Over the winter break I finally got the banners made. I’d been thinking about these banners for a couple years, but it took research help from Dean of the Middle School Colette Finley and the far better esthetic sensibility of Communications Director Heather Sullivan to help make them a reality.
If you haven’t seen them, they hang in Morrison Forum, tightly affixed to the brick wall. Thus, they are forever looming large over the Middle Schoolers who call that space their home. Three will be permanent fixtures, while one will rotate depending on the time of year and the activities that take place at that time.
The three permanent banners reiterate the primary messages that I harp on repeatedly. (I’m sure that you have heard them before…) In limiting myself to just three ideas, my goal is to keep it very simple. I believe that, if a Middle School student can live by all three, good things will happen. The three messages? Be good to each other; be honest; and work hard. On the banners, there are quotes that underscore the lessons.
The first quote accompanies our suggestion that students should “be good to each other” and comes from the Nobel Prize-winning Belgian playwright, Maurice Maeterlinck. He wrote that, "An act of goodness is of itself an act of happiness. No reward coming after the event can compare with the sweet reward that went with it."
Mary Kay Ash, who founded the highly successful company, Mary Kay Cosmetics, provided the quote for the banner touting honesty. "Honesty is the cornerstone of all success, without which confidence and ability to perform shall cease to exist."
Finally, the last quote is from former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. "A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”
I have what I think are realistic feelings about these messages and these banners. On any given day, one student in the community might read one. They might even read one at the right time when it has personal significance and makes an impression. At the start of each school year I deliberately talk through the “big three” when students are fresh and energized, and yet I don’t expect that my words provide the panacea to the insensitivity or bad behavior of Middle Schoolers. I know that my words will wash over the majority who are assembled without hitting home.
While it is essential that there is great clarity about what we value at Nobles and in the Middle School, that message should not just be spoken and hung from the walls. More importantly, the adults in the community are asked to consistently model this type of behavior. To have students witness these principles in action—playing out in myriad ways on a daily basis—means far more than the words I could ever write or say. The other tool at our disposal which serves to teach the “big three” is to take advantage of the teachable moment as they come.
The Nobles Middle School faculty have very high expectations for their students. On a daily basis they are showing each student what his or her definition of victory should be—and it is always aspirational. We ask kids to "work hard."
There are inevitably times when young people are mean. Usually they are being thoughtless rather than intentionally cruel, but that matters little to the student who is impacted. Much of these moments pass without an adult witnessing it, but when we do, we act. We preach that students need to “be good to each other.”
When we call students on inappropriate behavior, at times the first instinct is to be dishonest about what unfolded. The “flight” part of “fight or flight” kicks in (perhaps I should be grateful) and they attempt to run away from their error by lying. Most know that this reaction only makes matters worse. We want students to take responsibility for their mistakes—this is the first step towards understanding what they have done and its impact. This, in turn, is vital before a student can create a game plan to not replicate the mistake. They need to be and learn to be “honest."
What else would help—besides banners and mentors and teachable moments? You, as parents and guardians, should just keep doing what you already do to enforce these messages from home. We only have them for half the day. When messages from home and school clash—even in small ways—there can be great damage to a student’s progress. The good news is that moments of discord are extraordinarily uncommon. The messages of the "big three" are pretty easy to agree on. With a little intentional work from both home and school, all Middle School students will (eventually) take them to heart and make them a part of their very being.