Should We All Grow Beards?
I may run the risk of losing half my audience (down to three!) if I start this school year with a sports metaphor. But I can’t help but be inspired by the hometown team. In 2012, the Boston Red Sox had proven superstars on the roster. Players who had won pivotal World Series games and Cy Young awards, secured stolen base titles and earned all-star appearances many times over.
The manager of the Red Sox was thought by many of as having a “superior baseball mind.” He had brought the New York Mets to the World Series. In 2012, the Sox had the third highest payroll in baseball. And…they finished last in the American League East standings. In all of baseball history, only five teams had lost more games.
The 2013 team was a complete rebuild. First and perhaps foremost, there was a new manager. He is known for his ability to relate to the players. Many of the team's superstars were shipped west. The Red Sox shed $33,000,000 from their, still very high, payroll.
Players were signed with the specific intent of creating a team of “good character” guys. Of the 44 baseball analysts working at ESPN, none of them predicted that the Red Sox would win the East this year. The best prognosis a handful of ESPN analysts predicted was that the team might earn a wild card berth. Despite all this, last week, the Red Sox clinched a playoff spot. They have now won more games (95) than they lost last year (93).
The Boston media and team members have repeatedly identified their positive “chemistry” as the reason behind the turnaround. The players and manager have repeatedly pointed to a culture of trust and hard work in the club house. In part, this is a reaction to the previous season when there was enough negative energy generated to fill Fenway to the brim. Or maybe, the media has latched on to the “all in it together” mantra because of the visual in which the team look like swashbucklers. At some point, they started growing beards in a scruffy symbol of solidarity.
Some baseball analysts and reporters have derided the chemistry talk. They feel that it has nothing to do with chemistry or collegiality. Their perception is that it has everything to do with talent and performance. I would counter, isn’t it intuitive that team chemistry is key? It seems especially important in a sport like baseball since player success seems to be rooted in intangibles like confidence and a player’s emotional approach to the game.
I buy it. I believe that chemistry is important on a baseball team, and it is equally important in a community like Nobles. The questions are, does good chemistry simply come from the Admission Office picking the right students, or is it what you do with those students once they arrive? Perhaps it is not surprising that I feel both are critically important.
Dean of Enrollment Management Jen Hines and her Admissions Team is our “Ben Cherington”. They spend countless hours evaluating sixth graders. They look at their individual abilities as indicated by grades, teacher comments and test scores. They also look to make sure that, when taken as a whole, the middle school will have a healthy mix of artists and athletes, thoughtful contributors and passionate leaders. Finally, to the best of their ability, they comb the files for indications of empathy and “good character”.
Even with that careful process, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a positive Middle School culture. There are ways that we have intentionally structured the Middle School to foster a supportive community. I understand how vital parental collaboration and support can be in our efforts. In my Parents Newsletter pieces, I’ll often highlight our efforts and the reasoning behind them. My hope is that parents and guardians can find their own ways to underscore and bolster what we are trying to achieve.
Here are five strategies for working towards “good chemistry” in the Middle School.
1. Clear Rules & Consequences. This place works best when everyone is on the same page. When expectations for behavior are clear, everyone is happier. Even when the rule seems like it is a small one such as hang up that backpack, don’t leave it on the floor. There is a reason for it. The Dedham fire department wants the hallways clear. Following this rule and others is the price we pay to be a part of a larger community.
How you can help: If you daughter comes home with a SCRAP for being 2 seconds late to a class. Don’t allow her to completely dismiss it. On the other hand, you don't need to blow your top in anger. After all, they are “Small Change Reminders and Penalties. For the smooth functioning of a complex community, a rule needs to be a rule.
2. Clear Values. While there are many more value-based lessons that we work to teach, I have highlighted three (yes, my “Big Three”). When students “work hard,” they feel satisfaction from their effort and their accomplishments. Everyone in the community gains when students are “Good to Each Other”. Finally, a trusting community can only be built when all the members of the community are honest – both with themselves and with others.
How you can help: These “Big Three” fit into the home as appropriately as they do in a school environment.
3. Common Goals. We really are all in this together. Students’ goals are to improve in their performance. Faculty goals are to help students to improve in their performance. If we can get students to understand and believe that the adults at Nobles are pushing them, giving them work and holding them accountable because they want them to develop skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. If they can understand that, we’ll be in good shape because the mentality of “us” vs. “them” melts away to become “we”.
How you can help: Students don’t set goals intuitively. Sharing goals is motivation to meet goals. Now is a good time to see if your child has some for this academic year.
4. Relationship Before Task. The Nobles route to most good things is via salutary relationships. In particular, this community hums along when students are making good connections with their teachers. No task seems too arduous when it is underpinned by a decent student-teacher relationship. While it is early in the year, Faculty are still in the process of building that relationship. But when it's achieved, it will be perhaps the most important component to the chemistry of the Middle School.
How you can help: Your relationship with your child is vital. There are times when you can push, but there are also times when you should let us be the one to push. If your relationship at home is getting too combative, maybe we can help.
5. Some Time to Laugh. I have focused a great deal on the work that takes place in the Middle School. To be fair, work does represent the lion’s share of what goes on here, but we also find time to have some fun. The Blue and White games, Friday Night Lights and the Pie Drive are examples of how we try to interrupt the routine and build community through frivolity. I think the Red Sox are on to something. If we could, in the Middle School, I’d try beards.