Teaching Students Balance by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School
Sundays for Nobles teachers and students are different than Sundays for most in America. While many attend religious services, sleep late, savor Sunday newspapers, linger over another cup of coffee or line up sporting events to watch, Nobles teachers and students have plenty of work to do as well: preparing for classes and tests, correcting (or writing) papers or catching up on work missed in the previous week.
Yet on a recent Sunday morning, I found myself in the Nobles hockey rink watching a handful of our Nobles hockey players work with almost 60 disabled kids and adults in an ongoing sled hockey partnership with the UNH Northeast Passage youth development program and the Wounded Warriors Foundation.
Earlier in the week on Martin Luther King Jr. Day over 160 Nobles community members and many varsity athletes spread out on campus and around Boston to honor Dr. King with a day of service. Hardly a day goes by at Nobles without some reminder of Nobles students pursuing their own vision of our mission of “inspiring leadership for the public good.”
At a school with the academic strength and talent of Nobles, there are spoken and unspoken expectations that our students will be stretched and achieve at a high level. Teachers work hard to provide challenging and interesting classes. Students labor to meet high standards. Parents hope for their children to make the most of what Nobles has to offer and create options moving forward. The temptation is very strong to focus primarily on those outcomes.
During the last school year, Nobles partnered with the Making Caring Common Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to take a closer look at our school climate and the challenges for young people to balance their desire to achieve at a high level, treat others well, be happy as well as "do good" out in the world. What we have learned is that our students really struggle with this balance. They yearn for guidance in negotiating what they perceive as tension between high achievement, being a person of character and generous spirit and simply being happy and content in their lives.
We hope students learn that one does not need to choose between these things but they need some help and support in understanding that complexity from the adults in their lives. As teachers and parents if we focus too much on achievement, our children and students often see that focus as pulling away from how we treat others and interact compassionately in the world. As adults if we are most interested in just making sure our children are happy, we will neglect the importance of developing strong character and personal resilience.
When I was watching sled hockey on that cold Sunday morning, I saw not just how happy our guests were but how proud the Nobles kids were in contributing to the effort and how happy that made them. I also knew that once sled hockey was over, they’d be heading home to settle down to some schoolwork. In many ways, their day reflected much of what we hope for in our students: a seriousness of purpose with their schoolwork, a desire to help others, treat others well and live lives of strong moral character and to take real joy and satisfaction from that balance.
We hope that as your child makes his or her way through Nobles, you can find the appropriate moments to acknowledge the tensions that kids understandably feel and affirm (and model) for them the importance of learning how to lead lives where they do well, do good, and enjoy life’s journey.