Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter

December 2017

Nobles Parents' Newsletter December 2017

"Hope and Expectations" by John Gifford, Head of the Middle School and Assistant Head of School

When I was last with Thulani Madondo, he tried to get the Nobles students to understand the impact of hopelessness. Thulani runs the Kliptown Youth Program (KYP) in an impoverished sector of Johannesburg, South Africa. The mission of KYP is to provide opportunities that will enable young people from Kliptown to rise out of poverty. (The Nobles students who travel to South Africa this March will work at KYP and you can learn a bit more about Thulani in a video about his nomination as the 2012 CNN Hero of the Year.)

Thulani’s point makes sense. The young people with whom he works come from nothing and have no reason to expect anything. It is a “reality check” about poverty that we too try to explain to Nobles students in various ways. But I find it hard to believe that anything could send the message home better than Thulani’s story—while standing in a muddy path among slapped up “homes” made of scavenged metal. More often than not, getting enough food to eat is the only goal that the residents of Kliptown have the liberty to pursue. Their education? That is a luxury. They have few success stories to point to that they can use as inspiration.

A lack of hope is not the case for our students. Just the opposite. Nobles students have more than hope, they have expectations. It took Thulani to get me thinking about the weighty burden of expectations.

Understand that I’m not equating the two; the struggles of many in Kliptown are survival struggles. What’s more, the impact of expectations can be powerfully positive. They can motivate and facilitate great success. But I also believe that our students are living with a constant background music; it is the assumption that success is theirs for the taking and less than perfection is an embarrassment. Students see Nobles as an opportunity and a privilege and the understanding is that they will take advantage of it. And the issue extends beyond Nobles. There is some research that suggests that technology is part of the problem. Because people tend to publish only their successes on social media, it too can have the impact of making young people feel the weight of expectations.

I write about it because I feel that acknowledgement of the burden is important. Faculty at Nobles witness the impact of expectations on a daily basis and discuss it a great deal. It is why we preach the importance of the growth mindset. It is why we push students to compare themselves against themselves rather than their peers. We understand that there are occasional inconsistencies with our message and areas where we are likely being hypocritical but we try not to be and we are always looking to improve.

Again, there is a very positive component to high expectations and there is a good component to working through any burden. You don’t get stronger by lifting light weights.  The point is that young people need to understand their situation. By clearly seeing the realities of their situation and working through it, they can take a longer view of their personal path of growth.

Our students are in the thick of it. Without the benefit of the perspective that comes from experience it is hard to acknowledge and understand. They need the adults in their lives to help them see their growth in the context of the background music of expectations. In a sense, it is easier for the faculty—we are not the parents who are also feeling the same societal pressures and desire only the best for their children. But parents are essential to help young people to broaden their perspective and remain focused on the next best actions as they conduct the work to find their best selves.

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If you have questions, comments or suggestions for this newsletter, email Kim Neal at