Len's Letter from News From The Hall

Len's Letter from News From The Hall

Dear SMH Families, 

This past week, I had the great pleasure of attending the ISAS Arts Festival, which was held at All Saints Episcopal in Fort Worth.  Having heard so many positive stories about past festivals, including the one we hosted in 2016, I was so impressed with the scale of the event, its purpose of showcasing student art, and most of all, our own students’ performances and works of art.  The fact that there’s a space and time to center student expression in all the arts speaks to the common mission of our ISAS peer schools.  The depth and breadth of our own student work—from dance to chorus, instrumental music to 3-D art, from one-act plays to 2-D drawing, painting and photography—was stunning.  And what made me most proud of all was the way our students supported each other by attending each other’s performances and looking carefully at each other’s artistic creations.   

After such an exciting couple of days at the arts festival, I happened upon this book review over the weekend, which helped frame some of my understanding of what is so valuable about students engaging in a process of demonstrating their learning and artistic expression.  According to the book reviewer, Adam Gopnik’s new book, The Real Work, encourages us to strive for mastery over achievement.  Mastery reflects and supports internal motivation, where achievement-focus can be more extrinsically driven.  This distinction helped me appreciate even more what I saw in our students at the arts festival, which is that their works were the result of hard work, careful reflection, and continual practice.  There were no first or second place awards at the festival.  Instead, each student received a “critique” from an artist.  In listening to these critiques, it was notable just how thoughtful and intentional our students are.  And I think each of our students walked away from the experience with even greater appreciation of our SMH fine arts teachers, who offer those deep critiques and support of their work in classes every day. 

As we continue into the last month of school, there will be many opportunities to showcase our students’ achievements.  I think we would all do well to heed the advice from Carol Dweck’s important research (which she describes in her book Mindset) that when we praise students for their accomplishments, we ought to praise hard work, not the outcome.  She writes,  

"In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail—or if you’re not the best—it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues. Maybe they haven’t found the cure for cancer, but the search was deeply meaningful."

Our students have worked really hard this year in all kinds of endeavors.  As we recognize their achievements over the next month, we’d do well to remember their hard work, passion, and skill development.  Those narratives help deepen motivation and learning, setting them up for lifelong commitment to mastery. 

Lastly, I wanted to share an opportunity for participation in a live parent education webinar.  Common Sense Media has created The Connected Schools program, an initiative created just for independent schools. Their final webinar for this year is this week, April 20, and features Dr. Lisa Damour. I have included the details below as well as a link to the recording of Common Sense Media’s recent teen panel.  To view all of the parent sessions from the past two school years, click here.  

Here are the details: 

"Let's Talk about Digital Wellness: Understanding Your Child's Emotions and Mental Health" 

Thursday, April 20, 2023, at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. PT 

Free of charge, but registration is required.

Click here to register.