Friday, February 12, 2016

Clarkston's Kids: Transcendent Hope for a Wonderful Future

2-5-16 Clarkston News Column

Observing Clarkston’s students on stage, in class, on-line, on playing fields--engaged in their joys and passions, represent some of the happiest moments of my life as the superintendent of schools. In our young people, I see clearly transcendent hope for a wonderful future.

Recently, I became aware of a brilliant Clarkston Junior High School student named Noah Castillo, and saw some of his welding projects. Several people had told me of his talent. I had to meet him.

I was fortunate to visit Noah’s workshop at his home. Under the incredible treehouse that Noah built some year ago with his father, hangs a tarp and sits a metal shed. This is where Noah finds his joy and exhibits his brilliance. He’s a blacksmith, a welder, a sandblaster, a mechanic, and a toolmaker. He’s a craftsman and an artist. He’s amazing; you have to see his creations.

And, oh yeah, he’s fourteen years old.

It’s easy as parents to focus on the work our children do in school and to monitor the completion of that work in comparison to how much work other students do and how well all students do on the work that every student does. In the Clarkston Community Schools, the completion of work is never the ultimate goal of class assignments, unit tests, classroom discussions, field trips, or class projects. Individual learning is the goal. As a school system, we feel it is vitally important to “focus on the learning that occurs in doing the work.” We want to know how each of our students is growing over time as a mathematician, an artist, a writer, a reader, and a scientist.

Noah started welding only about a year ago. Now, he is creating the most astounding and unique works of art. Noah will be the first to tell you that he has much more to learn. And, “he is driven by the power to want to learn.” Noah’s parents do not have to beg and plead for him to go out into his shed and weld. In fact, they have to pry him out of there at the end of the day. He’s found his joy and passion, which will likely afford him a very nice living. It is my true and deepest hope that, as a school system and as a community, we see the brilliance in Noah, along with each child who creates works of art with their hands, plays beautiful music, explores nature with exuberance, writes stories that transfix, and solves math problems quickly. Born and honed in the pursuit of passions are the essential character traits of “optimism, inspiration, curiosity, goal commitment, need for achievement, self-efficacy, self-discipline, self-control, conscientiousness, and grit.” Herein, students turn their powerful interests into works of art.

Whether engaged in a school assignment, studying for a test, or the pursuit of a passion, ask your child of the purpose behind the work: what do they think they will learn and get better at as a result of their work? Then monitor the learning, not the work. Name and notice the brilliance and character traits displayed clearly in each child’s joy and passion.
(Quotes from Ron Ritchhart, Julianne Wurm, and Scott Barry Kaufman & Angela Duckworth)

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