A college professor of an esteemed university received a call from a parent of a student in her class questioning the professor about the grade her child had received. She argued that the grade was unfair. In response, the professor reported that the paper was plagiarized, which violated the academic honor code and could not receive a passing grade. The mother strenuously disagreed with the professor stating, “I know for a fact that the paper wasn’t plagiarized! You must reconsider this!” The professor inquired how the parent could possibly know that. In response the parent said, “I know it wasn’t plagiarized because I wrote it!”…
Thankfully, this is NOT the story of a Roycemore graduate, but it is, sadly, a true story. Stories of parent over-reach have not been uncommon in recent years. They even include parents calling the bosses of their children to advocate for better pay or working conditions. Fostering the skills of independence for young adults doesn’t begin when they are about to head off to college; it begins when children are very young. As Susan Massey, Roycemore Junior Kindergarten teacher says, “(we tell students to) try it three times on your own and then ask for help. Ask yourself if someone else could help teach you. Children love to be teachers and learn while teaching.” JK Assistant Teacher, Lauren DiSalle, agrees, “When Early Childhood students struggle to become independent, it is crucial. Students will develop SO MUCH independence in the few short years they are with us.”
As students progress to the Lower School they learn additional skills to support their independence. Third Grade teacher, Bellamy Taylor-Pines shares, “my students have visual lists for certain assignments and are expected to be able to use those to get started on daily assignments.” Fourth Grade teacher, Tara Skinner explicitly teaches and models organizational skills at the beginning of the year that allows for more independence throughout the year until students are able to organize their desks, cubbies and materials independently.
School-wide, students learn self-advocacy and independence- key components of Roycemore’s Portrait of a Graduate. They get to know themselves as learners with their individual strengths and areas of challenge. They also gain experience in learning how to meet deadlines, fulfill obligations and build confidence from others that they can be relied upon as a friend and classmate. In music, if students are to successfully work as part of a group, they must work on their own individual musicianship skills. Piano lab gives students the opportunity to develop independence with guided instruction on “how to practice.” In French class, Madame Courtial makes an effort to leave space for creativity, as she believes it is a key for independence. “For example, if we work on color, I can ask students to show me their favorite season through a picture, a drawing, a short video. This gives them space to reach the target I gave but in their own way.” In Physical Education, Coach Fawbush likes to emphasize that students, “Make mistakes and learn from them, don’t rely too much on others to make your decisions on what to do.” Drama teacher, Lizanne Wilson, shares, “There is an inherent tension that exists in drama class…independence —-teamwork….I am more consciously teaching executive functioning skills and scaffolding them into my assignments and classes. I find with the huge influence of tech, students need more intentional instruction and skill building in independence and self-reliance.”
Middle School students strengthen their skills as independent scholars. Humanities teacher, Amy Milner shares, “We scaffold academic skills, so students are able to build up to increasingly independent work. We also give students multiple opportunities to be the teacher.” In science, students are given the autonomy to explore new topics and ideas on their own, such as using microscopes. Andy Mahlan writes, “Even if they aren’t quite sure what they are doing, they are able to explore something new and become confident in themselves.” Middle School teacher, Grace Erb agrees, “Middle school offers a lot of opportunities for kids to be independent. First quarter I require everyone to write in a planner and have it initialed by the teacher. This teaches them the habit, so when I don’t require the initial, they can be independent and confident about using FACTS and staying on top of their homework.” As Middle School Learning Specialist, Wendy Griffin, reflected, “Wendy: One major goal of our students is to become independent learners. I am often surprised by the depth of their understanding of the importance of this goal. I am also surprised by the growth in independence that takes place from fifth to eighth grade. Surely, this success is the result of the students’ hard work combined with our team approach to learning, which includes the parents/guardians and outside professionals (if applicable).”
Once a student progresses into the Upper School, the ability to hone the skill of independent work in anticipation of college becomes even more important. As International Family Liaison and teacher, Dr. John Trowbridge shared, “Students have to learn that as they move onto higher education and employment, they will not have someone to hold their hand and walk them through every step of a process. They must take charge of their own projects and do their utmost to achieve their goals.” Math teacher, Beth Negronida concurs, “I teach a lot of freshmen, and I think it is very important that the primary relationship is between student and teacher, and high school is the time for parents to step back.” Her math colleague, Katie Carson, further elaborates, “In the Upper School, when a student is struggling, I reach out and work with this student directly, and try to hold off on involving the parent. This gives the student opportunities to figure out how to succeed on their own, without depending on adults.” French teacher, Brynn Leavit tries to build metacognitive awareness as a overarching skill with her students. “I ask students to predict their score prior to receiving feedback, rate their confidence on a topic/skill, or choose between varying difficulty levels on a given task.” And in American Literature, Charlotte Freccia encourages students to use resources that are available to them. Students are also required to present ideas, arguments and interpretations that are uniquely their own through journal writing that will ultimately help them write a research paper. Their original ideas will be further explored collaboratively through discussions in class. Upper School STEM teacher, Dr. Dan Dudek observes, “Students are given freedom to fail. A path to success is always provided, but it is up to the student to do the heavy lifting.”
An article in Psychology Today references research published in the book The Self-Driven Child that argues “Teens who are given both limits and the freedom to make their own decisions tend to be self-driven and self-disciplined.” Giving young people the opportunities to make decisions on their own, take responsibility, and live with the consequences of their decisions will lead to greater independence and a much smoother transition to adulthood. And an independent, fulfilling life is an important goal for everyone, which is why INDEPENDENCE is a key emotional intelligence skill in Roycemore’s Portrait of a Graduate.
In partnership for the education of your students,
Adrianne Finley Odell
Head of School