What does success look like?

Hello Friends,
I was recently asked, “What does student success look like?” I LOVE big questions. I love asking them and being asked; my wife often jokes that when we first started dating, she felt like she was being interviewed. So, as you can see, I really appreciated it when our board president called me up and asked such a big and important question.  


As you might imagine, it’s a topic I have given a lot of thought to, but like any big question, it can be difficult to capture its essence. When she asked, it reminded me of a story from my first year as Head of School at The New School Montessori.  I met with each teacher one-on-one and asked a similar question, “What is your greatest hope for students graduating from TNSM?” “What’s the most important thing you hope they leave with?”


The most common answer was, “I hope they know how to be a good citizen.” 


“WOW”, I thought to myself.  Now that’s a group of educators who understand the value and gravity of their position. Many of them went on to explain what being a “good citizen” meant.  They had to be academically prepared with tools that allowed them to contribute meaningfully to a project.  They needed to have an emotional intelligence that allowed them to understand how to navigate group dynamics, how to compromise, empathize and negotiate.  Lastly, they needed to understand their role in a broader context and see that they were participating in a life that others made possible for them. They wanted students to have gratitude for the past with an honest understanding of its shortcomings, a critical eye and sense of awe for the present, and a moral obligation to make things better in the future. In short, they wanted them to be “good citizens.”


We went on to talk about the shifting landscape of education, the hopefulness and ambition we see in generation Z and the joy we felt being a part of a community that is ahead of the learning curve when it comes to preparing children for tomorrow.  


I wanted to share three resource takeaways from the conversation. One is a 20-minute TED Talk by Sir Kenneth Robinson that has circulated A LOT since 2006, but is still an absolute gem to watch. The other is the movie: Most Likely to Succeed now available for rent. This documentary is based on the book by the same title. The board read it together a few years ago, and I highly recommend it.


Lastly, on a more personal note, we fell into a conversation around “service” related to being a “good citizen.”  What did service look like?  How can a “good citizen” be measured?  How did service look different – depending on what chapter we were living in our lives?  This led to one of the most noble, challenging, rewarding, meaningful, and demanding acts of service we could think of; parenting.  How important and consuming this chapter can be. We shared how, at times, this chapter can feel so all-encompassing that we feared losing aspects of who we once were. It reminded me of a poem that I will leave you with: 


Love After Love by Derek Walcott.  


The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
And say, sit here, Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Like all big questions, our conversation left us with even more  questions. It’s the asking, wrestling, sharing, reaching that’s more important than the static answers. That conversation felt like success to me. 


Have a great weekend,


Jeff Groh

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