Below is an excerpt of a letter to D-E families from Dr. De Jarnett explaining this initiative in great detail:
.... Before sharing more specifics of this initiative, I encourage you to think for a moment about the first day that your child(ren) came into your life. I am not sure if you do this often. I do. I know, for example, when I held my firstborn, Tyler, I thought about how surprisingly small he was. And during that first day, I remember having my hopes for Tyler. When my daughter Ali was born a few years later, I remember having similar hopes for her. I wanted each to be a good person. I wanted each to be happy. I hoped each would live a fulfilled life, and would find love in life. I know that I had other hopes for them as well. I know, however, that during these important first moments and days, I did not hope for good grades, high S.A.T. scores, or acceptance to any particular college or university.
Over time, my hopes for Tyler and Ali became more specific. Those of you with Middle and Upper School children will likely understand these feelings in particular. I remember hoping each of my children would develop a deep love of reading, and that they would continue to improve in particular subject areas. I guess life does that to each of us. It was not as if I lost sight of those first initial hopes and dreams, it was just that the realities of the everyday began to overshadow the bigger notions I first held dear. I had certain ideas when Tyler applied to colleges; and as Ali begins her search for the next step in her education, I am beginning for the second time to have a set of hopes that were not on my list when she was born. But have my hopes and dreams really changed that much?
I ask this question through my parental framework. As an educator, I have kept up with the most recent research on teaching, learning, and the brain, as well as the best practices in my field to ensure my students perform at the highest levels. As a new teacher in the early 1970s; I focused almost solely on improving the product my students were producing, and not enough on what was really needed for my students to produce better products. Over time, I realized that there were important characteristics or traits necessary for each student to possess if they were to perform well in school. I found that daily preparation, for example, is important for a student if he or she is to perform well in schools – and in life. Organization is another such trait that is important for students.
As I learned more, I realized that a happy child learns better – and that happiness really does matter. And striving to be a good person is the best way to become and remain a happy person. That was satisfying because I really wanted my children to be good people. Knowing that ‘being good’ would help them to be happy was a bonus.
I also learned that an unstressed brain retains more information, is more creative, and is better at problem solving than a stressed brain. Most important, I began to realize the importance of perseverance and how vital it is to help children learn how to ‘stick with it'; that success does not always come quickly. As my personal understanding about learning became more sophisticated, I realized that in schools, engagement means everything and that learning to think critically was vital to understanding the world.
Such traits are critical to our children’s success if we want them to achieve those important initial hopes and dreams we had for them when they were born. So it is exciting to know that the most recent findings from research on teaching and learning supports the notions that traits such as these form the foundation for success in school and in life.
These considerations and findings have all helped to drive recent discussion at D-E, about how we can continue to be as effective as possible in supporting, educating, and empowering our children. As a result of a two year faculty conversation about grading and how best to provide students and their parents with appropriate feedback, eight (8) traits have emerged that we consider vital to a child’s success, as follows:
- Critical Thinking;
- Daily Preparation; and
Yes, there are other important traits we could add to our list, but we have come to decide that we would focus on these when we work with students, provide feedback to students, and discuss ways in which a student might do his or her best. These eight traits will, for example, rest at the core of student comments that D-E faculty will write to students, and which parents can read and discuss with their children.
As both a parent and educator, I am encouraged and excited by the possibilities of this traits-centered initiative. Over the next few months, each division principal will share their thoughts on each of these eight traits to best prepare you for the next academic year, when our faculty will begin in earnest to incorporate comments on each trait in their feedback to students.
I hope that this information will help you learn more about the process our faculty has worked through to better shape our feedback, and how comments based on these traits will be used beginning in Fall 2014. And I hope too that this initiative will engage you in terms of reflecting on your original as well as your evolving hopes and dreams for your child(ren).
Dr. Rodney V. De Jarnett
Head of School