The other day I saw Michael Phelps. It hit me that I just saw the greatest, and in some races, the fastest swimmer of all time. Oddly, I didn’t find it intimidating because seeing him in person made me realize there may never be a person as physically suited to swimming as he is. However, were we to measure cannonball splash radius, I’d have him beat by a mile. That is to say, we each have our gifts.
When I was a kid - despite my early cannonball potential - my gift was running. From 6th grade through my senior year of college, I ran track. When people hear that, they almost always ask for my best times as proof that I was fast. Sadly, I wasn’t that fast when I was in college, or even in high school, but I was a downright speed demon through 8th grade. You see, in 8th grade, I was the same size that I was as a senior in high school, and as a result, the end of middle school was my athletic peak. I grew faster than my peers, but that definitely wasn’t better, and in the long run, it became evident that I should have developed other athletic talents rather than rely upon my speed.
My point, other than ensuring that everyone knows I was feared on the western Maine middle school track circuit, is that if you were to measure me by my swimming ability or my 200 meter time, I’d be a miserable failure. We do the same disservice to our students when we evaluate them based upon their speed picking up multiplication tables or mastering vocabulary. However, this is a problem that we can fix, and I believe that we do at The Oaks.
Unlike physical development, we have much more control over students’ academic development, pacing, and the trajectory we establish for our children, and I can tell you - even as a disillusioned sprinter - faster is not always better. Read that again: faster development does not mean better development. That’s a hard concept to swallow, especially in education. Federal programs like “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” have given the impression to the larger American public that, yes, school is in fact a contest, and if you’re not in the lead, you’ve failed. What once was a 1st or 2nd grade curriculum has now become kindergarten curriculum, and the milestones we have established as necessary for the intellectual achievement of our students are consistently advancing. The trouble is, kids are still kids, and they need to be. Skipping that development can be disastrous.
Rather than emphasizing fast learning, we emphasize deep learning at The Oaks. If a student excels in one discipline, we certainly have the opportunity and obligation to continue challenging and developing his or her talents and abilities. However, even in areas where students excel, there are ways we can create a more complete learning profile. Naturally, we all tend to specialize in one of three learning styles - kinesthetic, visual, or auditory. Typically, we will develop our skills in our preferred area to the exclusion or detriment of the other two. Often it can lead to great strides in our early learning, but may, like my reliance on speed alone, lead to an incomplete skill set.
At The Oaks, we are committed to ensuring all of our students develop as complete learners, equally comfortable and capable with all learning styles. It is not an approach that lends itself to fast, content-driven learning, but it does lead to deeper learning, and in the long run, greater aptitude and adaptability. It’s our goal to prepare students for rich, rewarding, and varied lives after school, and to equip them to serve and invest in all the ways they are called. Learning is not a race, nor should it be. We are developing complex thinkers, problem solvers, and collaborators, ready for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century in the ways they were designed to learn, engage, and thrive. Please come see the difference for yourself.
All my best,