Creating Self Worth

Henry Waxman and Gretchen Boisture were renewing acquaintances forty years after they graduated from high school together.

Henry:                  Congratulations on being elected to be the school board president.  Now that I’ve sold my business and came home, how can I help?

Gretchen:           I’m glad you asked.  We have an alternative learning center for children who are disruptive and frankly incorrigible.  Do you think you can help?

Henry thought it over and let Gretchen know he would be willing to help.  He asked to start with 9th graders and be given free rein over their education.  Gretchen reluctantly agreed after Henry assured her that he would work with them on the standard high school subjects but he wanted freedom in how they were taught.  Gretchen agreed knowing that most of the students would drop out of school when they were 16.

On the first day Henry met with the students, he shocked them when he said:  “ I see incredible talent in front of me.  You just don’t know what that talent is yet.  Here’s what we are going to do.  I want to meet with each of you to discover your talent.  Talent could be anything:  metal working, dancing, cooking, writing poetry, restoring cars, painting.  I think you get the picture.”

“Once we have discovered your talent, we are going to develop it.  Four years from now, people will be in awe of the craft you have developed.  I’m going to connect each of you with a mentor who can guide you in discovering your abilities.  I’ve been fortunate in my career, so I have resources to call on if you need them.”

“We are going to cover the subjects you would normally cover in high school, but I’m going to focus on what matters.  It makes no sense for you to memorize a bunch of stuff you can look up.  You will learn as you find a need to learn.”

The response to Henry was lukewarm but not hostile.  And over time you could see each student developing pride in what they were creating.  In fact, none of them dropped out at age 16.  They also became mentors for each new exile to the center.

When Henry met with Gretchen at the end of the first year, she was amazed at the progress.  Henry explained to her two lessons he learned in developing and retaining employees:

  • Every employee needs someone as a mentor
  • Every employee needs to be able to have something they created

Then Henry commented on the teaching of normal high school subjects.  “I have to admit that I fudged on them.  I think it’s more important to focus on the habits of mind than knowledge that will rarely be used.  Here’s a list of the habits of mind that I focused on.  These come from Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick, noted educators.  Everything we did focused on one or more of these habits.”

Habits of Mind

  • Persisting
  • Managing impulsivity
  • Listening with understanding and empathy
  • Thinking flexibly
  • Thinking about thinking (metacognition)
  • Striving for accuracy
  • Questioning and posing problems
  • Applying past knowledge to new situations
  • Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
  • Gathering data through all senses
  • Creating, imagining, innovating
  • Responding with wonderment and awe
  • Taking responsible risks
  • Finding humor
  • Thinking interdependently
  • Remaining open to continuous learning

To celebrate their graduation, Henry arranged for each student to showcase their creation on the courthouse square.  The following day, the local paper ran a full-page story and photograph of each student.  The headline ran:  The Best of the Best

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“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

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