The Kids Know

  • Carroll Connection
Steve Wilkins, Head of School

This article was originally featured in the Winter 2018 edition of Carroll Connection. In this edition we asked our students how we are doing on our mission to give each child what he or she most needs. Read what they had to say. (Article 1 of 8)

The kids know. Just ask them.

They know when they are getting what they need; they can answer these questions with wisdom and passion: Is your education designed to help you succeed? What is the value of small classes and focused remediation? What does Carroll do for you in comparison to your previous schools? What’s this cognitive development thing all about? How does the Carroll environment affect your level of happiness and self-awareness? Do you have enough opportunity to work on your areas of strength?  

We are constantly amazed by the articulate expression of our students about what constitutes best practices in education. Carroll children know the answers to these questions because of their immediate points of comparison to situations that are not well designed for them. They have had to look in the mirror more carefully and earlier in life than children for whom mainstream schools are designed. This gives many of our students precocious self-awareness and keen analytical skills about human learning.

All this explains why tutorials and small classes are among our students’ favorite daily experiences. They know what works for them. They know how they learn best. They know which teachers and tutors are helping them most. They understand when their time in school is being well spent. They know.

In this issue of the Carroll Connection, students respond directly to various questions such as “how do teachers give you what you most need?” or “what is the benefit of small classes?” They weigh in on the educational and personal benefits of cognitive intervention, programs that enhance their dyslexic strengths, and the impact of a school that offers full academics, athletics, arts, social-emotional development, and self-esteem growth.  

Much as a good coach knows where an athlete is strong and where that athlete is weak, an effective teacher at Carroll makes certain -- in the most positive, honest, loving, and “hear-able” manner -- that each child understands what is going really well and what requires improvement. This is accomplished face-to-face, with each child, as an individual, on a daily basis.

When progress is evident, that growth is celebrated overtly. When a child slides into low-effort failure syndrome (less harmful than high-effort failure), teachers make the relationship between effective effort and positive outcome (high-effort success) as clear to the child as humanly possible. Children can learn the joy of working hard to get results of which they are proud, no matter how steep the incline.

This diagnostic-prescriptive approach to helping children defines our every action. Children know that “a sign of a good teachers is when you really want to go to class. You’re sprinting up three flights of stairs and saying, ‘yes, I want to be there’,” 8th grader Keelin offers with keen insights.
They understand the difference between perfunctory versus essential. Perhaps they don’t know those words, but they surely feel the difference every day. A child doesn’t need to be a prickly adolescent to ask the question many teachers dread “how is this going to help me?” Kids can tell us about the difference between busy work and important work. They understand that some things in school are what all students in their grade are just supposed to do, as opposed to other activities in school that are designed specifically to help them. 

They know -- they may deny it on occasion or deflect -- but they know. They may not be able to bring the thought to the verbal level just yet, but they know. As 8th grader Henry commented so honestly about cognitive, “I feel like it’s a great opportunity, and we’re lucky to have it even though it doesn’t always seem like it, as I do it.”

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