Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Right vs. Right Decisions

Ethics.  A word that sounds dry and simple at first glance.

As a clinical social worker, I am required to attend continuing education classes in order to maintain my license, and it’s not unusual for the classes to have an ethical component to them. And, to tell you the truth, it can get pretty mundane, particularly when it is approached with a focus on right versus wrong decision making.

But my present journey with ethics is actually fascinating, rich and compelling.
I am one of several faculty members at Greensboro Day School on an Ethics Team formed to explore and establish our common ground of values, elevate our awareness of ethics and encourage moral actions in our community.  We have embarked on a journey of learning how we understand, consider and make ethical decisions on a deeper level.  We are studying right versus right dilemmas and decision making while learning that ethics is not just about doing one’s own work versus cheating; it is about being loyal to a friend versus supporting what is best for your classmates.  It is about making a decision to follow a policy to the letter of the law versus using compassion to fully understand the perspective and needs of the individual and their growth.  For me, it’s about taking away the cell phone of one of my teens when they are dishonest or supporting the value of giving them freedom in order that they may earn my trust again.  Right versus right decisions require discernment much deeper than right versus wrong.  It is easy to know when a child needs a consequence.  It is through thoughtful process that we discover the consequence that is the “right” one.
Last night, the Greensboro Day School Ethics Team on which I sit, met and began discussing Rushworth Kidder’s book, How Good People Make Tough Choices.  We shared our thoughts about why understanding the complexity and value of working through right versus right decisions is something we want to permeate the culture of our school.  Here are some of our responses as to why we believe that this work is important: 
  • it builds transparency,
  • it develops moral character, develops a necessary skill, promotes self awareness and cultural integrity,
  • it creates a continuous improvement to our decision making and a framework to address ethical issues,
  • it facilitates intentional reflective decision making,
  • it increases morale of our internal community of staff and builds trust in the institution, and
  • it provides a shared language and opportunity for collaboration.
We also shared some of our thoughts on the barriers we face in using strong ethical frameworks to make decisions.  After all, doing something right requires time and planning!  We ended our discussion with rich conversation around what we have going for us at GDS and how that will help us in our study and growth about ethical literacy.  We noted both our own love of learning and growing as well as our parent body support for all we do as two critical elements to the success of all programming at school.  We noted our students are open minded and that they respond well to high expectations. 
Our next meeting will include further discussion of the book mentioned above as well as conversation and analysis of ethical dilemmas using the framework in the book.  I will post updates of our work periodically, but please join me in sharing your thoughts anytime. 
Michelle Bostian, Lower School Counselor

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

An Ordinary Day, Except It Is Extraordinary

Last week, I was at GDS two times in one day, for Margaret's violin lesson and then again for Eleanor's lesson later on that day.  That is the normal Thursday routine for the Manning girls this year, and sometimes it feels like I am on a continual loop up and down Lawndale.

But it is so fun to see Margaret and the other first graders in her lesson (until you watch a child learn to play it, you have no idea how complicated "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" actually is, nor can you realize how beautiful it sounds when they triumphantly play it for you),  and to see their happy faces racing back to class.

And walking M to her class, I peek my head in to wave to her teacher, Parker Stall, who always smiles "Hi," while multi-tasking ten things at once for the students, so effortlessly they don't even realize how much she is doing at one time!  And the kids were doing something really cool and colorful as their math, and I watched for a second, as the math work was so hands-on, creative, so fun to see.

And on trip number two for Eleanor's violin lesson that afternoon, running back to school I see several parents and am happy to chat for a second about the 4th grade play and how much the kids are loving it and how great Sonny Willis is to pull of such a good production with these young kids.

Off to violin again. Eleanor's lesson was good and I reminded myself, it is not a chore to be there when the girls have lessons. I take a breath and look around, and recognize that it is a treat to see the girls during the day, listen to their news, and see their world.

A total treat.

After E's lesson, we left the violin room, and outside I heard music, not the strings students but contemporary songs, and saw kids outside eating. I asked E what was going on, was it a special day? She said, "No, it was a regular day, it is something that happens routinely." Just a regular day, enjoying the sunshine and music while having lunch on the grass with your friends, that is a regular, ordinary occurrence at GDS. I think, "WOW."

Eleanor was very excited to show me her locker decor, as decorating your first locker is big time important, I totally remember. Mirror, music posters, drawings from friends. She relishes the chance to have a locker and be responsible for it. I admire it, and she headed off to music, and I thought, "Music after violin? How great is that?"

Lucky kid. That is just a part of her day, every Thursday.

Still kind of dazzled by the outdoor music/lunch/lovely day enjoyment those kids were experiencing outside, and smiling about E's joy in locker ownership, I poked my head in her class to wave to E's teacher. And Peter Buxenbaum sat and chatted with me for forever about my older daughter Virginia, of his former students, and about Eleanor, talking with me as I told him stories about her. He did not look at a clock or shoo me out, although I know he had things to do and was super busy, he was happy and interested to listen and talk.

I know most teachers in the world are not like that, not interested in talking to a parent who shows up in the middle of the day and interrupts. And so I am super happy as I am leaving, seeing some other great teachers and parents, and getting a lovely hello and smile from Linda Shearer on my way out.  And outside is Stephanie Shoaf and a reading group, sitting on the lawn and on benches and some lounging on a tree, reading.

Reading, listening, enjoying the gorgeous day. It is just fantastic to see.
I am gobsmacked, really.

In a day and age where all of these things do not exist in schools anymore, my little snapshot of a regular, ordinary day at GDS is amazing.

I know that while I am watching these kids reading, my older daughter Virginia is in the Middle School, on cloud nine because today is one of the days she gets to work with her animal activist club.  A club that is part of her regular schedule, it is not a special occasion, not a one-time field trip. The Middle School has these great clubs for kids to further explore something that is meaningful and important to them. Virginia is so excited about helping with the animal shelter, it is tremendous that at 6th grade, she's getting to volunteer her time and energy towards something that is important to her, and this is all organized by the school and somehow they make it happen, during the regular course of the day.

On a normal, ordinary Thursday, that is just what happens.
I get kind of tears-are-prickling-in-my-eyes looking around, because this is just an ordinary day.

It is not bring out the big guns for Grandparents or Open House. It is a regular day, a Thursday, this is what you guys do.

That's GDS. Anytime you stop in, something fantastic is happening, countless different fantastic things at the same time, all over the campus. And I am so very happy that my daughters, my family is a part of this great school, and so grateful for the billion wonderful things that each of my girls has absorbed so far in their school experience.

I know this regular, ordinary day at GDS is polar opposite of what a lot of kids are experiencing at school on a regular, ordinary day.

I know it takes unbelievable amounts of time, energy, brain power, heart, and wizardry to make this ordinary day happen.

So I wanted to thank you all, for turning an ordinary day into an extraordinary one. That you make this happen every day is amazing, and a credit to everyone at GDS.

Allison Manning
Mom of Virginia, Eleanor, and Margaret