Transitioning to High School: Do!
How can I get the most out of school? How can I grow as a student and as a person? How and what can I contribute to make my school a true community? What are the most intriguing things going on my community? What are the problems facing my school, my community, my country, the world? What are the problems I am most interested in solving? How can I help?
Students who are most satisfied with their time in high school, who are most successful during the high school years, who grow the most during their four years, are the students who ask questions of themselves and others, engage in answering and solving those queries, and therefore are the most engaged in the daily and long term life of the school. Students who engage and act are the ones who gain the most from high school.
Participate rather than SpectateIn asking upperclassmen to offer advice to new to high school students, they all agree that involvement in the life of the school and attending myriad events are the keys to enjoying this phase of life. A graduating senior recently shared with me that, looking back, her big regret as a 9th grader was that she had not tried more activities and classes. She felt that she had benefitted from being required to be on an athletic team (she chose track and field), but she wished that clubs and other activities had also been required. By the time she graduated she had worked up her courage and been elected the president of the Student Council, was co-leader of a club, planned multiple events for students to interact with each other, had sung with the chorus, acted in the school musical, and still participated with the track team. One of the keys to her success was her willingness to try new things and, more importantly, her self-avowed dedication to get to know as many students in as many grades and of as many backgrounds as possible.
Of course this notion of trying new things, meeting new people, getting to know fellow students who have different interests and backgrounds, and taking academic risks is completely counter-intuitive to the stage of development of late middle school to early high school years where most students are trying their best to fit in, to dress alike, to look alike, to feel comfort in conforming. New high schoolers often fear looking awkward and out of place. Parents and schools can work together to set expectations of students to participate rather than just to spectate.
Developing Self IdentityOne of the most important developmental steps for all adolescents moving toward adulthood and away from their parents is self-identity. Expecting students to participate in school helps students learn more about their interests and values and develop a sense of self. By starting high school and setting the goals to play at least one sport or participate in one play, to join one or two clubs, to meet with at least one teacher a week after school, to speak up in every class at least once a week, students fully engage in the life of the school, and they develop interests and identity.
By being involved in a myriad of activities, students meet a wider range of people, consider more viewpoints, and increase their ability to see things from multiple perspectives. The world is a large and exciting place. By engaging with an array of others, students will find their lives more interesting and more rewarding. The habits of expansion will, in turn, expand their notions of self within and beyond the classroom as well. As students look to expand possibilities, they look to expand in multiple areas.
By connecting with those with different interests and backgrounds, students learn to appreciate a larger world, and develop empathy. These students will be more successful in college as they will continue to be the students who are involved, who take on leadership roles in the classroom and beyond, and who look to engage the input of others. They will be the college students to speak up in class, to meet professors for office hours, who carefully consider classes and majors. They will be the leaders because they can see the value in community, and in belonging to a community as a contributing member.
As students head off to college, they will be prepared and inspired to ask discerning questions, to contribute, to have the academic tools, the value system, the awareness of the world and people around them, and the willingness to celebrate many viewpoints in and out of the classroom.
Full Engagement is a HabitFull engagement becomes a habit, a self-expectation that the student will take with him to college and beyond. The base for future success begins in high school, and begins with the wonder and joy of trying new things. Students who have taken full advantage of all that high school has to offer, in and out of the classroom, will have the most success navigating a new social and academic world and have the most success as they learn self-reliance and establish their new set of goals. The habits of engagement foster and nurture a sense of community and belonging, and create a pattern of connecting. Transition happens with every change in life. The only way to answer our original questions is to jump in and engage with this next stage of life. Answer the questions by doing.