The Quiet Power of Introverts

I read an article yesterday: Introverts Run The World – Quietly. Often feeling ashamed of my many extrovert-related, bull-in-a-china-shop, talk-before-I-think indiscretions, I was not surprised at all by the title.

Ms. Cain is not being facetious when she alludes to the collective power of introverts in the world, and us extroverts would do well to slow down enough to appreciate the quiet, steady production of our introverts in our schools, our families, and our cultural practices.

Her broader point, however, provides hope for us all.  She argues that it’s the introvert’s natural proclivity to take time to reflect that has put them at the top of the creativity, production, and leadership heaps.  We can all do more of that–even if it’s not our natural inclination.  And summer is the perfect time to do that too: at the pool, on the road trip, sitting on the porch when it’s too hot too move.

Society’s crazy pace, the demands on our time, and, if we’re extroverted, possibly our own addiction to activity are working against us, but articles like this remind us that we don’t have to be Einstein–or an introvert–to pause and see what revelations swell up in the quiet.

The Fulton Cross

In 1993, Dr. Barbara Fulton, long-time Head of School of the Chesterfield Day School, was asked by the community developers of St. Albans to found a second campus.

It began with just a preschool and small elementary class in 1994. The school expanded every year until the first 12th grade graduation in 2004.

In 2007, the 9th-12th grade program spun off from Chesterfield Day School to become St. Albans High School, and in 2008 the lower school the high school to create one toddler through 12th grade experience.

The community chose to name the new entity after its beloved founder, and The Fulton School at St. Albans was born. In 2005, Dr. Barb passed away after 30 years of service to Chesterfield Day School and the St. Louis educational community.

Dr. Barb was my mother.

This school continues to embody her philosophy of education, blending the Montessori tenets of hands-on, purposeful simplicity, with her strong emphasis on joy, character, and transparency.  And thanks to her, we have become a small, diverse community of people, who love to learn, who ask questions, and who are figuring out how to live their lives intentionally.

In January 2006, the Chesterfield Day School Board of Directors commissioned local artist and graphic designer Alex Paradowski to create two contemporary art pieces to honor Dr. Barb – one for each of the school’s campuses in Chesterfield and St. Albans.

The Fulton Cross

The art pieces were unveiled on Valentine’s Day 2006, her favorite holiday. The following is Mr. Paradowski’s explanation of the work:

Many art forms could be considered for such a memorial, but I believe the more contemporary, more on-the-edge choice may be more in keeping with the non-traditional practices of Chesterfield Day School and the very idea of looking at things differently.

The center column is a metaphor for Dr. Barb. It stands tall, a solid wall of strength. The crown molding at the top symbolizes Barb’s position as Head of School. It also resembles a graduation cap, again suggesting education. The column’s base is open, revealing its core structure made of lathe. Lathe, normally made of thin narrow strips of wood nailed to a structure as a foundation for plaster, is made here of rulers, implying that education was Barb’s very core.

Colorful balls run vertically up the column, recalling Barb’s many happy years at CDS. As they climb, five black balls are inserted, each reflecting Barb’s bouts with breast cancer. A pink ball follows four of the black balls, signifying the cancer’s remission. After the fifth black ball is a single white ball signifying her death.

The box on the lower left indicates the Chesterfield campus. It is divided into four connected boxes to represent the building and growth of that campus. Rulers are used to construct the box and suggest education. Colored balls represent the students and their individuality. They also reflect the Montessori materials and philosophy.

The box in the upper right indicates the St. Albans campus. Again, colored balls reflect the student diversity and Montessori philosophy. Twigs, which symbolize the St. Albans country setting, hold the colored balls in place. In the lower corner, rulers are arranged in a brick pattern to recall the story that Dr. Barb often told about how the bricks for the St. Albans school building (the very kind that she had tried and failed to get) miraculously showed up one day in the St. Louis railroad yard and at a price within the budget.

The Price of Privilege

I just reread the book, The Price of Privilege.  It focuses on America’s newest high risk group: affluent kids.  “Affluent” in most of these studies means household incomes of $120,000 or more, but can be as low as $75,000 when they include advertising demographics.  (I would argue that the influences in the book have much more to do with our current affluent culture, than the income of the parents.) Preteens and teens from affluent homes are much more likely to struggle with depression, anxiety disorders, cutting and self-hurt, and drug and alcohol abuse due to low frustration tolerance, perfectionism, lack of internal development, and low self-efficacy.  Dr. Levine argues that money (or the many choices and items available to us in our affluent society) increases the number of difficult decisions parents will have to make.  We all know we have so much to be thankful for, but our “plenty” can be a double-edged sword.  The book will humble all of us, whether we feel wealthy or not, that we are buying our kids too much, eating dinner together too little, and living lives too crazy to be emotionally available to each other, and remind us exactly what we should be thankful for!

Hurting our Kids with Praise

For me, one of the scariest elements of teaching and parenting is what we do unintentionally; messages we are sending that we don’t realize we are sending, techniques we think are beneficial that backfire. Fortunately, kids are tremendously resilient and are going to be fine, more or less, if they know we love them and they have basic boundaries. However, in the interest of always learning and improving, one counterintuitive parenting issue is praise. There is a lot of research and there are a number of books explaining that research (Mindsets, Too Much of a Good Thing, NurtureShock) and it comes up regularly in family therapy all over the nation. Even our own Dr. Montessori said we should observe the facts to our children rather than pass judgement (“Wow, your picture is blue” instead of “Wow, your picture is beautiful”). Watch this 8 minute video about the effects of praising our kids, to get an idea of what researchers see. It’s an interesting glimpse of how our well-intentioned praise can hurt their performance, their self confidence, and even be linked to anxiety and depression.

Learning in our challenge zones

Climbing/ropes course/adventure professionals who train people to push their physical limits teach about  physical zones.  One has to listen to one’s body to know how much to trust it and how far it can be pushed.

The first time I heard this spiel, a light went on in my head that it was the perfect example for how we at TFS  believe children learn.  Picture a target with three rings.

The center circle is your comfort zone.  This is where we all spend most of our time.  Routine, mastery, and rest all occur in our comfort zones.

As we push ourselves out of our comfort zones, we reach our challenge zones.  This is where neurons are firing and we are stretched, but we feel alive and useful like we’re getting somewhere.

If we push harder, we hit our panic zone.  Here we are overloaded.  We may freeze and shut down or we might panic and cry or lash out, but either way, we’re not learning.

Everyone’s zones begin and end at different places, depending on the context.  When they are in their comfort zones (which they NEED to be sometimes–we process and refresh in this zone) they are not being stretched.  When they are in a panic zone for very long, we can crush them with our pressures and expectations.

Here at TFS, we are aiming to keep the students in their challenge zones much of the time.  We believe this zone is where they learn the most.  This zone is the most fulfilling. And this zone pushes them to do their best.

Routine

The kiddos are back in school and routine is back in your life. As a parent, routine is one of your best friends. Routine brings peace to your life for three reasons. First, routine shows your kids that you’re in charge. Believe it or not, kids really want to feel that they’re in good hands. They feel safe and secure to know the adults in their lives are competent, capable, and motivated. Secondly, routine brings better health. When we’re in a routine, we’re more likely to eat appropriately, we’re more likely to get enough sleep (at the right hours), and we’re more likely to balance our time between solitude and socializing, productivity and play. These basic building blocks (sleep, regular meals, and balance) are your child’s lifeline to good moods, and therefore your lifeline to peace. Lastly, routine routine brings predictability, which is very, very closely tied to sanity. Imagine how you would feel if you were completely out of control of what you did next, where you were getting dragged to, who would be there, how long you’d stay, and where you were dragged to next. You’re having a great time and bam, gotta go right now! Or you’re miserable and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve all had times like these, when we feel like our lives are crazy rollarcoasters and we do not tend to look back on them fondly. Our kids are more accustomed to it, but it is no more settling for them. They cannot thrive when they don’t feel securely planted, so school, friendships, and positive behavior all become more difficult when they don’t have a routine. So set your schedule, tell your kids about it, and stick to it as best you can. Then have a great time with each other!

Block Schedule

This summer, our upper school (7-12 grade) teachers are preparing to switch to a block schedule.  We are really excited about it because it will allow adolescents to take 3 courses at a time, with the arts and PE providing cognitive variety in between.  This replaces the typical college prep schedule, which is 5 classes at a time, plus the arts and athletics….nothing like college, by the way.  Here’s another school that made this very logical switch last year in NYC.

Summer Boredom

Did you know that it is really healthy to get bored? When you feel bored, is when the creative side of your mind is going to kick in. It’s when you’re going to process things you’ve learned and observed. It’s when you’re going to have an “aha” moment, or a new idea. This summer, turn the electronics off. Tell your kids they cannot use them until the sun goes down or a certain number of hours a week. Be sure they have some quiet, lazy days with nothing to do. When they complain that they are bored? You can reply with confidence, “Great! That is so good for your brain!”

The Necessity of Alone Time

Here is a really interesting article on the importance of alone time for kids. The Power of Lonely by Leon Neyfakh pulls together research indicating that we are kinder, more confident, develop a stronger sense of identity, and better memory skills, in addition to the long-established creative, intellectual, and spiritual advantages. Abridged version: you and your children need alone time to process, regroup, and grow. Check out the article though, the research and explanations are fascinating.