A Community of Encouragement
September 21, 2018
Earlier this week, Daycroft Upper Elementary and Middle School students spent their day on the ropes; climbing, dangling, and zip-lining from their thirty-foot perch high atop the climbing poles of the University of Michigan’s Challenge Course. For some, the trek to the top was filled with confidence and ease as they scampered skyward in seemingly effortless fashion. For most, the trek was filled with trepidation and uncertainty. The climb stretched them out of their comfort zones; leaving the safety and security of terra firma for the seemingly unsteady and uncertain footing amidst the tree tops.
What was most remarkable about the experience was the natural and spontaneous way in which students gave each other encouragement. Students for whom the climb came easily, supported those who struggled. The students who struggled, noticeably gained confidence. In the end, the entire community of learners achieved their goals of navigating the obstacles, climbing to new heights and returning safely to the ground below. Encouragement came in many forms - quiet words of confident support, a hand shake or a hug as they began their journey. At times, encouragement came in the form of silence; a quiet respect for the task at hand as a cautious classmate put one foot in front of the other in deep concentration so as not to misstep.
Encouragement is an essential part of healthy human development. Interestingly, Dr. Montessori and many others since her, spoke frequently of the difference between praise and encouragement. In her work, Dr. Montessori found that children responded with healthier personal and academic development when their motivations were inspired by intrinsic rather than extrinsic methods. In other words, when a child internally experiences the joy of learning and develops their own sense of self-confidence, the way is paved for a healthier development and well-being. As a child grows, they are not dependent on external rewards or validation from outside sources but rather develop an innate desire to grow, learn and achieve that comes from within. In this context, encouragement rather than praise, leads to greater confidence, motivation and success.
As humans, we are wired for relationships. We’re meant to be in community. Schools serve as an important communal experience as each classroom serves as a micro community where students find their way through the joys and complexities of human relationships. Encouragement, whether from the adults or fellow classmates, is vital to developing healthy communities and ultimately, healthy and well adjusted adults. The experience this week on the ropes course is evidence that Daycroft students are well on their way to creating a community of encouragement. It was a joy to watch from thirty feet below.