Cultivating Strengths

Our school district invites students to speak at board meetings. It’s always the highlight of night, and it’s a nice way to ground our focus in what matters most: our students.

This past week a student in the 8th grade said something that struck me, “We all want to feel like we are a part of something important.”

We spend a lot of time talking about making people feel seen, known, valued, and important. And yes to all of those things, a thousand times over, yes. Being a part of something important is saying something similar, but it’s a bit of a different take.

I know he’s right. You know when you hear something about it just connects with your gut? You don’t need any “proof” because you know it’s true. That’s how I felt when I heard that sentence from this wise young man.

Growing up, I was a member of a competitive dance team. I joined the team when I was in fifth grade. In the year’s leading up to that point, dance had been something fun for me. Time would fly by when I was at dance class, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I wasn’t spending much time concerned about whether I was getting better at it or whether people would notice if I didn’t come to class each week. It was easy and breezy.

Then, my mom decided to check out a new dance studio. During our visit, there was a girl my age who was working on her solo routine for dance competitions. I didn’t even know that dance competitions were thing! The idea of traveling to different cities with a team to compete against other dance studios was a whole new world to me. But what really captured my attention was how passionate the dance teacher seemed who was working with her on her routine. She was laser-focused on helping her perfect her technique and clearly had high expectations that the dancer wanted to reach. I couldn’t get over the high caliber choreography and technique that I was seeing. I had never seen anyone perform at this level. There were trophies lining the walls, competition jackets hanging over chairs, and a real sense that this was a special place to be.

I soon learned that I could audition to be part of a team that would compete with team and solo routines. If I made the team, I would need to take two ballet classes a week, in addition to, tap, jazz, lyrical, acro, and musical theatre-all to balance out my dance education and to hone my skills. I would need to be at team rehearsals all day on Saturdays and solo rehearsals on Sundays.

It would be a big commitment. But I was excited to be a part of something that felt so special and important.

I made the team and over the course of that year and many to come, I became a stronger technical dancer and a more confident human being. I learned how important it was to be disciplined and how much it mattered that I showed up every day. My teammates were counting on me. We were all counting on each other.

This is what so many of our students experience when they are a part of a school club, team, and other extracurriculars. However, so often, these experiences are cultivated in the hours after the school day ends. My choice to go to school every day was often unrelated to zest for my courses. Instead, I came to school every day because my mom’s rule was that if I was too sick to go to school then I was too sick to go to dance. And I wasn’t about to miss dance rehearsals.

As that young man so aptly stated, people want to be a part of something important. So, how can we foster that same sense of interdependence and interconnectedness in school? How might we create more opportunities for people to work hard in areas that amplify their strengths? What would happen if students were inspired to work hard at something they love during the school day?

Everyone is important. Everyone has something important to teach us. Everyone has something special to offer.

So, how do we ensure that everyone has an opportunity to leverage their strengths in something that feels important during their school day?

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